Malta Diary: Take 400 kilograms of strawberries – and bake a cake!
The small village of Mġarr lies along the northern coast of Malta looking towards Gozo and the island of Sicily. It is mainly an agricultural area and a gateway that leads to popular Gnejna Bay with its sandy-pebbly shore and offshore rocks riddled with caves and caverns.
This part of Malta was at the foremost of being inhabited when humans from Sicily ventured southwards and landed on Malta’s northern shores and besides Mġarr gave rise to neighbouring villages and towns such as Dingli, Rabat and Malta’s first capital city Mdina, an area riddled with catacombs and later Roman remains, while to the south west lie the priceless Neolithic Temples of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra.
For many years Mġarr’s claim to fame lay in its egg-shaped parish church dome dedicated to The Assumption of Our Lady. The village being small, the financial means were extremely limited and the Parish Priest at the time appealed to the villagers to come up with some sort of scheme to raise funds for a dome to be built.
Their response was to sell eggs, hundreds, thousands and hundreds of thousands of fresh eggs and the cleric responded likewise by instructing the architect to shape the dome in the form of an egg.
Recently too I came to know that a carob tree grove in the area has a crop of trees that are at least 1,000 years old and must have seen a whole panorama of history and historic events.
It is also a hub for restaurants serving traditional Maltese food, particularly the ‘fenkata’, spaghetti with rabbit sauce and followed by rabbit fried in garlic with loads of French fries.
Now Mġarr has laid (pardon the pun!) another claim to fame with its annual ‘Festa Frawli’, a bonanza fair that displays and promotes the vast quantity of strawberries grown in the area, a fair that has been galloping from fame to fame every year – so important that this year’s event boasted look-in visits by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (but not together mind you) among their many thousands of visitors. ‘Frawli’ is strawberries in Maltese.
For those not so well versed in the fruit vitamins categories, the strawberry is regarded as a very versatile fruit, highly nutritious and full of vitamins. An 80 gram helping of the fruit is said to provide the necessary amount of vitamins for a modest diet and provides an important source of fibre, manganese, Vitamin B and iron.
That is all very well if the fruit is fresh and eaten on its own without any kind of embellishment. Rather more pre-occupying if blended into ice-creams, sorbets, cakes and even strawberry ravioli and naturally made more attractive by the rich red colouring and the unbeatable aroma!
Of course, in my boyhood days such a fair would have been tantamount to heresy during Lent, a time of sacrifice and atonement, the main sacrifice being that of not satisfying the sweet tooth and keeping away from any kind of confectionery, sweets and sweetmeats.
Notwithstanding, Sunday April 2nd 2017, dawned rather ominously as a dark, dank and gloomy day and the forecast had predicted a rainy day. As luck would have it, the weather situation improved, clouds were dispelled and bright spring sunshine burst through and remained throughout the day.
Catching the eye were a group of colourful Brazilian students who made merry and even took to samba dancing. Strawberries are popular in Brazil and a source of pride but the students confided that the strawberries they were seeing that day were quite magnificently unique.
As accompaniment there was an exhibition of old agricultural implements and most interestingly, an exhibition of woven baskets that were used before the invention of plastic. These baskets had different weave patterns and colouring enabling the farmer to recognise his own baskets.
The real highlight however was a massive cake made out of 400 kilograms of fresh strawberries as an ingredient and decoration, a work of decorative art and confectionery talents.
Despondently enough, the last word must however go to Mġarr’s actual inhabitants, the majority of whom lamented “oh no, not again!” They have begun to regret the invasion of thousands, jam-packing the area with traffic and parked cars, the noise, crowds milling around and all the rubbish left lying about.
All of which really goes to show that you simply can’t have your cake and eat it!