Giving up on the crawl, we parked up within a 15-minute, fast-paced walk of Mgarr church, the epicentre of all things strawberry in Malta this spring. Traffic aside, the views over the surrounding countryside – rural at last this far north in Malta – made it clear why Mgarr is the strawberry capital of the islands. Plateau-topped hills, gently terraced slopes, and the fertile, wide valley with poly-tunnels says this is Malta’s agricultural heartland.
It took some time to actually see a strawberry though. Once in the church forecourt, all we could see was a seething mass of families and the odd, high-flying sign advertising strawberry ice cream or gateaux. Finally, having joined the mêlée, I spotted crate upon crate of huge strawberries being unloaded to refill the stall where large punnets were selling quicker than pastizzi. We dodged the queue and bought our punnet back of van, fresh from the field. These were über-sized strawberries and they tasted as if they were sugar coated, so sweet were they. This, I thought, was worth the traffic and crowds.
Apparently, just three, large strawberries a day is enough for our daily intake of vitamin C. And, while the strawberry pancakes, waffles, ice cream, cheesecake, frappés and smoothies on offer today were mostly calorie laden, the event was trying to celebrate this most loved of potentially, healthy seasonal snacks.
The Ministry for Resources & Rural Affairs sponsored the fair, and was handing out a leaflet on strawberries’ history, cultivation and health aspects. It also documented curious facts on the fruit and had some surprising recipes such as spinach and strawberry salad and strawberry risotto.
Entertainment on the fringes (if you could find space) included traditional music played on a goat-skin bagpipe and a tamburine. For kids there were pony rides and foot-powered scooter races (a really weird activity probably aimed at the under three’s, but being abused by older kids!).
The Strawberry Fair, Malta style, might have lacked the romanticism of fairs of old conjured up by Simon & Garfunkel, but somewhere, deep down, hidden in the heaving crowds, it had a certain charm and quaintness. People joined to celebrate one of Malta’s best agricultural products. No food miles here, just a few slow-food kilometers for most of us.
Photos: Alex Grech