When Christmas and New Year’s Day festivities are over, all the lovely colours of lights and decor which light up our homes, shops and streets will slowly fade away and we get back to normal life. But not all colours do… In Malta and Gozo, January is the beginning of the red strawberry season which reaches its peak in Spring with various and endless healthy, social and philanthropic initiatives around the islands.
Just after New Year’s Day, during one of my countryside walks from home in our town of Ghajnsielem on the island of Gozo, I could not but notice the strawberry plants growing bigger and bigger and the first bright red strawberries coming out from beneath the dark green leaves and the rich fertile soil.
Local farmers actually start preparing their fields for strawberry planting in the hot summer days of August and September. A whole network of plastic tunnels with an in-built water drip system just beneath the rich soil is the first setup for strawberry growing on Gozo and Malta. Then, the farmer will start putting one small strawberry plant next to each drip and when the whole plastic tunnel is completed with the plants, it is covered again to maintain a constant temperature.
What’s the secret of such a success strawberry story on the Maltese islands? Definitely the Maltese climate, the various types of fertile soils on the islands as well as the passionate work of our farmers are the primary reasons for a high quality, nutritive fruit such as the local Maltese strawberries. As one local farmer said, “We make sure each strawberry plant uses all its natural potential entirely to produce its own fruit!” To make this happen, it is therefore very important to provide the most natural environment of excellence – natural warmth, right amount of watering and local expertise.
Frawli, Maltese word for strawberries are very popular in Malta and Gozo. From January till May, it is the seasonal fruit and certainly is enjoyed by everyone, except for those people who have fragariaphobia, fear of strawberries.
Children take strawberries for their school break. Schools promote healthy eating with loads and loads of strawberries and fieldwork visits where strawberries grow are organised as an integral part of the curriculum. Teenagers, adolescents, the elderly and tourists – just almost everyone loves the local strawberries!
Strawberries have many health benefits. Strawberries are very rich in antioxidant properties and help to reduce inflammation, promote weight loss, boost immunity, treat arthritis and gout, strongly support our eye health and even prevent cancer. Very interesting to know that strawberries are also known as brain food because together with banana, boost brain function especially at a time when we start getting older and older.
The strawberry season peak time is certainly around Easter time, that is mid March / April. A huge festival known as Festa Frawli (Strawberries Feast) is held in a small village named Mgarr on Malta thanks to the amazing commitment and dedication of the Mgarr Local Council and the local farmers’ cooperative. It’s actually a grand food festival! But there is one common denominator in all the types of food on sale and on show at the day-long feast. All food contains little or much of the strawberry fruit itself.
So, for instance, you can start your day with a strawberry coffee or a strawberry milkshake followed by a strawberry yoghurt and then you walk little more and get tempted by a mouth-watering seafood pasta or a white creamy risotto with local pecorino cheese with a dash of strawberry sauce. Must try are definitely the strawberry sourbet, ice cream, cookies and the strawberry and chocolate muffins and wait… don’t leave without tasting the strawberry liqeour just to mention a few!
But you may ask, what does Marilyn Monroe has to do with strawberries? Well, the colour, the taste and pleasure of eating a bright red juicy strawberry knows no borders and has no limits on creativity. Even Marilyn couldn’t but not recognise it. In fact once she said: Dating a new man is like holding a strawberry milkshake; first the taste, then the pleasure.
So, January, Gozo and Marilyn Monroe actually do have something in common. Here on Gozo, strawberries in winter and spring become a sort of staple food being so fresh, delicious and healthy. In shops and in the streets when the daily fruit and vegetables hawker stops by, you’ll hear someone asking Ghad baqaghlek xi ftit frawli jekk joghgbok? that is Do you still have some strawberries left please?
Strawberries have become an essential element in the Maltese healthy lifestyle and culture… and it’s our pleasure promoting the local fresh produce when welcoming guests at our boutique self-catering accommodation on Gozo with some freshly picked bright red local strawberries.
Merhba! Welcome home! Wish you berry lovely holidays on Gozo!