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The youngest food festival upstart, the Strawberry Festival, suddenly announced that they would hold their festival on the same day as the well-established Cheese Festival, which is its senior by 35 years.

There was a serious clash on the islands last week. No, I am not talking about the forthcoming Spanish elections, but a ferocious clash between two food festivals in the old town of Santa Maria de Guia in the north west of Gran Canaria.

The youngest food festival upstart, the Strawberry Festival, suddenly announced that they would hold their festival on the same day as the well-established Cheese Festival, which is its senior by 35 years.

Well, you can imagine the shock horror of the townspeople, which I guess would be very similar to the indignation felt by the good ladies of the UK’s Women’s Institute should the date for an upstart dog show be on the same date as their annual jam making competition. Fur and feathers, if not jam and pickles, would fly.

In the strawberries and cheese clash, good old-fashioned Canarian common sense would eventually be applied, with the cheese festival being repeated the following week. Cheese and strawberry lovers could therefore enjoy both. What a beautiful combination too!

The Canary Islands know a thing or two about growing strawberries, with the municipality of Valsequillo being one of the few municipalities on the island of Gran Canaria that doesn’t reach the coast. As such, the climate is perfect for growing strawberries, with over one million kilos of strawberries grown each year for local consumption, as well as for export.

Well-tried techniques are used to improve the quality and quantity of the crop, including setting garlic plants around the strawberry plants to ward off various insects that could damage the ripening fruit. White bottomed bumblebees are also recruited to pollenate the flowers on the strawberry fields, but please don’t ask me how the bumblebees came to have white bottoms.

The result of all this hard work from Canarian farmers, together with a little help from garlic and white bottomed bumble bees is delicious sweet tasting fruit, the like of which I have not tasted since growing up in rural Lincolnshire, and eating strawberries from my parent’s garden.

As much as I enjoy eating strawberries throughout the year, my mind sometimes goes back to those childhood days when strawberries were only available for a few weeks of each year. How I used to look forward to those summer tea times when, I suspect, I enjoyed them even more due to their seasonal scarcity.

Maybe, in some ways, the ease of being able to buy strawberries, raspberries and what used to be other delicacies out of their normal growing season has taken the edge off the enjoyment felt when we knew that we could only enjoy them for a few precious weeks.

As far as possible, we only purchase strawberries grown in Valsequillo, or other parts of the island. Sometimes, stocks are low and we are reduced to purchasing fruit from the local supermarket that has been imported from mainland Spain. The punnets of fruit look delicious enough with huge, red juicy fruit that is tempting to the eye, but are nearly always disappointing. Just one bite into the pallid, tasteless, watery flesh always makes me appreciate the qualities of the genuine Canarian strawberry even more.

A recent news article in a UK newspaper proudly boasted that strawberries are now available for 20 weeks a year, which is seen as a huge advance from just six weeks that was common in the 1990s. Now the UK strawberry season stretches from May to October, with any gaps in supply filled with chilled and often tasteless imports from Morocco, Israel, Jordan and, of course, Spain.

I am told that strawberries were seen on the shelves of UK supermarkets as late as December for the first time last year. The secret of the UK growers’ success is the increasing use of polytunnels – huge flexible plastic greenhouses that stretch for acres across the British countryside, whereas in the 1990s there were none. Changing climate too has a part to play in the strawberry growers’ success with mild winters and record levels of sunlight.

Back to Gran Canaria, and our plentiful supply of sweet, juicy strawberries for most of the year. I am pleased to report that both food festivals were a huge success and that the good people of Santa Maria de Guia can now enjoy both strawberries and cheese without fear of neighbourhood repercussions, and with grateful thanks to the white bottomed bumble bee.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: www.barriemahoney.com and www.thecanaryislander.com or read his book, ‘Expat Voice’ (ISBN: 9780992767174). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle. iPhone/iPad and Android Apps: ExpatInfo, CanaryIsle and CanaryGay now available.

© Barrie Mahoney

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