There is no shortage of fairs and festivals in Anguilla. This makes me happy because there are a few things I am guaranteed to find at fairs and festivals in Anguilla. Items like Johnny cakes, conkie dumplings, fried fish and local drinks are some of my favourites.
The first South Hill Community Fair was held on December 19th 2013. This day is a national holiday as we celebrate Anguilla’s heroes and heroines. I arrived before noon and some of the booths were still setting up. I took the opportunity to talk to some of the organizers and learnt that the vision for the fair was to bring the community together and also to display and sell the foods of local chefs as a number of chefs on the island are from South Hill.
I headed over to the drinks bar and spoke to Patrick Hanley who was enjoying a local juice made from pommeserrette or pomme surette (thankfully there is Google and spell check) and Shane Hughes the chef at Flavours came by and also had the same juice as he never tried it before. I skipped this particular juice but will try it another time.
I then wandered over to the area where my new friend Gretel was making up the flour for the cakes for the rock oven. I did not want to miss the second batch of cakes as the first batch finished just as we arrived. Gretel was a sweetheart and we chatted about days gone by. She told me that growing up her grandmother woke her and her siblings up in the morning prior to them attending school to look for wood for the rock oven so bread could be baked. She said that bread was baked twice a week. It was evident that Gretel enjoyed cooking and she said she has been cooking and baking bread from the time she had to stand on a pan to reach and knead the flour.
Ursil Webster wandered by and spoke about days in the past when cooking oil and lard were put in the middle of the cake from the oven. She said in those days only a few privileged persons may have had cheese or sausage to put in their bread. I was happy to see that Gretel had red butter/salt butter present for those who wanted ‘old time’ butter with their cakes from the rock oven.
Gretel beckoned Linford Richardson who was the lead person who built the rock oven and Linford and I spoke about how the oven was made. Linford is so friendly and within a few minutes I felt like I had known him for years. Linford does masonry and other work with his hands and he took Nash and me to see his home where he has used wood, stone and concrete in the design. However, I digress. Let us go back to the rock oven. My notes on how the oven was made will probably not do justice to the process at all!
How the rock oven in South Hill was made?
The rock oven in South Hill was built specifically for the South Hill Community Fair. It took four days to build. I passed the men working on the oven two of those four days while driving to La Vue but at that time I did not know what they were building. Anyway, blocks were used to build the oven and marked at the bottom to look like stones. Traditionally, rocks would be used at the base of the oven. Inside the oven, the floor has red bricks at the base and the second base for the layout of the oven is also lined on the inside with bricks. Here is where it gets tricky :). The oven is filled with dirt to get shape of oven. Then bricks and fire rocks are laid. Clay and lime (from limestone) are used to keep building until the oven gets to a certain consistency and thickness. When completed, the oven is also ‘burnt out’ to get rid of any unwanted residue. The oven is now ready for baking (disclaimer – please do not try this at home 🙂 )
After speaking to Linford, I greeted Rev. Clifton Niles who was talking to a small group. He was talking about what he and other children had to do while growing up compared to the lives of many young people enjoy today. He said at nine or ten years of age he would sell bread, milk goats and run down a track in South Hill to the beach and have a sea bath all before school! I had heard many similar stories from my grandparents and even my mom and her sisters about the tasks they had to do before school.
I love how jollification events/fairs and festivals in Anguilla such as the Welches Village fair or displays of past traditions such as this rock oven creates an avenue to reminisce and share stories whereby bridging the gap for generations of Anguillians.
The Johnny Cakes from the Rock Oven are ready!
A number of people had gathered and were waiting patiently for the cakes to come out of the oven. Anguillians do love their Johnny cakes and this makes them a popular dish for fairs and festivals in Anguilla.
I got mines quickly from my new friend Gretel – 2 with butter and 2 without butter. I knew some of the persons present would have to wait another 45 minutes to get their batch as the current batch of cakes were going fast!
The Culture Float – Department of Youth and Culture
The department of Youth and Culture organized a culture float for heroes and heroines day and the float made a stop at the fair. They asked children and adults questions as it relates to culture and gave prizes for correct answers. Another highlight of the float was local entertainment artistes including string band, soca and calypso performers. The culture float traveled throughout the island on that day.
Before this day was out, I joined other Optimist members and we took gifts and sang Christmas carols at all four of the senior citizens’ homes. During the Christmas season it is so easy to get caught up with all the fun activities and to get consumed with ‘To do’ lists and cooking and cleaning and much more. As we seek to create and enjoy community spirit, let us remember to share love and care with those in our community who are elderly, sick and shut in, disabled, struggling financially, grieving and lonely. Share the joy Anguillians!
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Click the links if you want to read about the Welches Village Fest, Festival del Mar or the South Valley Street Fair.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone!