The Maltese kitchen in November starts to smell of Christmas, chocolate, of roasted chestnuts, cloves and oranges. The time is here to start soaking chestnuts and make citrus tarts and start to plan for December’s festivities.
Maltese and Gozitan food is all about using natural, fresh and seasonal ingredients. It is all about preparing meals that allow the natural flavors and appearance of seasonal produce to shine through.
The feast of San Martin falls on the eleventh day of the eleventh month and signifies a seasonal change with the end of Autumn and beginning of winter. For me it is a celebration of the bounty of the land, quite similar to American thanksgiving and English harvest festivals.
Although the feast is celebrated in other parts of both Eastern and Western Europe, it is a prominent day on the Maltese islands and as with all celebrations, it revolves around food.
The feast in Malta is associated with walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts in their shells and sun dried figs and sweet yeast buns studded with colourful liquorish sweets. Traditionally figs were prepared and stored by local families in large wooden chests and preserved with bay leaves, fennel seeds and aniseed.
And on St Martin‘s day, a cloth bag full of these nuts, pomegranates and buns, tangerines and oranges which are at the start of their season were given to children. These bags were expected to be full, bursting at the seams to indicate the abundance of the land.
Who was Saint Martin?
A Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. He followed a dream to help the poor and distribute food to them. At this time, farmers also celebrated the first grape harvest for winemaking with the wine of the previous year.
Today his feast day is celebrated on the 11th day of the 11th month or on the closest Sunday to the 11th with a children’s procession in the Northern village of Bahrija, with a fair and agricultural shows with farm animals.
There are a number of areas on the island named after the saint, one being in the outskirts of St Paul’s Bay and the other just outside the village of Zejtun
And if you are visiting the island this month, make time for Bahrija
The traditional St Martin’s fruit cake contains no refined sugar and no added fats. It gets better after a few days and it is moist and soft with the sweetness coming from dates and texture from bits figs and citrus zest.
You will need:
250g dates, chopped
200ml warm water
200g self raising flour
200g mixed hazelnuts and walnuts, chopped
200g dried figs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
grated rind of an orange
Grated rind of a lemon
Grated rind of a tangerine
Juice of one orange, strained
Use a 23cm cake tin or similar and non-stick baking spray
Preheat the oven to 160C and prepare the cake tin with non-stick baking spray.
Soak the dates in the lukewarm water.
Grease the baking tin and if you are using a frame, prepared the dish covered with a baking sheet and place the frame on top of it,
Add the figs, citrus rind, orange juice and eggs. Mix and add the spices. Finally add the sifted flour and baking powder and stir in using a metal spoon.
Bake in a preheated for half an hour to 35 minutes. Check with a skewer before taking it out.
Allow to cook and remove from frame.
Will last for 10 days in an airtight container and the flavor will improve.
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Fry Light cooking sprays by Rimus Group
McDougalls Flour and Saxa Salt by Premier Foods at George Borg Ltd
Stevia by Truvia by Silver Spoon and Billingtons at Borg & Aquilina
Nuts, dried fruit and spices by Good Earth Distributors
Eggs by the Convenience Shop