Potato farming was introduced to Malta during the British occupation. It was considered as an essential commercial crop to feed the masses. Ironically though it was well documented that the Maltese didn’t have clue what to do with the spud. Don’t ask that question today because potatoes have become an integral part of Maltese cooking and rest assured that you will be told off if serving dinner without a side of some nicely roasted Maltese potatoes.
Today we visit the rural village of Qrendi to meet with Peter and Michael. They are brothers who for years have continued to deliver their annual potato crop. With the Covid pandemic things have not been straightforward but with true Maltese tenacity they strive on to deliver Malta’s favourite spud.
“This is not like an office, waking up at 8am and starting at 9am. By 5.30am we are already up and getting ready to start. Do you know what our clock is? The sun. Because we work from before sunrise up to sunset. Our day is long. I do everything on my own, and my brother sometimes comes over.
There is a large number of potato varieties, according to the seed. The potato is planted between October and January and we start picking it up now. From here, into the boxes, onto the truck to transport it to Ta’ Qali where it is packed in sacks and exported to Holland. Or it could end up in your plate, because housewives do not want to soil their hands and want it ready in bags. I do have some that I keep here to be purchased locally.
Potatoes are well sought after and used frequently in Maltese kitchens. Maltese potatoes are good, because of our climate. It entails a lot of work and expense. If you abandon it, it will abandon you. From the day we plant it to the day we pick it we never stop – fertilizing, watering, carrying water and time. These are all expenses. Then when you come to sell it and recoup your expenses you realize there is not much profit, if not a loss.
You might ask why do you still do it? Because that is what I am used to. This is the work I grew up in, I know nothing else. But none of the children come here, and rightly so. Gratification lies in picking it up and watching the product come to the surface of the soil. That is the instant I forget everything and fill up with courage.
You cannot live solely from this. Bread and a little coffee during work, between picking. When it is time to rest awhile, you will find us sitting on a box eating a chunk of bread or a cup of coffee in haste. The Maltese farmer does not have a rosy future, as does the produce that comes from this land. Then when everything is gone, we shall cry for what we lost.” – Peter u Mikiel (brothers), Ta’ Qerrieda – QRENDI Fields