Friday, November 01, 2013

The Pumpkins That Hallowe'en Forgot: Muro's fair

Playa de Muro has closed. Every end of October is the same. The glass façades of the hotels are whitewashed. The restaurants are all shut. Dead. Dead as the day of the dead. What an apt celebration that is. Resort Muro can be forgotten for a dozen or so weeks until the first of the new year's winter cyclists force a hotel or two to wash down the whitewash and switch on the lights. Town Muro, on the other hand, is not closed. Several kilometres away from its winter-abandoned resort it lives on in its perpetual recycling of its annual off-season events which do at least give some reason to believe that the local area hasn't just given up completely. The first of these events are to be held this coming weekend. It is the Muro autumn fair. The Muro pumpkin fair. 

Rather like some hotels have decided that they need to be themed, so some of the island's fairs have seen some value in theming themselves. Rather than pirates or the Flintstones, the fairs' themes are not make-believe. They are very real. They can be dug up or grown. Sa Pobla has its potato, Muro has its pumpkin.

But the celebration of the pumpkin, in a Muro fair style, is a recent innovation. This year will mark only the seventh anniversary of the pumpkin contest. How big is your pumpkin? And trust me, some of them are whoppers. So themed has the fair become that it has been transformed into a gastronomy event as much as it is one with stalls which sell various produce, toys, nougat and what have you and with the traditional trappings of the Mallorcan event - giants, folk dance, pipers, demons. This coming Saturday there will be the third Muro cuisine event - how many ways can a pumpkin be cooked - and there will be a "gastronomic route" (even more ways of demonstrating the culinary versatility of the pumpkin). In addition, on Friday there will be the fair's wine-tasting. It comes with cheese as well and with a musical performance. The cuisine event also has music - the jazz saxophonist Cacho Petrello.

The fair is, therefore, an altogether more sophisticated occasion than was once the case. But there remains, nevertheless, the rather less sophisticated element, namely the how-big-is-your-pumpkin contest, even if this also demands a degree of sophistication, that of knowing how to grow some massive pumpkin. The competition will doubtless be fierce. There is kudos to be had from being the holder of the title of giant pumpkin-grower.

The larger pumpkin, however, doesn't make for a tasty pumpkin. The bigger it is the less taste it has. The bigger it is the thicker the shell. It can require a small nuclear device to actually get into one of the giant pumpkins. Or failing this, a handy hand saw. The pumpkin is enormously versatile. It can often be bland and pretty tasteless, regardless of size, but there is little limit to the uses to which it can be put in a culinary sense. And it has a special place in the Mallorcan ensaïmada hall of fame, as a filling with marmalade.

Though now intimately associated with Muro, the pumpkin holds an important position in Mallorcan culture. It has been grown for longer than anyone can put a time to while it has even inspired considerable debate as to its Catalan etymology. In Catalan it is "carabassa". Though the origin of the word is uncertain, it probably derives from a vulgar Latin word in use in Mallorca from at least the sixth century, one that also meant turtle. Over the centuries the "carabassa" has become, because of its brain-like look (when it is round, that is), used as an insult, as in a "persona molt curta d'enteniment". A bit simple, in other words.

Muro's autumn pumpkin fair is from 8 to 10 November, while in Pollensa the autumn fair there also takes place next weekend. There is no vegetable theme in Pollensa. Just craft.

Photo: From the publicity issued by Muro town hall (Ajuntament de Muro) for this year's fair.

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