Just as the last spirited J’ouvert stragglers packed it in for the morning after dancing since dawn, the 2018-2019 Christmas Festival Foods, Arts, and Crafts Fair cranked up festivities in Frederiksted Wednesday.
Despite drizzle and intermittent showers, throngs of Crucians and a good handful of visitors descended on Buddhoe Park for local foods, drinks, music, arts and crafts, and a tribute to fair honoree, Patricia Lynch Irvin.
Festival royalty participated, as did the mocko jumbies. Everyone who came got a good dose of Crucian culture.
Although the food fair was slated for a noon start, attendees arrived early and vendors began serving ahead of schedule. They dished up roti, chicken leg, johnny cakes, and dinners of roast pork, roast goat, fry fish, mac and cheese, baked chicken, and other Crucian favorites.
By 1 p.m., Diane Noel of Diane’s Roti Master had a line clear across the street.
Noel offered chicken, veggie, beef, conch, and shrimp roti as well fried fish, johnny cakes and sundry pates. She also featured an international dish called Chicken Pelau. Popular in Trinidad, where Noel was born and lived as a child, Chicken Pelau ingredients include coconut, pigeon peas, blended seasonings and rice.
“Color is important; the color must be brown,” said Noel, who uses burnt sugar to attain the perfect hue. “I master in my dish,” she said.
Renita Johannes-George, aka Cake Queen, brought her famous cakes to the fair just as she has for 10 years running. She cut large slices for fair-goers who chose from pistachio, Vienna, black fruit, coconut cream, mango passion, watermelon and hibiscus cakes. The watermelon and hibiscus cakes made their debut this year.
“I try to incorporate the named flavors throughout the whole thing – in the batter, the filling, and, most likely, the icing,” said Johannes-George, who started cooking and baking in the seventh grade.
“I watched Elsa Springer. She made things from scratch. She never really measured, just eyeballed it and gave it a taste test. Then she would add a little more of something or another,” Johannes-George said.
While Johannes-George does not claim to bake her cakes without ever measuring ingredients, she admits to “eyeballing” now and then.
“I look at things; I watch and I watch,” she said.
She prepared long and hard for the fair. Up late on New Year’s Eve, Johannes-George baked far into the night. With a television to keep her company, she took a few breaks and just kept going.
“I finished my last cake, the pistachio, at one this morning,” she said.
Cake lovers may have seen Johannes-George at the Agricultural Fair; she has participated in Agrifest for 15 years and won eight ribbons her first time there.
Fantasy Feté Carnival Cuisine served seafoods such as conch, shrimp, mussels, whelks in escabeche sauce, and lobster mac and cheese, while St. Paul’s church committee offered pig tail souse and pig feet souse with potato salad as well as chicken and conch plates. The Friedensberg Moravian Church brought roast goat, roast pork, bake chicken and potfish along with the customary chicken leg, johnny cakes, and season rice.
Other stands boasted conch or lobster in butter sauce and lasagne.
Queen’s Maubi sold homemade local drinks and promoted “preserving the Virgin Islands culture one sip at a time.”
Arts vendors showcased paintings, jewelry and handmade dolls. Danica David, art instructor at St. Croix Educational Complex, had a table with her students and sold the 2019 Virgin Islands Cultural Contributors Calendar. The students made the annual calendar to honor local musicians, chefs, dancers, artists and poets and will use profits toward a trip to New York.
At a neighboring booth, Eleuteria “Teya” Encarnacion and her mother displayed their quadrille dancer dolls. Her mother, 89, has been making dolls since her elementary school days. Now Encarnacion is her caregiver, and they create the dolls together.
“Mama stuffs the dolls, and I dress them. I cut and sew the pattern, and she stuffs them with cotton,” said Encarnacion. “It’s therapy for her because it’s repetitious. But she’s a hard supervisor, always saying, ‘I need my dolls, where are my dolls!’”
Meanwhile, DJ Swain had folks moving to the beat as they went from booth to booth or stopped to chat with friends. Dignitaries joined Swain in the gazebo for the St. Croix Festival Committee’s tribute to the 2019 Food, Arts and Crafts Fair honoree, Patricia Lynch Irvin.
Bradley Christian, chairman for the committee, acknowledged Irvin for “keeping the Crucian culinary arts alive.” Alvin Milligan introduced her to the audience and Christian crowned her. Miss St. Croix Festival Queen, Rachelle JnBaptiste, pinned a corsage on Irvin’s dress; Lt. Gov. Osbert Potter presented her with a “mahogany whatnot” table. Festival Prince Brandin Julien and Princess K’aisa O’Bryan presented the honoree gifts from the festival committee, as well.
Afternoon shifted into evening as Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights, CJM Hummingbird Steel Orchestra and CJM Power Stars kept folks entertained.
The day’s final act was We Deh Yah Dancers, Ay Ay Cultural Dancers and Heritage Dancers.