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STREET HAWKERS

hawkerThere was a time when housewives hardly left their homes except for some church devotions: everything for the home could be obtained from hawkers who plied the streets from dawn to dusk. These hawkers or pedlars did not all come at the same time, but appeared on the scene at times conveniently spread out during the day.

Each pedlar or hawker had his own particular cry not only to advertise his wares, but also to announce his arrival in a particular street. The regularity of time of day, as well as day of the week and season, were most convenient for the clients who expected them.

Hawkers, of whom a large percentage were women, arrived on the streets often after travelling long journeys on foot, balancing pails or baskets on their heads and using their hands for the rest. Others arrived pushing a small hand-cart loaded with wares, and several came with horse or donkey pulling a bigger cart. Milk was delivered warm in the container, straight from the goat. There were no refrigerators, so the goatherd came morning and early afternoon with a handful of goats. Fresh eggs, herbs for pot and remedies, fruits, vegetables of all types in sacks or canework baskets, soft cheeselets in pails of brackish water, also peppered or dry.

Another milk product was the rikotta, warm-processed in salt water. The hawker carried it in wicker baskets to keep shape, and took it out to cut portions with a string for his customers.

Live chickens and rabbits in cages or odd ones in a sack; the housewife often wanted them killed on the spot, and the rabbits skinned and cleaned before payment. Salted fish, local sausages, capers, red peppers, boiled beans and other choice preparations for the salad dish.

The fishmonger came any day, but definitely on Fridays when religious custom discouraged the eating of meat. He also came on New Years day when fish brought good luck to the family, but was often unavailable when bad weather made fishing impossible.

Odd small-time hawkers came with other commodities such as local honey and orange-blossom water, both valued, apart from herbs, for their medicinal properties. Salt came in sacks, collected from local saltpans well before first rains.

The breadseller came with a large, lidded, wooden box on a cart, containing small or large loaves from which he cut portions to weigh out for the customer, Later breadsellers, coming mainly from the Qormi region, had large, yellow horsedrawn boxes, specially made for all their needs. In summer came black and white mulberries in small, long narrow baskets covered with vine leaves to protect them from insects. Prickly pears, which were skinned for customers on their plates, came in pails of water on a cart.

Sea urchins were carried on the hawkers back in a large, elongated can basket; this he deposited on the ground, and with a large knife cut the prickly urchins into halves on a block of wood attached to the basket edge. He was often followed by some boys selling clams and limpets straight from the sea.

Summer could also bring out the water seller, with a small barrel suspended on a shoulder strap. Apart from these items one would have needed could be obtained from the street hawkers. Cloth came on the hawkers shoulder supported with the very yardstick he used to measure it out. All these hawkers, coming on foot or riding, also congregated in convenient marketplaces close to the churches, especially on Sundays. They were the precursors of the present, post-war generation of hawkers who carry their wares'in vans and trucks, while most other items are conveniently found in supermarkets by the modem, active, working housewife.


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