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Gran Canaria

Gastronomy

The natural water fountain from the ‘hard rock’

The island of Gran Canaria has, quite surprisingly with regard to its mineral waters, an abundance of quality natural water sources all around. For centuries European travelers have been keen to remind us of it and point this out. Of all these water sources, one of the most frequently mentioned is Firgas: “Because of its invigorating climate, its fizzy mineral water, it is quite the most pleasant I have ever drunk and it had exquisite beauty (…) I am sure that prosperous times lie ahead for such a popular spot up here on high”, wrote English traveler Olivia Stone at the end of the 19th century.

A boy watches running water in the centre of Firgas

Around the same time, French anthropologist René Verneau wrote about Firgas (“one of the most charming towns on the island”): “From this region comes a fizzy water known for its bitter taste, the same as at the thermal waters at Azuaje (…). Above Firgas springs a most excellent water, out of really hard rock”.

It was precisely this merger between the companies who owned the water sources of La Ideal and Agria back in 1930 that led to the current company known as Agua de Firgas coming into being, one of the most consumed waters on the islands. A narrow and winding road goes up through the gully of La Virgen and reaches Las Madres, which allows water to be extracted from this intricately lush spot and bottled there on site, within the municipality’s boundaries.

A farmer working in Firgas
Farmers collecting watercress in Firgas

The bed of this ravine also used to have abundant running water in rainier times than today, and there, as in other ravines around the island, the islanders would grow other crops closely linked to their local cuisine, namely watercress. “Pepito Esperanza was the pioneer of watercress crops here in this ravine”, relates farmer Pedro Pérez at the end of last century, who reckoned he started up around the 1930s.

He came here because in the ravine at Las Meleguinas dried up when they collected the waters there, while the ravine here always had running water, and still has. He came along and started planting his watercress, which he would take to the market at Vegueta and sell it”.

Firgas countryside
Sweet stall at Firgas market

Pepito would come up the road at Las Madres with his freshly cut watercress plants “and he would throw them onto an Agua de Firgas lorry, and cadge a lift down to Las Palmas with them”. His example was followed by other neighbours from the area, who also started planting on the ravine bed, but they took their produce on foot in baskets and sacks to the nearer market at Arucas. “The load was carried down from here at three o’clock in the morning, with all family members, the father, the son, and even the Holy Spirit, all under the weight of the sacks. They carried their wares on their shoulders, including watercress, cabbage, celery, courgettes and pumpkins. And I remember when my father was renting out the ravine down there which was five thousand pesetas a year. That was a fortune at that time! The money was paid in shilling notes [five pesetas]”, Pedro Pérez continues.

An old gofio mill
An old gofio mill

Watercress is still common at mealtimes on the island, used mainly as the main ingredient for the stew carrying the same name (and for many other dishes too, like salads), but now it is not grown in the ravines any more, as they don’t have a regular flow of abundant crystal clear water to provide a stable supply. Farmers like Pedro himself and his family have had to be quite resourceful to keep the plant crops going by creating cultivation terraces they call “manantiales” or fountains (in this case, in the district of San Antón, by the roadside of Las Madres), and instead of furrowed earth they use small tanks of water.