Laurel Hewlitt-Sewer, who has been a fixture at the St. John Festival food fair for the past two decades, was chosen by the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization as the 2007 food fair honoree.
Sewer’s involvement in the food fair began as a fundraising project for her students at the Bertha Boschulte Junior High School, where she teaches family and consumer science.
“It started a while back when we were raising funds for my students to travel to the National Family Career and Community Leaders of America Convention,” said Sewer. “We had done some fundraising during the school year, but we were falling short. We participated in the St. Thomas Carnival fair, and we thought we’d participate in the St. John fair too.”
Sewer’s tempting treats proved popular, and she was asked to come back to the St. John food fair the following year, she explained.
Seafood Callaloo, Gooseberry Stew
“It just blossomed after that,” said Sewer. “People kept calling me and asking me if I was coming out.”
The food fair honoree prepares everything from seafood callaloo to gooseberry stew.
“I do cakes, seafood callaloo, whelks and rice, stew chicken, conch in butter sauce and all the cakes, tarts and gooseberry stew,” said Sewer. “Sometimes I do banana bread; it just depends on how much time I have to get all this stuff ready.”
It was Sewer’s dedication to providing a wide array of local foods at the fair that caught the eye of St. John Festival and Cultural Organization members, explained the organization’s treasurer, Natalie Thomas.
“She has been a participant for a good many years now, and we’re honoring her for her colorful and cultural display of local desserts, pastries and other foods,” said Thomas.
Baking is a talent Sewer shares with other members of her family — including her father, she explained.
“It started with my mother, who was really into baking cakes and trying new recipes,” said Sewer. “My grandmother and all of my aunts like to bake, and my father baked as well, so it’s kind of a family thing. I guess having the exposure, and the enjoyment of having something special every afternoon when I got home from school got me into it.”
Sewer, who is married to Oswin Sewer and has two sons — Oswin Sewer Jr., a student at UVI, and Zaid Sewer, a junior at Ivanna Eudora Kean — believes in the importance of participating in St. John Festival as a means to pass down local traditions, she explained.
“The good thing about having people participate is exposure, especially for younger people,” said Sewer. “I think our young people are losing a lot of things that are germane to the V.I. that they don’t know about. If for nothing else, everyone should participate so our young people can be exposed to things we traditionally do in the V.I. — not just food, but also crafts and music.”
“It’s important that we pass that on, so we don’t lose it,” Sewer added.
Sewer, who grew up on St. Croix and moved to St. John in 1978, has her own fond childhood memories of St. Croix Carnival. Her parents would take her and her siblings to all of the different Carnival activities, including the parades and the village, she explained.
This year’s food fair honoree is looking forward to seeing lots of Love City faces at St. John Festival.
“I just hope more people from St. John will come out,” said Sewer. “We get a lot of visitors from St. Thomas, but it’s important for St. Johnians to enjoy the activities as well. I hope they will come out and take part in as much as they can.”