TRADITIONAL WELSH FOOD -
BWYD CYMREIG TRADDODIADOL
MODERN WELSH COOKING -
COGINIO CYMREIG CYFOES
This article on Cawl and Bernard Thomas, The Welsh Coracle King, appeared in the November 2002 Issue of the Ninnau.
THE WELSH MEAT AND VEGETABLE BROTH
(One secret to a long healthy life!)
The cold season is now upon us again and all over Wales cawl is starting to be made from this year’s harvest of fresh root vegetables. The answer to the health question could be a steady diet of salmon and other fish in the summer, cawl in the winter accompanied by a little Elderflower or Elderberry wine. Such has been the diet of Bernard Thomas, the Welsh Coracle King.
I first had a phone chat with Bernard about a year ago while working
on a salmon recipe for the Ninnau – Jan. 2002. I am happy to say that
recipe has now become a popular item – Pasten Eog Corwgl (Coracle
the conversation Bernard said, “ Come visit and have a lesson on coracle
making and fishing. Afterwards we’ll have a chat over a little glass of
homemade wine. So, you want to know why they named me a Coracle King and how
at 79 years old I can still make coracles?” Sadly, he may one of the last
able to make this ancient one man fishing craft. This was an offer to
accept. We agreed to a visit in late April 2002 when I would already be in
Wales on a food research endeavor.
man had single-handedly rowed across the 22 miles of rough English Channel
at 52 years old. This feat earned him his illustrious title. A rural
villager from Llechryd, Cardiganshire, he is as sharp as a tack and
healthier than many a fifty year old.
the day planned for the visit I awoke to a beautiful sunny day in the County
of Pembrokeshire, Southwest Wales. I headed north leaving the small but
wonderful Cnapan Country House Hotel in Newport. I could have stayed there
another week. The place is an absolute delight and the food made from all
local fresh ingredients was what foodies dream about – all courtesy of
proprietor Judi Cooper, one of Wales’ finest hostesses.
with Judi’s bountiful traditional Welsh breakfast, I was ready for the
drive through the countryside. One can never tire of enjoying one
picturesque green field roll along after another.
It set the tone for a memorable day. On this Sunday morning the drive
along the country roads was a peaceful mile after mile. Rounding a corner on
the road, freshly edged in spring greens, the small rural village of
Llechryd came into view. Its old stone houses and village buildings nestle
close to each other on the north side of the Teifi Valley, safely above any
risk flood threat from the river.
day, the idyll River Teifi flows gently through valley’s meadows already
painted rich green and dotted with happily grazing sheep and cattle. Several
days of warm sun have performed their annual miracle that always seem to
surprise and delight each time. The
newly budding trees are spectacular. The brightly whitewashed farmhouses
seem painted on the landscape as if by design.
this day of rest, the farms appear tranquil, the early morning duties over
with and the owners perhaps attending morning chapel or just leisurely
seated around a table with a nice farm breakfast made from the freshest
items. Farm breakfasts are legendary, the farm’s own newly laid brown eggs
with rich yellow yolks and bacon only yesterday in the smokehouse. Also, add
the old fashion homemade sausages that burst in the heat of frying forming
those tasty brown, crusty parts at the edge of the casing and filing .
Finish with a toasted slice or two of good Welsh cottage loaf.
house was easy to find. The road heading east from the Llechryd dips down
towards the river and soon there’s a row of white cottages. I head for the
one with a coracle prominently displayed on the front lawn. The cottage door
is open; he must have heard my car door close since from within
there is a hearty shout of, “Croeso, Croeso – Welcome, Welcome.”
Quickly appearing is a wiry, full of life figure of a man enthusing all the
goodness of Welsh rural friendship.
the house one is fully aware the décor is emphatically bacheloresque and
arranged for the basics of comfort and convenience. The proliferation of
electronic equipment suggests a mini recording studio and a man who has not
taken a back seat to the advances of technology. True to form, experiencing
some true Celtic hospitality, I enjoyed an extended chat over tea and a
little snack. What followed was indeed a special privilege. Bernard invited
me to view perhaps the only videotape made of
building a coracle from scratch. Even in its pre-edited condition you
just know this will be in some future Welsh landmark historic collection.
that I was fully attuned to coracle making, his life history, politics –
local, national and international, the conversation turns to his singing
performances and poetry writing. He recited a poem he had written in Welsh
of his beloved River Teifi. It was a very beautiful and a moving experience.
was his very enthusiastic demonstration of coracle making. This is a
difficult art form that has been passed through the generations. The
procedure is strenuous. Through thousands of years of trial and error there
has evolved quite advanced watercraft technology making possible
construction of a safe and viable one person fishing craft.
Finally, we reached a point when we could discuss his good health,
vitality and longevity. The family genes help. His mother lived to 86 before
dying of old age. His father died at 76 from lung disease. Bernard said, “He
still lived that long in spite of being a life long tobacco smoker. He also
had subjected himself to countless nights breathing smoke from a wood fire.
It was the habit of local coraclers to spend nights in a riverside
chimneyless salmon-spotting shed.” Bernard added, “They were nothing but
fools. The whole bunch of them smelt like pork hams by morning.”
“Well,” Bernard continued, “ to
tell you the truth I have always had a lot of exercise. I was a smoker
because when I grew up all boys and men smoked and were expected to do so. I
can tell you though women did not. But I did give up smoking quite a while
back.” When asked about food, he offered “I do like my homemade cawl. I
make a batch every few weeks and it lasts for several days. I make the kind
using a beef brisket. I have one good meal a day.”
So there you have it, a healthy boiled
one-pot meal, one meal a day - the ultimate portion control with lots of
exercise! I would like to think his occasional sip of his delightful
homemade elderflower or elderberry wine may also be a factor!
Cawl Cymreig Twymo
Welsh Meat and Vegetable Stew – Twymo Style
Ken Thorne, Ninnau Food Editor.
beef soup bones
vegetable oil, as needed
2 1/4 lb
beef brisket, net weight fully trimmed, cut only to fit pot
ham hocks, smoked if available
onion (1 large), small chopped*
celery, small chopped*
carrots, large, small chopped*
parsnips, small chopped*
rutabaga, medium, small chopped*
dry white wine, optional
water, replenish with canned vegetable or chicken stock
sea salt (if available) and ground black pepper to taste
sage, large, whole
* size is not critical due to the long simmering
rutabaga, medium, chopped**
leeks, medium, finely chopped
parsley, leaves of, finely chopped
fresh crusty bread and hunk of good Welsh cheese
** about 1/2 to 5/8 inch cubes
the oven at 400° F, place the beef bones on a tray and roast for 15 to 20
minutes until they are nicely browned. At the same time, place some oil in a
large pot (I used a 12 quart stockpot) on medium high heat and sear the
brisket all over. Remove the meat and set aside. Add a little more oil if
necessary, then add the vegetables. Season, cook until just showing color.
by adding the wine and scraping any brown pieces off the surfaces of the
pan. Add the brisket, bones and pork hocks, pour in water, bring to a
simmer. Remove any scum from the surface. Tie the fresh herbs together and
add to pot. Allow to simmer gently on the stovetop or place in a 350° F
oven for 4 to 5 hours until the meat is tender.
cooled, remove and discard the beef bones. Remove the hocks, save the meat
and refrigerate it. Discard hock bones. Chill the broth containing the
day, remove all the fat from the surface of the broth. Puree the broth if
you wish using an Osterizer or stick blender. Place meat on cutting board;
carve brisket into about 1-inch chunks. Likewise carve up the reserved pork.
Set all meat aside in the refrigerator.
serve, bring the broth back to the boil. Add the reserved carrots, parsnips,
potatoes and rutabaga to the broth. Simmer until the vegetables are almost
cooked then add the leeks. Add the meats a few minutes before serving
allowing them to heat through without falling apart.
in a large soup bowl with crusty white bread and a chunk of Welsh cheese (if
you wish). Alternatively, serve in a bowl made by scooping out 1 lb fresh
round bread loaf. Sprinkle the fresh parsley on top, eat with the chunks of
scooped out bread (and a nice piece of Welsh cheese). Break off parts of the
saturated bread and eat as you go down the bowl!
is a boiled one-pot meal which going back through the centuries was the only
convenient way available to cook. The natural goodness of the ingredients is
fully retained in the cawl. This recipe is a blend of scores of recipes.
Many of the readily available published recipes are essentially very
similar. Recipes from friends and relatives were useful since dialogue was
possible. An attempt is made to pick out any special features from all these
sources and incorporate them where possible. The current popular cooking
procedures for improving flavor and healthiness are used.
one suggestion all experienced cawl cooks emphasis is: cawl always tastes
better if left overnight in the refrigerator allowing the ingredients to
infuse. Skimming the fat is then easy before reheating!
this cooking method we make a rich stock the first day. The next day we
finish the cawl by adding another batch of veggies. These are cooked for
relatively short time retaining their vitamins and other goodness as well as
their texture. The late addition of the leeks is a last minute flavor boost
as is the generous amount of parsley garnish.
above recipe suggests some adjustments to the traditional Welsh Cawl
recipes. The meat and vegetables are browned more in line with today’s
method of enhancing flavor. The late Welsh traditional food writer, Bobby
Freeman, in her book, First Catch Your Peacock strongly emphasizes
this technique and used it in preparing cawl for her Fishguard restaurant.
The initial addition of the vegetables was treated as a mirepoix. They
should be smaller chopped than the second batch of vegetables. They were
caramelized (browned) before cooking for 5 hours. At the end of the cooking
they will have become essentially incorporated into the broth. Deglazing is
also a flavor enhancing procedure. All these little extra steps ensure a
tasty broth that requires little or no use of salt.
you use lamb it’s suggested you remove the lamb bones as soon as the meat
shows signs of beginning to fall off but no longer than about an hour. Long
cooking of the lamb bones can have a negative impact on taste.
Mwynhewch eich Cawl – Enjoy your Cawl!
Contact Ken Thorne: WelshFoodie@aol.com
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