TRADITIONAL WELSH FOOD -
BWYD CYMREIG TRADDODIADOL
MODERN WELSH COOKING -
COGINIO CYMREIG CYFOES
Is The Leek
– The Secret Of The Welsh Singing Voice?
By Ken Thorne, Food Editor
The Welsh love affair with the
leek stretches back centuries and centuries. Throughout its prolific life, the
leek succeeded in setting deep roots for itself in Welsh and World agriculture,
food, history, music, politics, wars, sociology and even in the preparation of
life after death for the Egyptian Pharaohs. Brought
The chance of an accidental killing of a compatriot eliminated and the war won, so evolved the love of the leek as the symbol of the Welsh independent spirit. This tenacity of spirit continues today with additional annotations of Welsh identity. We utter our cry of the centuries old “Cymru Am Byth – Wales For Ever” and more recently Welsh singer Dafydd Iwan’s emotional song “(Ry'nni) Yma O Hyd – (We Are) Still Here.”
Permit me a little digression
while we are on the topic of Welsh beacons. Personally, I believe the most
powerful Welsh icon has always been “Y
Ddraig Goch - the Red Dragon.” Dragons, in various forms have existed for
thousands of years. The Celts used them symbolically as early as 300 BC.
Cadwaldr, Prince of Gywnedd used the Red Dragon as a battle standard in the 7th
century and may have been its first such usage by the Welsh. The Plantagenets
and Tudors used the Red Dragon in their court of arms along with the emblems of
the other home countries to try to emulate that they were the rulers of all of
Coincidentally, and this may be
surprising to many readers, both the leek and the use of the dragon in battle
Returning to leeks! The Egyptians
used the leek profusely; hieroglyphic writings indicate it was the mainstay of
the pyramid builders’ diet. Even then, the leek was reputed to be a healthy
resource and one adaptable to a wide variety of cooking uses. As in the Middle
Eastern river delta areas, it liked the rich moist soils and lowlands of
Readers are familiar with the leek being a member of the onion family but a scion with its own distinct but more delicate subtle favor. The leek, called by some the “king of soup onions,” is an essential ingredient in casseroles and meat pies. It is also wonderful served braised or sautéed in butter/olive oil. More recently, the leek has found popular use as a bed for plating meat or fish in upscale restaurants.
In early times, leeks and pottages were almost synonymous; the thickening qualities of grains mixed with the flavor of leeks made for a sustainable popular meal. In Mrs Beeton’s book “The Best of British Home Cooking.” she says about her Leek and Oat Broth, “…..(sic. you) may be surprised how well (sic. these ingredients) work, giving a pleasing texture and contributing a slightly nutty flavor.” The legendary Scottish “Cock-a- Leekie soup probably originated as a leek and barley soup. Eventually, with the arrival of better times it evolved into a leek and chicken soup with thickening provided by prunes and marrowbone gelatin.
A traditional Welsh comfort food,
the cream of leek and potato soup served hot, has been reborn as a chilled soup.
Courtesy of Chef Louis Diat at the New York Ritz Carlton, the leek found new
fame as a key ingredient in the world renowned Crème Vichyssoise. Bobby Freeman, author and former Fishguard
restaurant owner relates in her book, Traditional
Food From Wales, “….I used to tease the English who scoffed at Welsh
food by serving Vichyssoise under the
title ‘Chilled Cawl Cennin’ (lit. Chilled Soup Leek).” Of course, that was
30 or 40 years ago, now people flock from all over to dine in
What is the link between the leek
pesto (It. sauce) recipe and Welsh singing? Remember the earlier leek link with
the Romans? As you may surmise by
now, the leek also became a significant part of their diet during their
occupation of the
I will offer this little note; I do know that during my school years, on St David’s Day, we chewed on our raw leeks (boys only) in the morning and had no trouble singing melodically later even if we each had less than sweet breath! Cook your leeks, save your breath and sing like a bird! Do you hear the shore birds, the waves and the swishing as sea breezes pass through the fields of leeks? Do you hear these sounds intermingled with the distant notes of the traditional song “Ar Lan Y Mor – By The Sea Shore” coming from the lips of a Welsh choir?
When you are next in
Eich Cennin– Enjoy Your Leeks!
Copyright © 2004 Ken Thorne
Copyright © 2004 Ken Thorne
Leek and Welsh
Cheese Pesto - An Easy Pasta Sauce!
make 20 oz / 600m1
leek, well washed, trimmed and chopped, net wt about 6/7 oz or 175/200 g
garlic, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper
oz / 300 ml
vegetable stock – see note below
/ 50 ml
5 oz/125 g
cheese - Caerphilly type e.g. Natybwla, Caerfai, Cenarth, Gorwydd, or
Organic Caerphilly – see note below.
the olive oil in a large pan, add the leeks and cook over a low heat until soft,
but still vibrant in colour. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from
the heat. Place the leek mixture in a blender together with the herbs, stock,
cheese and egg yolks. Process to form a smooth sauce and season to taste. The
sauce may appear a little thin; it will thicken during the next step.
use the sauce over cooked pasta - simply drain the pasta, return to the hot pan,
place over a low heat, pour in the sauce and mix well. The egg yolks will
thicken the sauce on heating. Garnish with fresh basil and oven roasted
sauce is also wonderful with cooked potatoes and vegetables. Place the cooked
vegetables or potatoes in an oven dish, cover with the sauce, sprinkle with a
little more grated cheese and breadcrumbs and bake in a moderate oven for 25
1: The original recipe called for white wine e.g. Welsh “Sugar loaf” medium
or “Glyndwr” medium dry. The wine represents a significant proportion of the
recipe; it could dominate the taste. If you wish to use wine in the recipe
(North America) I would suggest a very delicately flavored one such as a
Riesling with 1 to 3% sugar or a White Zinfandel. The first time you use wine
try a 50/50 blend of stock/wine.
2: Farmhouse Caerphilly Cheese is available in North American. Genuine farmhouse
style is expensive but worth it! Treasure it for eating, serve with a good white
wine, crackers or fruit! Use the Internet to locate a source or visit
www.WelshFoodie.com and click on Welsh Cheese. Made in England factory style Caerphilly Cheeses are more readily
available and less expensive; I use this cheese for cooking because of price and
availability but it is also very good to eat! Factory style Caerphilly may be
available at your local specialty cheese shop. In Northern Ohio, check with
Heinen’s Fine Foods, Cleveland area or West Point Market, Akron. Look for
Somerdale, Appleby or Amber Valley brands.
3: In a traditional Pesto recipe, the solids are principally basil, cheese and
pine nuts. It can, however, be made with a variety of herbs or vegetables. I
have successfully made it substituting the basil with mint or parsley. If you
wish to add pine nuts to the recipe, use about 1 to 1 ½ oz / 25 to 40 g.
4: This sauce can also be made with 6/7 oz or 175/200 g roasted Mediterranean
vegetables, or the same quantity of roasted onions and garlic mixed.
Eich Pesto Cennin A Caws Caerffili –
Enjoy Your Leek and Caerphilly Cheese Pesto!
from WDA Food Directorate adapted by Ken Thorne, Food Editor, Ninnau
Copyright © 2001/2004 WDA/Ken Thorne
Contact Ken Thorne: Email - WelshFoodie@aol.com