"Lush is a word you describe for the tastiest Welsh food over your nan’s, ... Lush is a Welsh term of endearment. If you ever visit South Wales, I guarantee you’ll hear this phrase from locals." The Happy Days Travels
The writer of that statement included a number of other examples of the word 'Lush' but notable the very first one referred to food. Welsh food is good. Wales, produces some of the best lamb in the British Isles, the brilliant Caerphilly cheese, award winning ciders and honey, nutritious seaweed and fresher than fresh seafood. And let's not forget the leeks - and the daffodils, which are not food but beautiful anyway.
The Dearman side of this family is half Welsh - well perhaps more accurately a quarter Welsh. David's father was technically Welsh because he was indeed born and raised in Wales, but his paternal line is English. The Welsh came from his mother (David's grandmother). And from what I have learnt so far, we are talking Glamorgan - which I believe no longer exists. It's the Welsh valleys country - where the coal mines were. I haven't got very far back because when you are researching the Welsh, sooner or later you come up against names like Jenkins, Evans, Richards, although there was a brief wonderful moment when I found an ancestor named Lazarus Jenkins. Alas that got me nowhere. As far as I know on my side of the family, in spite of my mother's family name being Ellis, there are no Welsh.
But enough of family history. I mention it just to show that there might be a special interest in Welsh food. But then again, maybe not.
I'm continuing my world tour of cuisines you see - and today it's Wales. A fiercely independent little country clinging on to its ancient unpronounceable and unspellable language. Vowels seem not to be a thing. People say that the language is dying out, but I have to say in my only two visits to Wales the natives seemed to use it as a defence against the intruding English when they visited the village shop.
Can you think of a Welsh food? Of course you can. Welsh rabbit - or as it is more frequently called Welsh rarebit - one of the two or three dishes that might be called Wales' national dish. Caws pobi in Welsh. The version shown here is from Delia and seems to be pretty much what you would expect - toast, topped with a sauce made with cheese, ale, mustard and Worcester sauce, poured onto the toast and grilled. And of course, there are oodles and oodles of variations, some of them tiny and some of them not, because this is today. Even Delia added sage and onion to hers.
Nigel Slater baked his and added cream. So many ways that you can make it. After all everyone loves a cheese toasty don't they? And really that's all this is. I guess the ale and the Worcestershire sauce and mustard are the things that make it Welsh - well British.
"Some people might wonder what’s the difference between spooning freshly melted cheese onto bread and melting the cheese directly on toast in the oven. But there is something far superior about the taste, texture, and contrast of temperatures in the former: the slip and pull of the gooey, fire-roasted cheese, its heat playing against the cool bread. And perhaps the idea of sitting in front of a real fire and watching food cook taps into a primitive satisfaction, reminding us of a time when the world rolled along at a slower pace. ...
Once it’s melted, spoon it onto some slices of fresh bread, hand-cut if possible. Enjoy your caws pobi. Sit a while. There is nothing to rush for. Appreciate this waiting, this slowing down, the simple things in life." Gastro Obscura
Sitting in front of the fire is mentioned because this is how the cheese was melted originally - in a dish over or by the fire. A bit like toasting bread on a toasting fork in front of the fire, as we used to do in my childhood.
I'm pretty sure I have dealt with Welsh rabbit or rarebit before, but just a quick mention of the reasons for the name. They think that 'rabbit' which was the original name was a derogatory kind of joke against the Welsh because they were so poor they couldn't even afford rabbit. And I can't resist this ancient joke that I found on Wikipedia:
"In A C Merie Talys (100 Merry Tales), a printed book of jokes of 1526 AD ... it is told that God became weary of all the Welshmen in Heaven, 'which with their krakynge and babelynge trobelyd all the others', and asked the Porter of Heaven Gate, St Peter, to do something about it. So St Peter went outside the gates and called in a loud voice, 'Cause bobe, yt is as moche to say as rostyd chese', at which all the Welshmen ran out, and when St Peter saw they were all outside, he went in and locked the gates, which is why there are no Welshmen in heaven."
There is more to Welsh food than cheese toasties though. Welsh cakes, seem to be enjoying a moment in the sun and I wrote about them recently. I also wrote about
Bara brith a long time ago - so long ago it's hard to find that article. This link is to a recipe on the BBC Good Food site.
Then there are faggots - a kind of meatball - although they are a bit more widespread than Wales; Welsh onion cake - a kind of cheesy potato and onion gratin; Anglesey eggs - 'mashed potatoes with leeks & hard boiled eggs, baked in a cheese sauce'; Crempog - a kind of pancake and Cawl cennin - leek and potato soup and that wonderful roast lamb served with a laverbread sauce - laverbread being a kind of seaweed. These are all dishes that are suggested over and over again as potential Welsh national dishes.
However, there are two more, which most seem to think are the real stars.
Glamorgan sausages this recipe is from Anna Glover on the BBC Good food website, They are called sausages, but they contain no meat and are not stuffed into sausage skins. The basic ingredients are cheese, breadcrumbs, leeks, parsley, thyme, mustard, and egg to bind it altogether. However, as Jane Grigson says in her book English Food:
"The ingredients are always the same, but the proportions vary. Sometimes there is twice as much cheese as breadcrumbs. Sometimes onion is used rather than spring onion or leek."
Certainly worth trying some time - for my vegetarian granddaughter perhaps. And why is Jane Grigson including a Welsh recipe in a book about English food? Well, in her introduction she says:
"I have also included number of Welsh dishes because I like them, and because they are linked closely with much English food, while retaining a rustic elegance which we have tended to lose."
If there is a winning national dish however, it would seem to be Cawl as this appeared top of a number of lists that I checked out. Interestingly it is one that was not known to me, although I had heard of all the others that I have mentioned so far. So what is it? Well it's one of those very basic beef or mutton/lamb stews. Throw what you have into a pot with water and cook it for a long time. Browning the meat and vegetables first is a later development. Very, very similar to Irish stew or Lancashire hot pot, Pot au feu ... The kind of dish that everyone has been cooking from time immemorial. And if you really want a detailed rundown of its history the National Geographic will tell you more or less everything you want to know. A soup or a stew, depending most likely on how much you had to put into it is what we are looking at here. Over time various root vegetables, including potatoes were added to the leeks and bacon and meat. Below are three examples: Michael Sheen's traditional Welsh cawl which is featured on Jamie Oliver's website; a version on Taste and the Cawl recipe featured in the National Geographic article. And yes, they do look similar. A bit like the stews my mother used to make when I was young. We just called it stew.
For me though, the star food of Wales, apart from the leeks, is Caerphilly cheese, which I think along with Wensleydale might be my very favourite British cheese. Alas never to be found here. It's crumbly and sharp and tangy. Absolutely delicious. I remember buying some in that little Welsh village shop where they all started speaking in Welsh as soon as we walked in.
Scotland next. Jane Grigson didn't include Scottish dishes in English Food. Did she not like it?
I wonder if there is more to Scotland than haggis.