We discovered that Welsh dishes and recipes primarily arose out of the necessity to make do with the available ingredients and, more importantly, to make them last. Welsh food has developed to satisfy the needs of hardworking men and women who were doing traditional jobs such as farm labouring, coal mining, quarry work and fishing.
Very few cereal crops could flourish in Wales’ bleak uplands apart from oats. Oats therefore became part of the staple diet and were often included in cakes, soups and porridge. In the "Laws of Hywel Dda" (Welsh law) of the 10th Century Hywel mentions that the only two vegetables cultivated in Wales were cabbages and leeks. Leeks are indeed common in Welsh cuisine. The foods that are considered to be most traditional throughout Wales include bacon, cheese, Bara Lawr (laverbread), Bara Brith (tea bread) and Cawl (a Welsh stew often with lamb and leeks).
Although we were unable to try Cawl in the classroom we were given a recipe to try out at home. It is very representative of Welsh food. In the past Welsh lamb was considered a bit of a treat. Pork though was eaten as part of the principal diet as homes situated in rural areas and in semi-urban parts of Wales housed a pig-sty (twlc) at the bottom of the garden. Bacon in particular became an essential element in Welsh cuisine as it forms a key ingredient in Cawl. This classic one-pot meal varies from region to region and even from house to house.
Our first taste was of cockles. For hundreds of years, the cockle men and women have harvested cockles across the Gower peninsula. This shellfish is an inexpensive source of protein and remains popular. They can be served in a variety of ways although usually steamed. Unfortunately as they were only selling fresh cockles Saturday when G8's language teacher was buying they wouldn't have been very fresh by the time we got to eat them, so we had to make do with a pot of them in vinegar - yum all the same.
Then came Bara brith, "speckled bread", it's a rich fruit loaf made of marmalade and dried fruit that is steeped in tea. You can butter it or eat it as it comes. It's best plain in my opinion - although I'll eat in any which way.
Welsh cakes (recall the picau ar y maen at the beginning of the blog) are sweet-dough, griddle scones with currants and sultanas. Remember from last week that maen means stone, well picau means little cake \ little piece. These were again locally sourced from Rhydwen Bakery in Clynderwen BUT I have to say those baked by the children were even better as they were warm and filled the room with a gorgeous mouth watering smell.
Various cheeses are produced in Wales, these include Caerphilly, Y Fenni, Hen-Sir, Llanboidy. We tried some locally produced cheeses from just up the road from us here in Llysyfran. You can find them the other side of Maenclochog in Rosebush, see www.pantmawrcheeses.co.uk/ My favourite was Caws-y-Graig, a goats cheese - truly delicious! I shall be buying some more of that!
Things really started to look up when I spied a box of Pemberton's chocolate. They are really delicious (and I think I might boycott Cadburys in protest of Kraft's recent actions and buy these instead.) Join me at www.welshchocolatefarm.com/
Now we really were cooking on gas when the cups came out. We tried a wine from Cwm Deri Vineyard in Narberth, Pembrokeshire - it goes without saying that I liked that very much. www.cwm-deri.co.uk/
Other things we didn't try but we talked about were:
- Welsh rarebit, which is milk or beer, mustard, Worcestershire sauce (optional) and Caerphilly cheese melted on top of a slice of toast
- Traditional Welsh breakfast, a hearty breakfast of local eggs and cockles fried with bacon and sausage, served with laverbread.
I could hardly move afterwards, but it would have been rude not to try it all!