February 28, 2011

St. David’s Day

March 1 is St. David’s Day (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant), and St. David is the patron saint of Wales, where I lived.  Wales is one of those very under-the-radar places, but it’s spectacular. Let’s have a little geography lesson, shall we?P1010083 Wales is to the left of England, when you’re looking at a map. england It is separated from England by the Severn River, as well Offa’s Dyke, a linear earthworks. It is surrounded on three sides by water – the Bristol Channel on the south side, the Irish Channel to the west and north. Wales has more than 700 miles of coastline. Because of how far north Wales is, it has major tidal swings – often 30 or more feet between high and low tide.beach Wales is surrounded by the Ring of Iron – all of the castles that protected Wales from invaders via the land and sea.  There are 400 castles, or castle ruins in Wales, and about 100 of those are still intact. I worked at St. Donat’s Castle, built in the 1200’s along the south coast of Wales. st. donats 8One of other castles I visited regularly was Caerphilly Castle, the second largest castle in the UK after Windsor Castle.  With the late summer sunsets, I used to drive the 10 miles to Caerphilly and do a walk around the perimeter of the castle’s property and listen to BBC Radio 4. caerphilly castle at dusk Another castle that I visited often was Fonmon Castle, owned by one of my colleagues and her family. It was just a “small” castle, but it had been in her family for 600+ years. It was covered with a veil of Virginia Creeper, which turned an amazing scarlet colour in the fall. You can see it just beginning to change below.fonmon_castle_main The national symbols of Wales are the daffodil and the leek. At rugby games, where there would be 60,000 people yelling and singing – mostly Tom Jones’ songs – they would be waving inflatable leeks and daffs. If you’ve never tried a leek, they’re like mild onions, and look like huge spring or green onions.leeksHere’s a great and simple recipe for Welsh Leek Soup or Cawn Cennin (serves 6-8)

  • 4 slices of raw bacon
  • 6 thick leeks, trimmed of the roots and dark green, then chopped
  • 10 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a large soup pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat until crisp -then remove it from the pan, drain on paper towels, and reserve it for the garnish.
  2. In the soup pot, reheat the bacon grease over medium heat and stir in the leeks, turning to coat them, and sautéing for several minutes, until they take on a little golden color.
  3. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Purée, solids first, then pour back into the pot. (I use an immersion blender for this task.) Season to taste.
  4. When ready to serve, reheat the soup over medium high heat, then ladle it into bowls and top with crumbled bacon and fresh circles of leek.

Garnish: Crumbled crisp bacon and a few circles of sliced leek per bowl. You can also add diced potatoes and cream for a more hearty soup.

Happy St. David’s Day!


  1. Oh, I love leeks! My mom used to make them as vegetable side dish, together with mashed potatoes and brats (sausage) ! A very German dish!
    I will try your soup! Sounds delicious!!

  2. I can't imagine someone holding an inflatable leek. That is the best laugh in the morning. I'm sure it is all very regal but seriously funny. Love the castles. I want to know more. When did you live there?

  3. Happy St. David's Day - I can't wait to try your Welsh soup - in my fabulous copper pot! Reminds me of you every time I use it!

  4. Thanks for the geography lesson. To the left of England. That's somewhere in Europe, right? ;)

    We pretty much grew up on potato and leek soup. That and baked beans on toast. Or just about anything else on toast.

    Talking about giant inflatable leeks the Rugby World Cup is in New Zealand this year. All Blacks FTW! I know I should be backing the Wallabies but when it comes to rugby I'm a NZ supporter. Call me a traitor. Guess you can't trust anyone from the colonies...

  5. Happy St. David's Day to you! Yay Wales! Yay castles! Yay leeks! (Cock-a-leekie soup is one of my favorite recipes to make.)

  6. Thank you, Meg, for another lovely post.

    For a treat, go to YouTube, and listen to "Land of My Fathers," the national anthem of Wales.

  7. Belated St. David's Day wishes to you,too Meg. We should point out that all the stone castles were built by the Normans/English to keep the wild Welsh down - beautiful and evocative though they are.
    We used to celebrate Saint David's Day with a school eisteddfod in the morning (competitons in music and poetry between the "houses" of the school, even in a perfectly ordinary state school) and a half day off in the afternoon. We liked to think of it as a small measure of revenge against the English, whose children didn't get the half day!


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