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? Wales is to the left of England, when you’re looking at a map. 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. 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. One 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. 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. 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.Here’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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!