Traditional welsh foods and their history

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Everyone who knows about Wales knows about one of our favourite traditional snacks, cacennau Cymreig or Welsh cakes in English, but some of our other well loved traditional dishes aren’t, in my opinion, as well known as they should be as each has its own unique flavour and history.

To start with, there’s the traditional Welsh Cawl which can be eaten as a soup, a meal both with or without the broth, and just the broth. Historically, ingredients tended to vary, but the most common recipes are with lamb or beef with leeks, potatoes, swedes, carrots and other seasonal vegetables. Cawl is recognised as a national dish of Wales. The dish dates back to the 14th century and was traditionally eaten during the winter months in the south-west of Wales.

Cawl served as a single course is today the most popular way to serve the meal, which is similar to its north Wales equivalent; lobsgows. Lobsgows differs in that the meat and vegetables were cut into smaller pieces and the stock was not thickened. “Cawl cennin”, or leek Cawl, can be made without meat but using meat stock. In some areas Cawl is often served with bread and Welsh cheese. These are served separately on a plate. The dish was traditionally cooked in an iron pot or cauldron over the fire and eaten with wooden spoons.
Welsh rarebit is a dish made with a savoury sauce of melted cheese and various other ingredients that is served hot after being poured over slices of toasted bread. Welsh rarebit has humble beginnings – like most things in Wales. Under the name of ‘caws pobi’, which is Welsh for toasted cheese, Welsh rarebit has been popular at least since the 15th century, although there was no written reference to it until 1725. It was possibly created in the South Wales Valleys due to it being a staple of the diet there for both men and women. It holds a special position in Wales due to its status as a traditional dish, and it even has its own national day – September 3rd.

Next, we come to bara brith, one of the slightly better known ones due to the popularity of St Fagan’s which makes one of the best bara brith I have ever had, fresh on site multiple times a day. It is traditionally eaten on Christmas day and St David’s day, although these days we tend to eat it whenever. It started out as a fruit loaf of bread but became a cake with the introduction of raising agents and is best enjoyed with a generous spreading of Welsh butter. It’s thought that bara brith was first invented when there was leftover dough at the end of the day, and they added currants to make a tastier bread. The name bara brith translates into English as speckled bread which refers to its potential beginnings of being made from leftover dough and adding fruit to improve the taste.

A dish which is now eaten across the UK is ducks and peas, which happens to be a particular favourite of mine. The only thing that makes it Welsh is the fact that all the ingredients are locally sourced from within Wales. Other than that it stays true to its west Midlands roots. In some places it is also known as ‘ducks’ or ‘savoury ducks’.

Finally, we come to Welsh cakes themselves. The food might be well known but it is not. In Welsh they go by at least three distinct names, Picau a y maen, cage bach and cacennau Cymreig, depending on what part of Wales you’re in or come from. The cakes are a cross between a cookie, a scone, and a pancake but they are truly unlike any of these things when it comes to taste and texture. They are the size of a thick cookie, made from ingredients similar to a scone, but they are cooked like a pancake on a griddle. Welsh Cakes are an example of a unique and traditional food that reflects the resourceful, wholesome, and practical nature of the Welsh people. Made from simple pantry items like flour, sugar, milk and butter, Welsh Cakes are considered a special treat since they take a great deal of time and effort to make. Very few brands bother making welsh cakes as given the fact that they are traditionally cooked on a griddle, hot bake stone or a non-stick frying pan today, meaning that they need to be handmade.

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Catherine Maskrey

Food & Drink Editor | 19-20

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