Readers of this page may have wandered in by looking down the side panel. Others may have come from the Welsh Cuisine page here.
They may wonder why this page is not within the "Making Sense of Cuisine" section. Cuisine is part of gastronomy and not vice versa. You could see this by having a quick look at the graphic here.
There is a lot of text here and the page begins with an overview in the form of a non-alphabetical index. You soon see which text you will read first.
The brown text comprises quotations. Authenticity is a matter for the reader. Grey text within it is additional. There is plenty of material here to support a personal project and the text can be pasted. You have the page numbers and source of each text.
Your first note relates to bon appetit here.
Those who read whodunnit murder mysteries from the back and who read these notes first, however, can find where the relevant text is as links have usually been inserted.
The index demonstrated that the page has been written for computer "hawks" [HERE]. I am included in the hawk-group and frequently visit sites to search for breadcrumbs.
Perhaps in sympathy for other hawks, the index runs to five A4 pages. Peck away!
The number of links itself encourages mislinking in which case please use the Contact page here. The same applies to your comments, requests and questions.
On the Welsh Cuisine page, I comment thus:
One reason for starting the project arises from asking people in S E Wales about the Welsh food symbol. The conversation started something like this:
Scotland has its haggis and England its roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. What is the Welsh equivalent?" There was no consistency in replies and this page identifies some aspects of the symbology.
Your project might be about evaluating the material presented. One example might be the Welsh rarebit you see on the right. Which is correct - rabbit or rarebit? The link uses parmesan cheese. How authentic is that?
Four significant extracts are given within their own columns in the index and later on the page. A further column provides other material.
Items in this text are from the Welsh cuisine page.
There is enough on this very long page to enable readers to explore themes and topics within Welsh gastronomy.
It is a long page within the intention of keeping the main material in one place.
Mountain lamb is sweet,
Valley lamb is fatter,
I therefore deemed it meet
To carry off the latter!
You will discern "author-weaving" by the main writers as they deal with their topics. They are fond of quoting each other.
The first chapter of two books and an extract from an online encylopaedia have been used to identify some of the main aspects of Welsh gastronomy. There is no single dish mentioned to parallel haggis or roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Welsh lamb and the cawl, a meat stew are significant as are the breads. Local variations and dishes specific to localities are evident.
The extracts provide an interesting coverage of a very wide range of themes.
brose (brwes) here
butter & cheese (caws a menyn) here
llymru - flummery here pitchy bread (bara pyglyd) here
bakestone bread bara planc,
bara trw'r dwr here brwes/brywes
brose - Scotland sucan sowans in Ireland,
and in Scotland here
Welsh cakes - pice ar y rnäen here - last sentence
bara brith here
onion cake (teisin nionid) here
leek & bacon pasty - pastai cennin here
famous leek soup - cawl cennin here
Llymru (flummery) sucan (sowans),
bwdram (thin flummery),
uwd (porridge), and griwel blawd ceirch (oatmeal gruel)
Domestic Life in Wales, S Minwell Tibbott, University of Wales Press, 2002
Liberality and Hospitality:
Food as Communication in Wales
No one of this nation ever begs; for the houses of all are common to all; and they consider liberality and hospitality amongst the first virtues. So much does hospitality here rejoice in communication, that it is neither offered nor requested by travellers, who, on entering any house, only deliver up their arms. When water is offered to them, if they suffer their feet to be washed, they are received as guests.
Geralit Gymro (Giraldus Carnbrensis, The Description of Wales
Eating may be regarded not only as a physiological function in maintaining life, but also as an experience that plays a significant role in establishing relationships between members of society. Day by day, a meal is an opportunity for family and work-team to communicate. Through the centuries, members of a particular household have been brought together to one convenient point to share the experience of eating in order to sustain life. However, oral testimony reveals discrimination between family and work-team during mealtimes was evident in many of the larger farms throughout Wales at the turn of the century note. It was discerned not only in the content of the meals themselves, but also in the seating arrangements.
In the counties of south and west Wales many large farmhouses were equipped with a table room or board room (rhwrn ford). It was sparsely furnished with a long table and two wooden benches to accommodate the servants and labourers during mealtimes, while the master and mistress ate in the best kitchen (cegin orau), In the other more modest farmhouses, two separate tables were located in the work kitchen. Here the master and mistress would sit at a round table near the fire, while the servants sat around the long table near the window. The children joined the servants in the board room or at the long table, as soon as they were capable of eating without supervision. Visiting labourers and craftsmen, present at mealtimes, were
also offered meals in the board room, while the visiting seamstress was always invited to share a table with the master and mistress and was offered the best fare of the house.
Of the hired servants on a farm, the chief servant (gwas mawr) was known by that title, the others as a second servant, third servant and so on, according to the number employed. During mealtimes the chief servant would be the first to be served, if waited upon by the maid, and he would supervise the time allocated for the meal, which was usually limited to some twenty minutes. In the period when the men used their own clasp-knives at the table, everyone was expected to finish eating and leave the table when the chief servant closed his knife note. An echo of this custom is heard in the familiar phrase used casually at the table in this rural community even today. When induced to eat, people are urged 'Bytwch, mae pob gair yn damaid' ('Eat up, every word is a bite') note.
A similar seating arrangement was found in the counties of north Wales. In the hinterland of Denbighshire, Merioneth and Montgomeryshire two tables were placed in the work kitchen, with the master and mistress taking position at the small table near the fire. The chief male servant (hwsmon) note would supervise every meal on the long table, and he would be responsible for slicing the bread for the other servants. He would be the first to stand up at the end of a meal and the others would walk out in front of him, each man to his task.
In the larger farms in the coastal regions of the Llyn peninsula and in Anglesey, two separate rooms were provided, with the family eating in the best kitchen or hall (neuadd) and the menservants in the work kitchen or briws (brewhouse). The position of the maid in the respective regions was not hard and fast; in some households she would join the family at the table, in others she would be relegated to the servants' room.
Informants who had been employed in service on farms in different parts of the country were not too informative regarding the quality and quantity of food offered to them, but they readily spoke of the different types of bread served at the two tables. In all areas, it was common practice to give barley bread or an inferior 'mixed' bread to the servants for every meal on a weekday, while the family ate white bread. As a special treat, the servants would be offered one slice of white bread for their Sunday tea Pottage would be served regularly to the servants for breakfast while the family enjoyed tea with bread and butter. On the Llyn peninsula, even in the early decades of the twentieth century; the pottage known as brwes (brose) notewas served to the menservants in one large communal bowl. Four or six men would take position around it, every man keeping to his pre-marked portion. On many farms, breakfast was followed by household devotions, which comprised a short reading from the Bible and a prayer. In the two-room situation, the master would join the servants in the board room, where he or a mature servant conducted the service. In this context, elderly informants often
quoted a four-line stanza which was supposedly included in a prayer offered by a colleague during this household devotion. Referring to the quality of the food served to them at a particular farm, they would call on God to bless the poor fare offered to them, or pray for the better-quality food known to be reserved in the dairy:
Arglwydd grasol dyma fwyd
Cawl sur a bara llwyd,
Dyro fendith ar y cawlach
Mae pob peth yn eitha' afiach
Caws a menyn yn y dairy
Arglwydd annwyl, danfon rheiny
[Gracious God, what food
Sour pottage and mouldy bread,
Give your blessing on the mess
Everything is quite unhealthy
Butter and cheese is in the dairy
Dear God, please send us these]
Without doubt, this frugal diet was the inevitable result of the agricultural depressions experienced in Wales during the nineteenth century. Hence, as an attempt to overcome the food shortage, meals, even at the turn of the twentieth century note, continued to be a divisive factor in the master-servant situation.
Despite the shortage of provisions in most households, however, hospitality prevailed as a prominent characteristic of the Welsh people. Thomas Pennant wrote of the welcome he was given by one Evan Lloyd of Cwm Bychan near Harlech in the heart of Merioneth in the eighteenth century:
I was introduced to the worthy representative of this long line who gave me the most hospitable reception and in style of an ancient Briton. He welcomed us with ale and potent beer to wash down coch yr wden, or hung goat, and the cheese compounded of the milk of cow and sheep.
The fare offered to guests by this landed gentleman was simple, but the height of hospitality was expressed in the invitation to partake of a meal. It is a tradition that a casual visitor, whether he be a friend or stranger, is invited into a Welsh home and is rarely allowed to leave without joining the family at the table. George Borrow described the welcome he received while visiting the home of a miller and his wife in Anglesey in the mid-nineteenth century. Having called on them unexpectedly, he was invited to the table which had
already been laid for a meal of bread and butter and 'a few very thin slices of brown, watery cheese'. The wife poured out tea for the stranger, but before he could taste it she produced a basin full of snow-white lump sugar and 'placed two of the largest lumps in my cup, though she helped neither her husband or herself; the sugar basin being probably only kept for grand occasions.’
A shortage of provisions at the beginning of the twentieth century did not blunt the welcome extended to a visitor. Indeed, food was the symbol of welcome, and the hospitality would demonstrate a special respect or affection towards the guest, and indicate a certain sacrifice by the hostess. The most general luxury item offered for afternoon tea throughout the country would be pancakes or drop-scones. The hostess would proceed to bake them after the arrival of an unexpected guest, and they would be served warm, spread liberally with butter and home-made jam. A boiled egg was regarded as a treat in many households when the bulk of the eggs were sold and not consumed by the family. White sugar, a tin of salmon and yeasted buns (wigs) were also noted as luxury items bought especially for the unexpected guest. Purchasing these items would require a monetary sacrifice by the hostess.
CELEBRATIONS AND FEASTS
Personal celebrations, family gatherings and annual festivals offer regular opportunities for social intercourse wherein food forms a focal point. In rural Wales, a funeral, for example, to this day is attended by a large gathering of relatives, friends and neighbours to pay their last respects to the deceased. The bereaved family has always considered it a duty and a privilege to provide the funeral attenders with some refreshment. In Anglesey, in the eighteenth century; they would be given 'a cup of drink, & if deceased be rich served with cakes, wine &c', In Llanfechain, Montgomeryshire, one of the church communion vessels was used to distribute spiced ale at funerals until the middle of the nineteenth century." According to another writer, an elaborate meal was eaten before the funeral and three or even four hours spent smoking shag-tobacco, and drinking ale in the house before forming the cortege.
Sometimes wine and finger biscuits were handed round after the guests had formed the funeral procession. In another district in the same county the currant cakes, eaten before the funeral procession left, are described as being 'about two inches square, with a kind of biscuit about three inches long by one inch broad across each'. These were handed out on trays just as the body was brought out of the house and placed on the bier. Hot spiced ale and cake seem to have been offered on this occasion in many areas in south Wales also, until the second half of the nineteenth century. From this time onwards the pattern so developed that the funeral attenders returned from the burial to the house of the deceased for a meal of bread and
butter, tea, home-boiled ham, pickled onions and fruit cake. A chapel vestry or a schoolroom would be used as alternative venues. Even today a similar meal is prepared for the immediate family and friends, especially in rural areas. It provides an opportunity for all members to exchange family news and discuss other topics of mutual interest.
Annual festivals such as Christmas and New Year can also be regarded as social functions when members of a community congregate in order to celebrate. At all times, the celebrating has always been closely linked with food. Christmas in Wales in the first half of the nineteenth century was celebrated by attending an early-morning plgain service in the local church. Preceding this service, young folk would congregate in one of the homes to attend an informal toffee-making party. After the plvgain service friends and relatives would visit each other, and he offered traditional fare of hot ale, cakes and cold meats while the goose was cooking for dinner.
Nowadays the plygain service is usually held in the evening, and is often followed by a supper. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Christmas developed to be more of a family celebration, and the festivities provided them with an occasion to enjoy better quality fare than they could afford during the remainder of the year. During this season of goodwill it was tradition to share this fare with friends and neighbours. In most districts throughout the country, oral testimony proves that the majority of families would celebrate Christmas with a roast goose or a joint of beef for dinner at midday, followed by rice or plum pudding. Christmas tea would be marked with a rich ycasted fruit cake.
In some rural areas of south Wales and more especially Cardiganshire and Carnarthenshire, it was the practice among farmers to invite harvest-time helpers to join them at the farm for Christmas dinners Complete families would be invited, and to have a party of some twenty-five members on the larger farms was not unusual. Goose, plum pudding, home-brewed beer, games and merriment would be enjoyed by both young and old throughout the day. In Pembrokeshire this custom was practised on New Year's Day or on Old New Years Day (that is, 13 January). Christmas Day was not celebrated in this part of the country until fairly recently.
Similar traditional fare was enjoyed by families in both the agricultural and industrial areas of north Wales at the beginning of the twentieth century. Here, families would invite neighbours and friends to each other's homes on Christmas Eve, or on a specific evening during the festive season to attend an informal toffee-making parry.
Following a traditional supper of goose and plum pudding, the celebrating continued with merriment focused around the toffee-making. When the required ingredients had boiled to a certain degree, the toffee was poured on to a well-greased slate or stone slab. The hearth stone itself was used for this purpose in some houses. Members of the happy gathering would then smear their hands with butter and attempt to 'pull' the toffee while it was warm. It was a skilled art to 'pull' and twist the toffee until it became golden brown in colour. Both the skilled and the unskilled alike would take part, the one bring a source of envy, the other a source of banter.
[Communal facility for the baking of bread is described on p 106:]
It was like a big kitchen. You - where the oven was - and I'm talking now about where he used to handle the dough and cut the bread into tins - one side like this was clean tins. And you know it was necessary to grease each tin, in case the dough stuck to it, wasn't it? Well now, one side was like that, it had these tins. Each one ready for its loaf. Then, along here there was a big, long table where he took the dough and cut it. It was a white table like the snow, too, and he had plenty of flour on it when he was cutting the dough.
The preferred pattern in the counties of south Wales, on the other hand, was for customers to mould the dough at home and place it in tins before taking it to the bakehouse. These loaves were readily identified by both the baker and the customers alike:
We'd put every loaf on top of its own tin, you know. In case there'd he a mistake. Say now, some people would bring their own bread in to be baked, you understand. Some would mark their tins, of course, you know. They'd put D.J. or A.R. or something like that. Then you knew who was bringing the bread by the tins, you see. And you'd put the loaf that had been baked on top of that tin, you see. You'd take it our of the tin and put it on top of the tin, otherwise it would sweat when it was left inside you see, and it would go soft. And we'd take every loaf out of its tin and put them on top of these tins there on the table. And they'd come to fetch their bread afterwards of course.
Return to top of the index here Page Contents here
First Catch your Peacock: a Book of Welsh Food, B Freeman, Image Print 1980
A tradition of Welsh cookery has long been denied by the Welsh
(and by the English, too), almost always on the grounds that it
lacks sufficient distinction from that of the rest of Britain and
Ireland to merit separate recognition.
But there are other touchy, emotive reasons: the effects of a
self-denying Puritanical religion and much past hardship under-
standably colour Welsh attitudes to their native cookery. Even
today a discussion of the subject is apt to generate a surprising
amount of heat - I have been treated to more than one lecture
on the frivolity of studying the history of Welsh food! It is this
contrived indifference which is perhaps one of the reasons why so
little has been written down about Welsh cookery—for the lack
of written records is so notable that one is bound to comment
Another reason is of course that the traditional dishes were
passed orally from mother to daughter, and since the Welsh have
good memories for the spoken word, it would be seldom necess-
ary to write the recipes and methods down. Mattie Thomas
prefaces her collection of very old Welsh recipes, a prize-winning
National Eisteddfod entry of 1925, with the declaration that she
wishes to make a written record of the old dishes of the latter
part of the 18th century from the memories of old people, while
they were still alive to recall them for her.
This MS collection is, as far as I know, unique as a record of
traditional Welsh recipes, old cooking methods and comment
upon the frugal lifestyle of the small independent or tenant
farmers who characterised the Welsh rural scene from medieval
times to practically the present day. For only under the economic
pressures of our times arc the small farms in Wales at last
disappearing into large farming units.
Those who might have written Welsh recipes down, the
uchelwr (gentry), did not do so because after the Act of Union 1536, when English law and language superseded that of Wales, Welsh country mansions were run firmly on English lines. Their kitchens thus produced food in the English style.
The English presence within Welsh life was in any case already there, for many of the great houses, and earlier still, the Norman castles, were occupied by Anglo-Norman and English nobility and gentry. Cooking generally tends to come down from the top, from the tables of the rich, becoming simplified as it adapts to less money and less sophisticated cooking facilities (often achieving a new elegance from this very simplicity). Clearly this did not happen in Wales: the country's traditional cookery grew out of the life of the farming folk and peasants—and there it stayed, remaining remarkably intact.
I can trace no more than a few classic sauces with no true Welsh connection as having come down to ordinary housewives, and I suspect they were more often quoted in collections than actually made. They must have been acquired by local women trained as cooks or kitchen staff in the plas (mansion). 'Teifi Salmon Sauce' in particular, with its enormous quantity of butter would defeat any 19th or 20th century cook unaware of the 18th century use of butter as a cooking medium.
But there were two notable exceptions in the other direction - dishes which found their way into English cookery: llymru, which originated note in pure Welsh peasant cookery, was corrupted to 'flummery' and spread quite rapidly to every corner of the British Isles note, its Welsh connection completely forgotten by the time it was taken up and embellished for the dinner tables of the gentry; and Welsh 'pitchy bread' (bara pyglyd), our familiar pikelets, popularised at first in the west Midlands.
Thus all the (sometimes exceptionally beautiful) handscribed recipe collections which were compiled in Welsh country houses in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries are no different from their counterparts compiled in English mansions and do not contain a single reference to traditional Welsh dishes or methods of cooking.
Nor does it appear to have occurred to any of the writers of cookery books in the Welsh language to make any attempt to encourage the recognition of a Welsh culinary tradition. Most of
the books are devoted to instruction in cooking in the English style; there are a few traditional Welsh recipes, but included one feels for reference purposes rather than as an attempt to keep an old tradition alive.
There is, though, one exception. Augusta Hall, though English by birth, was brought up at Llanover near Abergavenny in Gwent. She was a zealous champion of everything Welsh, and as Lady Llanover, wife of Baron Llanover— Benjamin 'Big Ben' Hall became an enthusiastic patron of Welsh culture, and renowned for her hospitality. The Llanover estate was ostentatiously run on Welsh, not English, lines, and some Welsh dishes were prepared in the Llanover kitchens with their famous motto:
Da i bau'b cynhildeb yw
A thad igyfoeth ydyw
(Thrift is beneficial to all
and is the father of wealth)
In 1867 Lady Llanover published her remarkable views on cookery and nutrition in The First Principles of Good Cookery, which ends with an appendix of recipes. About a dozen of them are for traditional Welsh dishes, amongst them the Welsh Salt Duck, one of the few references I have been able to find to what is a most successful and unusual dish.
My own involvement with Welsh cookery began a hundred years after Lady Llanover's Good Cookery, in the early 1960's, when I had already got my little hotel and restaurant going in Fishguard. One day I decided to play a hunch and try serving a few traditional Welsh dishes to the tourists. This was a completely new departure in those days. It was an instant success and so we wanted to increase our repertoire. I was very anxious to get the dishes right and very conscious of the disadvantage of being English. It was then that I began to discover how difficult it was to find out about Wales' traditional dishes.
There wasn't much in print; a few little recipe collections were all I found then, notably Croeso Cymreig (A Welsh Welcome) published by the Wales Gas Board. But their recipes were neither authenticated nor explained, and to make heads or tails of them at all one needed either a Welsh rural background or a more profound knowledge of old British cookery than I then had.
Thus began a long search to authenticate Welsh cookery. I was hampered by many things, not the least a complete lack of the Welsh language; by a lack of academic training; but most of all by the baffling refusal from those I questioned to admit that there was such a thing as Welsh cookery!
In recent years I have been helped enormously by the increase of well-researched books on British cookery in general and on Welsh cookery in particular, the most important of which is undoubtedly the collection compiled from the memories of old people by Mrs. S. Minwel Tibbott of the Welsh Folk Museum, St. Fagan's, under the title Welsh Fare.
The Laws of Hywel Dda (Howell the Good -a medieval Welsh Prince who brought unity to the whole of Wales and codified the different laws of its various kingdoms into one universal law) reveal much about the importance of foodstuffs and their value, as well as giving a picture of what was available in Wales during the time between the departure of the Romans and the Norman conquest. From them we learn for example that white beasts with red or black ears (cattle which may have been brought from Italy in Roman times) were greatly prized (the honour price fixed for the Lords of Dynefwr, capital of the old princedom of Deheaubarth, was for as many of these cattle as will extend, the head of one to the tail of the other, from Argoel to the palace of Dynefwr, with a bull of the same colour for every score').
The Laws also tell us that the Welsh princes had a staff of professional hunters to assist them; hunting was restricted to species and season -stags from midsummer to the beginning of winter; then for a short time, wild swine; and from February to midsummer again was the time for hunting hinds.
It was in this period, too, that the noted speciality of later times in Wales, goat hams, began to be prepared.
The medieval Welsh poets had more to say about love and war and mead than food. Dafydd ap Gwilym wrote often in praise of the Glamorgan vineyards which were still flourishing in his time after having been planted there 900 years before by the Romans. There are a few vineyards still in Wales: near Bridgend; at Llanarth, Ceredigion; at Lamphey near Pembroke in Dyfed, and at Monmouth in Gwent, all producing pleasant white wines. The fact that they are not producing commercially has more to
do with H.M. Customs and Excise than to drawbacks in the Welsh climate.
From the same region as one of these present-day vineyards came the famous 'peaches of Troy'—gift of the Marquis of Worcester from his summer house at Troy, near Monmouth, to Charles I just before the Civil War, and amongst the first peaches to be grown in Britain. For years these peaches puzzled social commentators blind to the fact that 'poor, wet Wales' was capable of growing anything other than leeks: the wrong Troy was assumed and all speculated how even so rich a man as the Marquis could afford the swift conveyance of such perishable fruit across Europe to London
A pleasing side-effect of the new fast roads is the highlighting of little, formerly obscure places which have especially lovely names. The Gwent Troy is one of them—the dual carriageway linking the M4 with the Ross Spur and the M5 to Birmingham is known as the Mitchell Troy Bypass; it affords a view of the Troy vineyard, too.
Regional and geographical
… almost all the population lives on its flocks and on oats, milk, cheese and butter.
GIRALDUS CAMBRENSIS, 1188
This assessment of Welsh eating habits in the later Middle Ages is customarily interpreted as disparaging. But it is in fact a valuable observation which reveals the dependence in the upland areas, which form the greater part of Wales, upon meat and animal products in the absence of grain and a variety of vegetables (leeks and cabbages are the only two cultivated vegetables named in The Laws of Hywel Dda). This condition characterised the Welsh diet from the earliest times, in contrast to the cereal-bulked pottages which were the basis of the diet of the common people in the lowlands of Britain. Potatoes were
then still unknown in Britain, so for the Welsh meat was of immense importance, its use extended by root vegetables, leeks and cabbage. Thus the earliest cawl, pronounced 'cowl', broth, stew … was of meat (usually bacon, reflecting the Celtic dependence upon the pig) and vegetables only. In the 18th and 19th centuries the composition of cawl was virtually reversed, since meat had all but disappeared from the broth, which by then depended heavily upon potatoes for its content.
The inhabitants of the British Isles in early times ate according to the prevailing geographical and climatic pattern. Thus the upland areas of northern England and Scotland, as well as Wales, were restricted by the cold and wet to growing oats only as a cereal crop; while rye, barley and wheat could be cultivated in the cleared forests of the lowland areas.
People living near the coasts of northern and western Britain would have included seaweed in their diet. There would have been nothing odd in this, for in prehistoric times it was common practice to eat land weeds - indeed the reaping of weed seeds along with cereal grain, in order to ensure some kind of harvest if the cultivated grain failed, was continued in the remoter areas of Britain until late medieval times, as did the grinding of corn on hand querns long after powered mills had taken this task over in lowland areas. notenote
We can see Wales as part of the British whole in the evolvement of early eating habits due to climate and geography. As elsewhere, the rich and fertile lowland areas were influenced by the Roman and Norman invaders and their more sophisticated eating habits, while the remoter and sparser upland areas were left to their more primitive devices. In Wales, where the native Celtic population was finally forced to retreat away from the productive coastal areas and into the wilder hinterland, there was a greater concentration of the preservation of the old ways with food. This persisted through to the end of the 19th century, and in a few isolated areas actually to the present day, where the ‘fire on the floor' and the old pot-crane, steam kettle and wall- oven are still in use -though these remarkable exceptions cannot be expected to last much longer in their original surroundings.
In the upland areas in Wales the diet was restricted by what could be grown and reared and gleaned from the woodlands and hedgerows. This would be frugality rather than poverty: before
the enclosures and the rape of the land by the Welsh squires the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, more of the agricultural land in Wales was farmed by small tenant farmers, who were able to maintain themselves with sturdy self-reliance, if not in affluence, at least well above the poverty-line.
There would almost always be a cow or two, for milk, cheese and butter; certainly pigs and a few hens, and in coastal or river areas fish - indeed it is interesting to note that the Welsh labouring classes, according to John Burnett in Plenty and Want, were better fed than their English counterparts when the first British national food enquiry sic was conducted in 1863.
Significantly, the whole of the small farms' gardens were giver over to vegetable-growing, seldom to flowers. Though they art fast catching up, the Welsh never devoted themselves to f1ower gardens as the English did.
With this fairly spartan but extremely healthful upland living can be contrasted accounts like those of Dr. James Williams, revealing the comparative affluence of life on a reasonably well to-do farm in the lush Teifi Valley, where hard work and long hours were amply compensated by plenty of good wholesome food which often rose to heights of glory, in the hands of a capable cook.
What seem to me to emerge are two distinct strains of traditional Welsh cookery: the broths and the porridges and yeast-baked bread and bakestone cookery evolved from the ancient Celtic styles, much of which does not appeal to today's palates, and the addition of pies and cakes and girdle scones coincident with the industrial revolution. From this came the great movement of population in Wales, together with an influx of workers from other parts of Britain and beyond, and the introduction of commercial flour, cheap sugar and chemical raising agents—most of these we enjoy today.
Regionally in Wales there are few culinary differences. They do not amount to much more than lobscouse being largely a north-Walian dish [see a German etc version here], and the use of gooseblood (echoing the primitive bleeding of cattle which could not be spared for killing at the end of winter) in pies and a pudding confined to certain areas of mid-Wales. This points to an exceptionally strong tradition, especially when one considers the oral transference of
the dishes and the poor communications which existed in Wales until the coming of the railways.
The only region which has a strongly-marked difference from the rest of Wales is Gower, where a number of dishes which are not found elsewhere developed: 'whitepot' [Devonshire dish? here, 'dowset', 'souly cake', and the use of pumpkins. Sometimes here different names were given to dishes endemic to the rest of Wales. This is explained by the long-standing, cross-channel exchange of trade and workers with Somerset and Devon, affecting both the food and language of this lovely little peninsula which occurs so unexpectedly between industrial Swansea and Llanelli, and was, until the coming of the railway in the late 19th century, virtually self- contained.
A movement of people always has its effect upon cookery, as the invaders or emigrants will tend to retain their own style and specialities if they can continue to obtain the necessary ingredients. These eventually become mingled with the traditions of the region or country in which they have settled, and this is what happened in Gower. Whitepot ('whipod') is a Devon dish; souly cake, which on Gower celebrated the old Welsh year's All Souls' Day (12 November), seems to have a connection with the West country 'pop dolly' and was probably imported from there by workers settling in Gower; while pumpkins do not appear to be have been grown anywhere else in Wales except Gower, where they were a distinct speciality. Some people incline to the belief that emigrants from Gower took their pumpkin recipes with them to North America and established the pumpkin-pie tradition over there.
Again, those who emigrate to foreign lands tend to return home on visits with, or to send back recipes from, their adopted country: the Welsh are particularly good at retaining their links with home, which is why, I think, Welsh Women's Institute recipe collections contain so many American and Canadian dishes.
What do confuse sometimes are the different Welsh names given to the same dish. For those who have no knowledge of the Welsh language this can be a great puzzle, and even when some familiarity is acquired the different words used in north and south Wales, the mutations and the variance of words used by different dialects still create misunderstandings.
A good example of this is the bakestone bread which in the hands of a skilled Welsh cook can be made to rise despite the improbable conditions, called variously: bara planc, bara crag, bara ri, bara trw'r dwr, according to district and dialect. Occasionally the same name is given to different dishes, as with 'dowset', which can mean either a savoury pie …, or a sweet pie …: both are Gower specialities. And of course there is the confusion caused by dubbing a Welsh name on an English dish.
Celtic Cooking Comparisons, Fuels, etc.
The similarity of conditions naturally resulted in many basic similitudes between early Welsh cookery and that of other Celtic countries which go to make up the British Isles. A preoccupation with the staple crop, oats, affects the traditional cookery of Scotland, Ireland and Wales, with more or less the same results: the Welsh brwes/brywes turns up as brose in Scotland, and the Welsh sucan as sowans in Ireland, and in Scotland note, but all three developed their individual specialities, too. Salt duck is exclusive to Wales (did they salt it to tenderize an old bird or simply to keep it for a few days?), and though bakestone (griddle) cookery is common to all three Celtic countries, it seems the Welsh have extended its use further than the others—from scones and pancakes and quick-breads of all kinds (plain and curranty) to Fruit-tarts and apple-cakes. And there is nothing in the bakestone tradition of either Ireland or Scotland to approximate Wales' traditional Welsh cakes (pice ar y rnäen), also equally eclusively baked in Wales in the alternative Dutch oven.
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In Wales, there is also a legend, as in Ireland, that the potato arrived within the shipwreck of a barque from Ireland. It had certainly arrived in the seventeenth century; two writers in 1664 speak of the growing popularity of the potato in Wales; ‘how they prosper and increase exceedingly’ and there is another reference in 1667: ‘Potatoes with white and ash coloured flowers are planted in many fields in Wales.’. In 1688 potatoes were seen growing in fields adjoining the highways’.
Recipes that are inherently Welsh tend to be breads, which include the famous speckled fruit bread bara brith made with buttermilk. Other recipes are enriched with the butter and dairy products which were plentiful from the earliest days.
One of the most basic of all north European dishes, the meat and vegetable stew cooked in a cauldron or now in a large saucepan is called cawl. This seems to be especially loved, perhaps because of the mixture of bacon joint and beef with leeks which forms the essence of the dish; it is mentioned by writers like Richard Llewellyn and recalled by the old with great nostalgia.
The meal was a movable feast; any vegetable could be included and it was eaten over a series of days, some swore that the older it got the better it tasted. Some versions had parsley sauce added, made from the floury potato water; others had cabbage and root vegetables such as parsnips.
On some days only the vegetables were eaten, while at other times just the meat, which was a way of making the dish last. A nineteenth-century recipe cooks the meat first, which is taken from the cauldron, then vegetables, herbs and oatmeal are added to the stock and that is stewed for half an hour. This was dinner on the first day and became breakfast for the next three days. There were cawls made with broad beans; others made with wood pigeons.
Potatoes were mashed and eaten with added buttermilk stirred in, or roasted beneath the meat or cooked with the bacon. Another distinctive dish was onion cake (teisen nionod), made from layers of onions, then potatoes dotted with butter, and moistened with beef stock.
There are, oddly enough, not so many recipes for leeks, which grow well in Wales and hence became the national emblem, mainly because they tended simply to take the place of onions in recipes of onions; there are, however: pastai cennin, a pasty of chopped leeks and bacon enfolded in a short pastry crust; cooked leeks mixed with mashed potato, rather like a leek colcannon, to form a nest around hard-boiled eggs covered in cheese sauce; and there is a famous leek soup, cawl cennin, in which leeks and potatoes are cooked with stock, butter and milk; this is, of course, the same as vichyssoise which stemmed from the French country soup potage a la bonnefemme. It was inevitably the French version that became known in England (chilled it was an easy and economical banquet dish), though the recipe could just as well have been borrowed from the Welsh, except they never served it chilled.
Salmon was poached in milk with a bay leaf, then served with parsley sauce using the milk in which the fish was cooked. Herrings were salted, potted and soused; oysters were made into a soup, plunged into batter and fried, or, in an early eighteenth-century recipe for oyster loaves, poached in wine with sweetbreads and herbs and stuffed into loaves which are warmed in the oven. … [And then there’s] oyster sausages, for which oysters are parboiled, then chopped with sage, herbs, anchovies mixed with egg yolks, breadcrumbs, suet, pepper and nutmeg; spoonfuls of the mixture are then fried. A shoulder of mutton could be stuffed with oysters, capers and samphire, while oysters with anchovies, butter and
lemon make a pie. There are several recipes for cockles to be made into a pie, as well as their being mixed with eggs and bacon fat, as were limpets and winkles.
Welsh mutton and lamb are still famous and there were many eighteenth-century recipes given for roasting, boiling and stuffing both, even for making hams out of mutton; curing mutton legs by rubbing them with black treacle started the process off. Mutton pies were a traditional dish at Gower wedding feasts. The meat was eaten with rowan jelly, red currant jelly and mint sauce, though mutton with laver sauce was popular near the coast. Laver, when it is cooked for hours and turned into a purée, becomes laverbread and is particularly delicious note.
Historians have varying explanations as to how Welsh Rabbit got its name or whether it came from Wales at all. Hannah Glasse gives a recipe of plain toasted cheese under its name, but then gives a recipe for Scotch Rabbit which has no mustard, but further complicates matters by adding a third recipe called English Rabbit where the bread is soaked in red wine. By 1885 it was referred to as Welsh Rarebit and amazingly luxurious versions were given by chefs like Brillat-Savarin [he was not a chef at all note]. Ale was always drunk with the dish and by the end of the nineteenth century it began to be made with ale, with the cheese melted into it.
The Twentieth Century
What is clear is that the cooking of Ireland, Scotland and Wales is based on oats, barley and dairy products and it emphasises these in the many breads, both sweet and savoury; which all these countries excel in. As in rural England, their cuisines by the middle of the nineteenth century were altered by the advent of technology, commercial instant foods and the corner shop.
This process accelerated in the twentieth century, as the corner shop itself became more and more generalised, stocking everything that their customers had need of. At the beginning of the nineteenth century a chandler's, for example, might stock knitted stockings, wines and spirits, by the middle of the century they would have added tea and sugar and by the end of the century, half the shop would have tins and dried packets of food.
The advent of blended tea (Horniman and Cassell had been making up small packets of tea in foil- lined paper since the 1850s) allowed shopkeepers to store one or two types of brands of tea without having to be a specialist in tea-blending, as the old-type grocers were. The multiple grocers concentrated on low-priced, readily available, well-displayed general groceries and provisions of an even quality. Apart from tea and sugar, salt and pepper they stocked pickles and relishes, flour, rice and some dried fruits; and dairy products, which included the cheaper, imported Cheddar cheeses from Canada and Dutch Edam.
As towns grew and urbanisation spread, a greater variety of grocer's shops opened servicing their locality and competing with each other. The traditional high class grocer continued to flourish, carrying a very wide range of commodities, many of them imported which was aimed at the richer customer. These luxury foods and
dominated the trading centre of the growing towns, augmented by the weekly market and by the dispersed shops in the spreading outlying districts.
Each region reacted differently to these new influences, as regional surveys in the 1950s show. The Scots, Welsh and Irish all have a tradition of not eating a wide range of vegetables, and of only growing one or two, A history of self-sufficiency in farming must presumably explain their high consumption of eggs, but what explains the high consumption of salt in the Highlands and Wales but not in Ireland? Is it that for centuries the Highlands and the Welsh lived off salted mutton throughout the winter? (Highland butter is traditionally much saltier than Lowland.)
The Welsh relied for centuries on their own supplies of meat and distrusted butcher's meat; in fact, they used the term as abuse. They took to canning and freezing, as being reliable methods of preservation, while the Scots did not, being exceptionally resistant to the sale of chilled and frozen meat in the inter-war period. Yet the Scots consume a large amount of processed meat pies, cakes and ice cream. They are also unaccountably choosy when it comes to buying tins, liking tinned soups, baked beans, spaghetti, sweet puddings, fruit juices while only buying in small amounts of tinned fish, peas, fruit, milk and cream.
By the middle of the nineteenth century in England an urban diet had evolved which was dependent upon the new commercial foods; in Ireland, Wales and Scotland the diet took longer to spread and, in some distant rural areas, dependent on one small shop, the urban diet possibly did not reach it until the 1930s or 1950s.
However, it was inevitable that this diet now reflected what was eaten in the whole of the British Isles, and that regional differences, discussed in this chapter, had now had commercialisation superimposed upon them.
What is exciting is that by the end of the century these differences were being rediscovered and regional foods were being revalued. They were seen as rich testaments to living communities; a struggle began to unearth more from archive material and people's memories of their childhood and to save these dishes for new generations.
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Encyclopedia of Food & Culture - Wales. Mared Wyn Sutherland
Archaeological and documented evidence shows that the early Welsh economy was based on mixed farming. When journeying through Wales in 1188, Giraldus Cambrensis (also known as Gerald de Barri or Gerald of Wales) noted that most of the population lived on its flocks and on milk, cheese, butter, and oats. Numerous references to foods in literary works establish that this was generally how the Welsh subsisted until well into the nineteenth century.
Ingredients of the Traditional Diet
The Report of the Royal Commission on Land in Wales (London, 1896) shows that small farmers and tenants survived on home-cured meat from domestic animals, home-grown vegetables, dairy products, and cereal-based dishes. Farmers and cottagers would fatten and slaughter at least one pig a year to provide a constant supply of salted bacon. On larger farms, a bullock or barren cow was also butchered and the meat shared between neighboring farms. Keeping cattle provided sufficient milk to produce butter and cheese; vegetables were grown in the kitchen garden and fields, mostly leeks, carrots, cabbages, herbs, and, from the eighteenth century onward, potatoes. Wild fruits, plants, berries, wild animals and birds were utilized in season, and ing close to coastal regions varied their diet by fishing and collecting shellfish such as cockles, mussels, periwinkles, and limpets. Inhabitants along the coastal regions of the Gower peninsula, Pembrokeshire, and Anglesey gathered the edible seaweed laver (porphyra umbilicalis). Prepared as a commercial product by Glamorgan families, it was sold along with cockles and mussels in the market towns of south Wales, famously Pen-clawdd. It was usually tossed in oatmeal and fried in bacon fat; today laverbread is a recognized Welsh delicacy, sometimes known as Welsh caviar. note
The topography determined that oats and barley were the most commonly grown cereal crops, with wheat confined to the fertile lowlands. Oatmeal in its various forms was one of the basic elements in the diet of the Welsh. Llymru (flummery) and sucan (sowans), consisting of oatmeal steeped in cold water and buttermilk, boiled until thickened and served cool with milk or treacle, as well as bwdram (thin flummery), uwd (porridge), and griwel blawd ceirch (oatmeal gruel) were among the everyday fare served in most rural districts until the early twentieth century. The bread most regularly eaten throughout Wales until the late nineteenth century was oatbread, formed into wafer-thin circular loaves and baked on a bakestone or griddle over an open fire. It was used in the counties of north Wales as a basic ingredient in cereal pottages such as picws mali (shot) or siot (shot); a popular light meal consisting of crushed oatbread soaked in buttermilk. Brŵes (brose) was a common dish in the agricultural areas of the north and regularly prepared as a breakfast dish for the menservants. It was made from crushed oatbread steeped in meat stock and sprinkled with crushed oatbread before serving.
Welsh rural society was largely self-supporting with the exception of sugar, salt, tea, rice, and currants, which had to be purchased. Sundays and special occasions usually merited a roast dinner for which a joint of fresh meat would be purchased from the local butcher; this was followed by homemade rice pudding. Very little fresh fruit was purchased, and eggs were eaten only on very rare occasions. The limited range of supplies also demanded great resourcefulness to provide an assorted menu. The ability to prepare an assortment of stews from one basic ingredient, namely oatmeal, required considerable dexterity. Similar skill was required for broths such as cawl and lobsgows using home-cured meat.
The open fire with its many appliances was central to cooking throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and, in many rural homes, well into the twentieth century. Such limited cooking facilities also governed what could be prepared. Stews, joints of meat, and puddings were boiled in a cooking pot or cauldron. Pot ovens were used for roasting meat and baking cakes and fruit tarts, and the bakestone was widely used to bake oatcakes, drop scones, soda bread, pancakes, and griddle-cakes (such as Welsh Cakes). Additionally, spits, Dutch ovens, and bottle-jacks, clockwork implements in the shape of a bottle that were hung in front of the fire, were used for roasting meat.
The preparation and consumption of traditional foods were closely integrated with patterns of life in rural Wales. Before labor-saving agricultural machinery, farmers were dependent on the cooperation of their neighbors to fulfill seasonal work. Corn (grain) or hay harvesting, corn threshing, and sheep shearing were essentially communal efforts requiring communal meals and celebrations. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Boten Ben note Fedi (harvest pie), consisting of mashed potatoes, minced beef, bacon, and onion was served for the corn harvest supper. Threshing and shearing days were also marked with plentiful meals of cold lamb or beef, potatoes, and peas followed by rice pudding for dessert. Tatws popty—beef, onions, and potatoes—was a favorite in parts of Gwynedd, and afternoon tea consisted simply of home-baked bread, butter, cheese, and jam; while rich yeasted fruitcake and gooseberry pie were considered as shearing specialties in most regions.
In the industrial towns and villages during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, wives would often help to support their families in periods of hardship by preparing and selling home-cooked dishes, considered delicacies by members of the local community. Coal-miners' wives or widows prepared dishes of minced seasoned liver and pork fat called faggots, which were served with peas and sold from the women's homes or from market stalls. Pickled herrings were a comparable savory dish sold by women in the slate-quarrying communities of north Wales and consumed with homemade oatcakes by quarrymen and farm servants.
Although the tradition of living off the land survived until a later period, in the rural areas change came with improved roads, modern shopping facilities, refrigerators, and freezers. By the early twenty-first century, the majority of the above-mentioned dishes are mostly eaten on special occasions as traditional food.source
See a picture relating to Welsh cakes in context here
Evans, R. M. "Bwydydd Sir Aberteifi" Cardiganshire foods]. Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society Transactions 12 (1937):52-58.
Evans, Hugh. The Gorse Glen. Translated by E. Morgan Humphreys from the Welsh Cwm Eitbin. Liverpool: Brython, 1948.
Freeman, Bobby. First Catch Your Peacock: A Book of Welsh Food. Pontypool: Image, 1980.
Rees, T. Kenneth. "Prophyra the Laver Bread Seaweed." Swansea Scientific and Field Nature Society Journal 1, part 8 (1934): 248-255.
Peate, Iorwerth C. "The Pot-Oven in Wales." Man 43 (1943): 9-11.
Peate, Iorwerth C. Tradition and Folk Life: A Welsh View. London: Faber and Faber, 1972.
Thomas, J. Mansel. "The Weed of Hiraeth." Journal of the Gower Society 12 (1959): 26-27.
Tibbot, S. Minwel. Baking in Wales. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales (Welsh Folk Museum), 1991
Tibbot, S. Minwel. "Cheese-Making in Glamorgan." In Folk Life, edited by Roy Brigden, vol. 34 (1995): 64-79.
Tibbot, S. Minwel. Cooking on the Open Hearth. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales (Welsh Folk Museum), 1982.
Tibbot, S. Minwel. "Going Electric: The Changing Face of the Rural Kitchen in Wales." In Folk Life, edited by William Linnard, vol. 28 (1989): 63-73.
Tibbot, S. Minwel. "Liberality and Hospitality, Food as a Communication in Wales." In Folk Life, edited by William Linnard, vol. 24 (1985): 32-51
Tibbot, S. Minwel. "Sucan and Llymru in Wales." In Folk Life, edited by J. Geraint Jenkins, vol. 12 (1974): 31-40.
Tibbot, S. Minwel. Welsh Fare. Cardiff: National Museum of Wales (Welsh Folk Museum), 1976.
Williams, A. J. Bailey. "Bread Making in Montgomeryshire." Montgomery Collections, vol. 49 (1946): 262-265.
If you enter 'Bytwch, mae pob gair yn damaid' into Google, there is one result - a book in Welsh. Enter 'Eat up, every word is a bite' source into Google, the "No results" message arrives. Surely a topic for comment by Welsh readers Contact.
Tibbott's book was published in 2002 but I think the manuscript dates, perhaps, 1999. In that event, the comment in the context of "the turn of the century" properly relates to 1899/1900 source. This seems to be confirmed here.
An interesting aspect of gastronomic analysis. Usually, people watched for the most important person's cutlery to be placed on the plate or such similar action. source
Hwsmon sounds like houseman and may be an influence on that term used in hospitals. Considering that hospital is part of the origin of hospitality, the chief male servant would have had a role in domestic hospitality. source
Brose is included in my "Haggis" book here and it says:
“TYPICAL DAILY MENU OF RURAL SCOTS
Late 18th Century onwards
Breakfast Porridge, brose or “brochan” (gruel) with milk or oat or barley bannocks (eaten dry)
The brose source in the text on the present page is here.
Flummery is a sweet soft pudding that is made from stewed fruit and thickened with cornstarch.
Traditional British flummeries were, like porridge, often oatmeal-based and cooked to achieve a smooth and gelatinous texture; sugar and milk were typically added and occasionally orange flower water. The dish is typically bland in nature. The dish gained stature in the 17th century where it was prepared in elaborate molds and served with applause from the dining audience.
It is odd that Freeman does not comment that laverbread is made from seaweed note. Laver is an edible seaweed that has a high mineral salt content, particularly iodine and iron. It is used for making laverbread, a traditional Welsh dish, as well as eaten as a complement to rice in Japan (where it is called nori) and Korea (where it is called kim or gim). source and picture
The picture has already been used here. Readers are asked to make Contact regarding the relevance of the pic to Welsh laverbread.
The ditty at the top of the page here is from a Wiki entry on Roast Lamb and Laver Sauce here. Search for Welsh recipes via an offshoot page here.
He is here because he was the first to talk in a serious way about food itself and then in the context of the social situation.
He wrote a book published in 1826 which is used to this day by those who pursue the desire to understand the meaning of food and drink in western society. sourceThis is a post-natal page of this website.
From Bath Chaps to Bara Brith: The Taste of South West Britain, L Mason & C Brown, Harper Press, 2007
Laverbread is a dark greenish-brown puree. For sale it is wrapped in clear cellophane to make packs of about 200—250g note.
The fresh seaweed from which it is produced has purplish fronds and is attached to rocks on the seashore below the high tide mark. Flavour: gelatinous texture, faint iodine-sea taste
Laverbread is the common name for Porphyra umbilicalis, a type of seaweed common on the shores of western Britain. It is associated with the food habits of South Wales and is eaten to a lesser extent in north Devon and Scotland.
Florence White (1932) discussed layer as a speciality of Devonshire, Somerset and Wales. She noted that it was well known in London 'before the invasion of French chefs in 1848', although consumption had declined by the end of the century. She mentions it was packed in earthenware pots for transport from Watchet in Somerset in 1797, and that it 'is prepared at the place where it is gathered, Braunton in particular is one'.
Theodora Fitzgibbon (1965) observed that it was also known in Bath during the eighteenth century, where it was sold in little china pots.
The Welsh have the most persistent tradition of laver gathering and eating. It is known there as bara lawr, llafan, menyn y môr. 'In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women living in the coastal regions of Anglesey, Glamorgan and Pembrokeshire were ardent gatherers of laver,' it was a trade pursued strictly by low-income families (Tibbot,
1986). Mabey (1978) also commented on this well-organized trade, 'with large drying houses built along the shore, where the weed was cured so that it would keep well'.
Glamorgan and Pembroke are now the most important areas of production. In fact the supplies of the raw material are becoming scanty in South Wales and Scottish seaweed is brought down for processing (Davidson, 1979). A little gathering is still carried on for consumption in Scotland where the Gaelic words slouk and sloke describe the same plant. There is some evidence (Evans, 1995) that it is still gathered between Clovelly and Westward Ho! on the north Devon coast.
In Wales, laver is mixed with oatmeal and fried in bacon fat for breakfast. Laver heated with butter and the juice of Seville oranges was a classic Victorian sauce for roast mutton.
Laverbread is gathered from the rocks at low tide. It is gathered at any time of the year, but storms and changes in the level of sand around the rocks can make the harvest difficult. It is washed many times - in 7 lots of water - to remove any sand and grit, then steeped in fresh water to reduce saltiness, with a little bicarbonate of soda added to counteract any bitterness. The fronds are stewed in their own moisture for up to 7 hours until they become a soft purée. The excess water is drained off; the laverbread is now ready for sale and finishing at home as required. According to Welsh food expert Gilli Davies, it is collected daily and boiled in small, family-run factories; it is sold from market stalls and travelling fish vans. A small quantity is canned, principally for export.
Region of production: South Wales.
From the Bibliography
Davidson, Alan E (1979) North Atlantic Seafood Macmillan
Evans, J (1994) The Good Beer Guide (1995)CAMRA Books
FitzGibbon, Theodora (1965) The Art of British Cooking Phoenix House
Mabey, David (19780 In Search of Food: traditional eating and drinking in Britain Macdonald & Jane’s
Tibbot, Minwel (1976) Welsh Fare The National Museum of Wales
White, Florence (1932) Good Things in England Jonathan Cape
[note – also available in cans]
The Oxford Companion to Food, A Davidson (edited by T Jaine), OUP, 2006
This text has its own quotations. They are in this text to facilitate reading and identity. Writers' first-mentions are in red text.
Welsh rabbit -. a savoury which is normally understood to consist essentially in a piece of toast with melted cheese on it. This description would, however, have seemed quite inadequate to Lady Llanover (1867), whose own account of the matter, given the engaging and eccentric manner in which she annexed to herself the whole subject of Welsh cookery, must be given priority:
Welsh toasted cheese and the melted cheese of England are as different in the mode of preparation as is the cheese itself, the one being only adapted to strong digestions, and the other being so easily digested that the Hermit frequently gave it to his invalid patients when they were recovering from illness. Cut a slice of the real Welsh cheese, made of sheep and cow's milk; toast a piece of bread less than a quarter of an inch thick, to be quite crisp, and spread it very thinly with fresh cold butter on one side (it must not be saturated with butter); then lay the toasted cheese upon the bread, and serve immediately on a very hot plate. The butter on the toast can of course be omitted if not liked, and it is more frequently eaten without butter.
However, even if one accepts Lady Llanover's prescription as the most authentic, there remain perplexing questions of etymology and history. One thing which is not in doubt is Welsh fondness for cheese treated in some such way. In the 16th century Andrew Boorde herewrote of a commotion in Heaven, where 'a grete company of welchmen ... trobelyd all the others'. He explains how St Peter solved the problem:
He went outside of heven gayts and cryd with a loude voyce, 'Cause Babe! Cause Babe' [this would now be written caws pobi] , that is as moche as to say 'Rosty'd chese!' Which thynge the Welchmen herying ran out of heven a grete pace. . . And when St. Peter sawe them all out he sodenly went into Heven and lokkyd the dore! and so aparyd all the Welchmen out!
The real problem is to find a plausible explanation for 'rabbit'. This difficulty has caused some authorities to declare that the term should really be 'rarebit', meaning a choice morsel. However, this does not work.
The 'rabbit' version has been found as early as 1725, whereas 'welsh rarebit' was recorded 60 years later. Ayto (1993) believes that rarebit, a term previously unknown, was invented 'to reinterpret the odd and inappropriate sounding rabbit as something more fitting to the dish'.
One piece of evidence of which the significance is difficult to discern is that Hannah Glasse(1747) gives four of these rabbit-cheese recipes: one for a Scotch-Rabbit. one for a Welch-Rabbit, and two for an English-Rabbit. The first of these four was the simplest (toasted bread, butter, toasted cheese), while the second allowed the possible use of mustard, the third called for a glass red wine to be soaked up by the toast before the cheese was put on it, and the fourth really quite complex, requiring white wine well as red wine and the use of a chafing dish.
Graham (1988) is one recent authority who should definitely be consulted about these mysteries, to which he devotes several pages.. He remarks that:
The French have always prized the Welsh rabbit. To the best of my knowledge, the dish first appeared in a French cookbook in 1814, when Antoine Beauvilliers published a recipe for wouelsche rabette (lapin gallois) in his L'Art du cuisinier. But it really came into fashion when Anglomania was at its height around the turn of the century. In L'Art des mets, published in 1959, the French gourmet Francis Amunatégui remembers the atmosphere, decades earlier, at the then very British restaurant, The Criterion, opposite the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris. Anglophiles flocked there specially to order Welsh rabbit (by that time spelt correctly but usually abbreviated to le welsh) and wash it down with English ale in pewter mugs. note
Bobby Freeman note (1986) has an authoritative description of the dish, in which she points out that many English counties in the southern and western parts of the country had 'rabbits' like the Welsh one, thus rightly broadening the scope of the 'why rabbit? question so that it ceases to be purely Welsh. She too draws attention to French and indeed international interest, quoting the following introduction to a recipe given in Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery (1885):
Rare-bit, Welsh.—Brillat Savarin, the famous French Gourmet here, gives the following recipe taken from the papers of M. Troller, bailiff in Meudon in the Canton of Berne..
Those who believe that the term Welsh rabbit was originally derogatory, indicating a cheap substitute, must marvel to see the humble dish treated by the most famous French gastronomic writer—although the recipe that he took such pains to acquire and pass on does not include bread in any form and offers no guidance on the choice of cheese, two remarkable defects.
Although Davidson gives three paragraphs to Croque-monsieur, there is no mention of the use of toasted cheese
in the Welsh rabbit and the vice versa situation prevails. His rendering of the former is a shorter version of what you read here.
From the Bibliography
The Diner’s Dictionary, J Ayto, OUP, 1993
Art de Cuisinier, A Beauvilliers, Paris. 1884
First Catch your Peacock: a Book of Welsh Food, B Freeman, Image Print 1980
The Art of Cooking Made Plain and Easy, H Glasse, 1747, Prospect Books, 1983
Classic Cheese Cookery, A Graham, Penguin, 1988
Welsh red herrings
Laverbread is not a bread. You may have seen this already here.
Glamorgan sausages are not what you might expect here.
Mared McAleavy here. Richard Edwards is the librarian of St Fagans. He kindly collected various books for my research there in February 2011. He gave permission for the Tibbott book to be used on this website.
The other sources are acknowledged and further information will be posted when replies are received from the publishers.
Interest in Welsh gastronomy is a recent occurence. Scottish gastronomy is up my street as seen in the Haggis section of this website here. My family has lived near the Welsh border since 2004. I have many Welsh friends as a member of the Newport, Gwent Pipes & Drums Band. However, Welsh food, so far, has not been on the family menu. Like most UK families outside Wales, we have eaten Welsh rabbit. Now we know more about it.
In 2010, I was asked to start a gourmet concern in SE Wales as seen at http://www.cardiffiwfs.org/ . It is an uphill struggle due to living fifty miles from Cardiff and with no contacts before the project started. Visits to Newport and Cardiff are increasingly expensive.
With such a task as finding out the Welsh equivalent of bon appetit, I was glad to find what you read here. It may be wrong. If I phone a friend, I won't be able to write the answer. Google provides Mwynhewch eich bwyd!source which I cannot pronounce. Contact.
Unperturbed, I extend the working-week already spent on writing this page. It is a very interesting project and I intend to become much more aware of Welsh gastronomy.