Look out the leeks and draft in some daffodils - St David’s Day is just around the corner.
Both are national symbols of Wales and are worn with pride by the Welsh when they celebrate their patron saint on March 1.
Leeks have been associated with Wales for many hundreds of years.
Legend has it that in 640AD, when the Briton King Cadwallader and his men were engaged in battle with invading Saxons, the Welsh, to distinguish themselves from the enemy, wore leeks in their hats - and subsequently gained a great victory.
The leek is also associated with the Welsh St David. During the Middle Ages, when St David was alive, the leek was seen as a healthy and virtuous plant.
Extraordinary qualities were claimed for it – it appears to have been the original health food, high in fibre, good for purging the blood, keeping colds at bay and healing wounds.
The humble leek also acquired mystic virtues. It was claimed that girls who slept with a leek under their pillow on St David’s Day would see their future husband in their dreams.
The leek is worn in the caps of today’s Welsh soldiers every year on St David’s Day.
On the same day, in the prestigious Welsh Guards Regiment, a large raw leek has to be eaten by the youngest recruits.
The green and white plume worn in the ‘Bearskin’ hats of the Guards also identifies them as belonging to a Welsh Regiment. According to tradition, the 600 soldiers of The Royal Welsh regiment drink ‘gunfire’ - tea laced with rum - served by senior ranks and officers on St David’s Day.
The daffodil is the national flower of Wales, and is also worn on St David’s Day. In Welsh, the daffodil is known as “Peter’s Leek” (cenhinen Bedr/Cenin pedr).
Because of their important symbolism in Wales, leeks have come to be used extensively in the country’s cuisine, while in the rest of the UK, they have only become popular again in the last 50 years or so, having been overlooked for several centuries.
So, if you’re not Welsh and plan to wear your leek, you might prefer to chop and cook your leeks instead on St David’s Day.
They are surprisingly versatile and can be enjoyed in all sorts of ways including sautéing, stir-frying, baking, roasting, braising and even adding raw to salads.
Simply boiling leeks will turn the vegetable soft with a mild taste, while frying gives crunchy leeks with a stronger flavour.
Perhaps the most traditional use of leeks is Welsh cawl, a stew-like dish consisting of meat and vegetables that has been enjoyed since the 14th century. Its ingredients tend to vary, but usually include lamb and leeks.
The British Leek Growers Association has come up with a selection of delicious contemporary and traditional Welsh-themed recipes that have been created for including Minted Leek and Potato Frittata with Lamb Noisette, Lamb and Leek Thai Red Curry, One-Pot Oven Baked Lamb and Leek Risotto, Chicken, Leek, Prune and Caerphilly Pie, and Hearty Leek and Lamb Cobbler.
To download the recipes click here