01 March 2011

1 March - St. David's Day: Leek Soup

First comes David, next comes Chad,
Then comes Winnall as if he was mad. 

If it snows on the first day of March, there will be snow for thirty days.
Gwnewch y pethau bychain ("Do the little things..."

Today is the feast of Saint David - Dewi Sant - the titular saint of Wales.

As described in Catholic Culture: "Very little is known about the life of St. David (Dewi Sant). He belonged to that great monastic movement which became influential in Wales in the sixth century and which had links with monasticism in Gaul and in Ireland. The earliest references to David are in the Irish Annals. Many churches across South Wales claim David as their founder. His chief foundation was at Mynyw or Menevia in Dyfed. He was canonized by Pope Callistus II in 1123."

The earliest known Life of the saint was written by one Rhygyvarch in the latter half of the 11th century.  It is best described as "...a masterful hagiography in which miracles abound and historical details are ever subordinated to them."  You can read Rhygvarch's Life of Saint David, from which subsequent biographers took their material, here at Online Texts from English Religious History.

Giraldus Cambrensus said of him: "... [he was] a mirror and pattern to all, instructing both by word and example, excellent in his preaching, but still more so in his works. He was a doctrine to all, a guide to the religious, a life to the poor, a support to orphans, a protection to widows, a father to the fatherless, a rule to monks, and a model to teachers; becoming all to all, that so he might gain all to God."

Saint David himself left these words for his people: "Be joyful and keep your faith and your creed.  Do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about.  I will walk the path that our fathers have trod before us." 

In honor of Saint David and his people everywhere, fly the Welsh flag [it has a dragon, which will appeal to the youngsters], decorate the table with daffodils, and serve a hearty Welsh dinner such as the traditional Cawl, a delicious soup of lamb and vegetables; as described, it is indeed "A meal in itself".  The site, Traditional Welsh Recipes has several good and authentic dishes, most of them very easy to put together.  [Full Disclosure: this is one of the Widow's favorite sites; many of his recipes have gotten her through meatless days, especially in Lent, and she is very grateful]

And, of course, one must have leeks. 

Leeks are associated with victory by the Welsh.  It was once supposed that the warrior who had leeks or garlic on his body would not only be victorious in a fight, but come through it unharmed, for the leek had the power to scare evil spirits and enemies away.  According to Folk Lore and Folk Stories of Wales, "Men notorious as fighters in Wales wore the leek in their caps, and were accustomed to rub their bodies with leeks, wild onions, or garlic before encounters with opponents".  In a battle against the Saxons, Saint David is said to have ordered the Welsh troops to wear a leek as their badge; this early form of chemical warfare seems to have been effective, since the Saxons lost [it's hard to swing a battle-ax with any accuracy when your eyes are streaming and your nose is burning].

My own celebratory dinner always includes LEEK SOUP.

This makes about 2 quarts of soup (approximately 8 cups), so if it is just you and a friend, cut the recipe in half.

Wash 6 leeks thoroughly.  [Since this recipe calls for thin sliced rounds, you might do as I do, and slice the white part of the leeks first, separate the rings, drop them into a bowl of water, then rinse them in a colander]  Thinly slice the white part of the leek into rounds.

Fry a couple of slices of bacon [this will be used as a garnish on the finished soup, so it is optional].  Prepare 6 cups of chicken bouillon.

Thinly slice 1 white onion.  Peel and thinly slice 6 potatoes.  Chop parsley to equal 1/2 cup.  Lightly beat 1 egg yolk.

In a large saucepan or kettle, saute the leeks and onion slices in 1/4 cup of butter until soft.  Add the potato slices, the bouillon, and the parsley.  Simmer until vegetables are soft (about 10 to 20 minutes).

Remove the vegetables from the broth using a slotted spoon.  Sieve the vegetables and return the puree to the broth.  Stir a little of the warm broth into the egg yolk, then stir the egg into the broth in the saucepan, along with a dash of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in 2 cups of light cream and reheat gently (do not boil).  Garnish with crumbled bacon, either in the tureen or each individual serving. 

Also (and this is probably heretical), I drop any vegetables that didn't make it through the sieve back into the soup with the cream.  It may not present a refined appearance, but then, neither do I, and waste good vegetables I won't.