WALES, All Castles and Dragons
Ashley Farnell, The Culinary Magician
As a youngster growing up, many family vacations were spent in Wales. A country of amazing culture, history, sights and countryside especially in the North where we visited frequently.
The view of Mount Snowdown, from the village of Capel CurigWales is located on a peninsula in central-west Great Britain. It is about the size of Massachusetts. It has a population estimated at three million and is officially bilingual, with both Welsh and English having equal status. Originally (and traditionally) a Celtic land and one of the Celtic nations. Both languages are widely spoken, Welsh being particularly strong, and sometimes the only language spoken, in the Northern towns and villages. Case in point, I worked with a chef here in Toronto who came from a small village called Capel Curig in Snowdonia. Up until the age of 8 this chef spoke only Welsh and only started to learn English in school in 3rd grade. The view from his village looks out towards the peaks of Mount Snowdon. Wherever possible I will provide both English and Welsh pronunciations.
The main population and industrial areas are in South Wales. Heavy industry like coal mining and ship building were once situated here around the cities of Cardiff (Caerdydd), Swansea (Abertawe), Newport (Casnewydd) and surrounding areas, with another significant population in the north-east around Wrexham. We used to visit mid country and North Wales which is not as densely populated as the south, and has lots of farming and cottage industries.
CaernarfonMuch of Wales's diverse landscape is mountainous, particularly in the north and central regions. The mountains were shaped during the last ice age. The highest mountains in Wales are in Snowdonia (Eryri), and include Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), which, at 1085 m (3,560 ft) is the highest peak in Wales. The 14 (or possibly 15) Welsh mountains over 3,000 feet (914 m) high are known collectively as the Welsh 3000s, and are located in a small area in the north-west.
The capital, Cardiff (Caerdydd), is Wales's largest city with 317,500 people. For a period it was the biggest coal port in the world and, for a few years before World War One, handled a greater tonnage of cargo than either London or Liverpool. One of my clients here in Toronto, Mrs. Julia Koschitzky and her sister Jeanette, were born in Cardiff as her family escaped the turmoil of Poland and Germany en route to a new life in North America.
Welsh flagEven today there is still a Jewish existence in Wales, centered around Cardiff. Major Jewish settlement in Wales dates from the 19th century, although there are records of Jewish communities from the 18th century as well. The modern community in South Wales is centered around the Cardiff Reform Synagogue and the Cardiff United Synagogue. The oldest non-Christian faith [in Wales] to be established was Judaism, with a presence in Swansea dating from around 1730. Jewish communities were formed in the next century in Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd and Tredegar.
DolgellauWe spent many hours visiting small towns and the many castles of North Wales. Sometimes said to be "the castle capital of the world", Wales had about 400 castles, of which over 100 are still standing, either as ruins or as restored buildings. It is home to some of Europe's finest surviving examples of medieval castle construction; most were built in the 12th and 13th century and are still today are fine examples of early craftsmanship.
Caernarfon Castle is where the investiture of Prince Charles took place 40 years ago, on June 28, 1969 as he was bestowed the title “Prince of Wales” by the Queen.
BarmouthThe Dragon on the Welsh flag is thought to have been left from the Roman times, as this was a widely used symbol by the Romans.
My favourite town was Dolgellau, which is a small market town situated between 3 mountainous areas which house three hill forts of uncertain origin, but thought to be from the Roman period.
Another favourite was the seaside town of Barmouth, on the west coast. Although the water was always cold we still swam on a regular basis, crazy as it was! It was there my family was vacationing on 16 August 1977. I remember picking up the morning paper for my parents and the headlines screaming of Elvis’ death.
Welsh cuisine is not world renowned, but is moderately famous for its Spring Lamb, and leeks, which are its National Emblem.
Cawl is a traditional Welsh stew-like dish consisting of meat and vegetables. Its ingredients tend to vary, but usually includes Welsh lamb and leeks. Cawl is translated as soup in modern day Welsh, and sometimes called the national dish of Wales. Cawl should be started the day before so that any fat can be skimmed off and all the flavours amalgamate.
2-3 lb. Welsh lamb best end of neck cutlets (See Note)
1 large sliced onion
2 medium sliced carrots
1 medium parsnip
1 small swede turnip (yellow or Rutabega) or 2 white turnips
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
6 small potatoes
salt and pepper
4 pints (8 cups) water
If in season cabbage, celery, etc., can all be used.
Note: Welsh Lamb is far superior in Britain, but regular lamb, US or New Zealand is fine. Basically they are Lamb chops, but not cutlets. Best end of Neck - This is also a prime roasting joint either on the bone or boned and rolled. It is from this joint that the spectacular crown roast of lamb and guard of honor roasts are made. It can be cut into cutlets which are left as they are or can be trimmed.
Trim the meat of the fat as much as possible, cover with cold water, add salt and pepper, bring to boil, and simmer slowly for 1 hour. Chill and skim off the fat. Put in all the vegetables except 1 leek, the potatoes and half the parsley, cover and simmer very slowly for 1 hour. Add the potatoes cut in half and continue cooking for 20 minutes. Add the remainder of the parsley, taste for seasoning and finely chop the remaining leek (green and white part) on top. Let it cook for not more than 5 minutes and serve. Some families treat it as a French pot-au-feu - that is, they serve the clear broth first, then the meat and vegetables as a second course. Traditionally Cawl was eaten in wooden bowls with wooden spoons so that there was no fear of burning the mouth. Serves 4-6.
Sometimes known as 'speckled bread' (the literal meaning of the original Welsh-language name), Bara Brith can be either a yeasty bread enriched with dried fruit or something more like a fruit cake made with self-rising flour or cake and pastry flour (no yeast). It is traditionally made with raisins, currants and candied peel. In Argentina bara brith, which was brought to the country by the Welsh settlers who started arriving in Chubut province in 1865, is known as torta negra ("black cake") and is a traditional food item there.
PREPARATION TIME: 10 minutes
WAITING TIME: several hours (preferably overnight)
COOKING TIME: 2.5 hours
MAKES: 1 loaf (3″ x 3″ x 9″ approx.)
2 cups water
1 tea-bag (preferably British breakfast tea blend)
1 cup brown sugar
1 large pinch cinnamon
2 cups raisins and/or sultanas and/or currants
¾ cup butter
1 cup white baking quality flour
1 cup whole wheat baking quality flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees F.
Put the water, tea-bag, sugar, raisins, cinnamon, and butter in a pan and bring to the boil for a few minutes until everything is dissolved.
Leave to cool for several hours. This is important and makes a big difference to the finished bara brith.
Remove the tea-bag and add the flour, baking powder, and egg. Beat thoroughly.
Refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight. This is EXTREMELY important and makes a HUGE difference to the finished cake.
Line a loaf tin with butter and aluminum foil and pour in the beaten mixture. Cover the top of the tin with foil, too, as this will help to keep the bara brith moist. Leave enough room for the cake to rise, though.
Cook at 250 degrees F for two hours. Check the bara brith is cooked by piercing with a sharp knife or bamboo skewer. If the knife does not come out clean, return it to the oven for another 30 minutes. Note that if I use my flexible, silicone loaf tins I have to cook for an additional 30 minutes, in any case. You may also like to take the foil off the top for the last 30 minutes to give it a slightly crustier top.