Growing up we celebrated St. David’s Day, prized leaks and leak soup, ate parsnips, ate lamb—lots of lamb served with mint sauce—and learned early on we’d gotten too dirty outside when Mom called us Mochyn Du (old black pig).
That’s just a start. What American boy begins his first year in school wearing short pants and a tie? But then what American boy could say he’d lived in Wales for a time and travelled through Europe, too? Those were the early 1950s that I only vaguely remember.
The food, though, I enjoyed well into the 1990s. If I disappointed Mom when I gave up meat, she didn’t show it. She served my Cawl meatless, with only a brief, “It’s not as good as it could be with meat.” Ah, cawl (pronounced kaul), is, according to Mom neither a soup nor a stew. It is cawl. According to Wikipedia, the modern Welsh cawl is used for soup and broth. But what do they know. Mom knows best.
If that’s confusing, try Welsh cakes. Mom said they aren’t strictly cakes; just as they aren’t strictly cookies, either. Certainly they are not tarts. What are Welsh cakes? Welsh cakes, of course. It all makes perfect sense to me. But then I’m half Welsh—on my right side, my creative side.
Now Welsh cakes are cooked on a plank. Hum.
“A wood plank?” you may ask.
“No, of course not.” I’d answer.
“What’s a plank then,” you ask.
“A plank is a plank, what else.”
Not long ago, I watched the British television series Doc Martin. It’s set in Cornwall, in the south of the island, which is of Celtic origin, as is Wales. In on of the episodes one of the characters had a soft-boiled egg in an egg cup. It’s top was cut off exposing the liquid yellow yoke. The character dipped small fingers of toast into the egg and ate it. Ah, now that brings back memories.
Don’t let’s forget mincemeat tarts. In case you’re wondering, no, there is no meat in mincemeat. I never asked why. I just shoveled them down as often as they appeared magically in one of Mom’s tins. Yup. Real tin boxes filled with all sorts of good things sat on top of the fridge. I don’t recall Mom ever making them with stars as covers. And her tarts were round, not pinched. No matter. Those look like they’d taste nicely in my mouth.
If you were Welsh, perhaps you’d understand. If you’re Welsh and don’t understand, well, that’s okay. There’s generational gaps even if Wales. There’s also geographical gaps. The Welsh are tribal and territorial, after all. Wales fought many a battle to keep free and independent. It ended with the conquest of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (“Llywelyn the Last”) by Edward I—not an easy war, as it took from 1277 to 1283. But the Welsh were really never beat into total submission. Even in the early Twentieth Century, when Mom was in the primary grades, the Englander school masters beat the heathen—as they thought them—Welsh kids for speaking Welsh in school. Hah! It didn’t stop them at all. Welsh is still the language of the day in Wales.
Mom was all American—eventually; though it took some time. Her traditional American apple pie was wonderful. Of course, we often ate it with Bird’s custard spooned over the top instead of a scoop of vanilla ice cream. No matter. Embracing America with a touch of heritage is nice. Mom told me one day, after being in America for over thirty years, she finally stopped dreaming in Welsh. When Mom turned in her “Green Card,” the man who swore her in said he’d never seen a real “Green Card.” It was well worn, yet still green after forty-four years in the States.
One last reminiscence. Welsh Rabbit. No, not the savory sauce of melted cheese. A real Welsh rabbit. I so vividly recall when my uncles came back my grandmother’s house in Blaenau (in the Rhonda Valley) with a fresh-killed rabbit. My grandmother dressed it out and put in the coal-fired oven. It was the smell I so distinctly remember, and covering my face with a bandana. I remember how my grandmother held her elbow into the oven to check the temperature. What I don’t remember is eating any of the foul smelling beast.
Missing Mom’s cooking, I am. One day I may just sail over to Wales and see if I can bum a meal from some of my wonderful relatives over there.
Lord Bless, Keep, Shine. . .