If Wales could be said to have a national dish, then that national dish would be cawl, a word that means something halfway between a soup and a stew.

You start with an iron pot and an open fire and the basic ingredients of bacon, leeks and cabbage, to which you would add whatever scraps of meat are available and whatever other vegetables are in season. The meat would most likely have been mutton, or possibly a cheap cut of beef; the vegetables would have included potatoes together with one or more root vegetables such as swede, turnip, parsnip or carrot, with the addition of peas, broad beans or cauliflower.

You place the meat, bacon and cabbage in the pot, cover with cold water, add herbs and seasoning to taste, and simmer over the fire for three hours or so. Traditionally this basic cawl would have been made in industrial quantities; then each day a few new vegetables would be added, and the pot re-heated until the additional ingredients were cooked. A few leeks would be thrown in towards the end.

The result would be ladled into bowls and eaten with wooden spoons accompanied by a fresh bread and chunk of cheese if there was some to hand. If you wished to be slightly more sophisticated, you might serve the broth first, with the meat and vegetables to follow afterwards as a second course.

This is basic Welsh peasant food, as eaten by basic Welsh peasants for generations since the dawn of time. Recipes differed from family to family and there were and are, countless variations of the basic theme. Mutton is hard to come by these days so lamb is normally substituted and cabbage is a taste many choose not to acquire. So here is one version on the theme.

Take the following ingredients

2lb neck of lamb
1lb piece shoulder of smoked bacon
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme

place in a large saucepan and cover with water, bring slowly to the boil and simmer for half an hour. Allow to cool overnight by which time the fat from the meat will have solidified on the surface. Remove fat.

Then take the following

1/2 oz flour
lb potatoes
1/2 lb turnips, parsnips or swede or a mixture thereof

Roughly chop or slice the vegetables and add to the pot. Add the potatoes whole if small and new, otherwise chop into chunks. Stir in the flour. Slowly bring to the boil once more and simmer for around two and a half hours. About ten minutes before the end throw in a few young, thin leeks.

Serve whilst hot.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.