Sandra’s Taste of Britain – March 2012

MARCH gets to be a busy holiday month, with St David’s Day for the Welsh, St Patrick’s Day for the Irish, and Mother’s day for … well Mums! I couldn’t think of what to feature that could honour all, so decided to update one of my favourite recipes which was published a few years back, featuring Leeks and Potatoes, then I could honour the Welsh and Irish, especially since this recipe is adapted from my dear Irish friend Mary! We have lovely memories of our visits to both Wales and Ireland, and as always when going over to the UK enjoying the traditional and regional foods.

When we think of Ireland we think of potatoes which were a staple crop and important part of the economy from the 1700’s. Legend has it that Sir Walter Raleigh’s gardener planted the first potato in Ireland in County Cork, 1586. A popular 19th century ditty highlights this possibility:

“The brave Sir Walter Raleigh Queen Bess’s own knight
Brought here from Virginia the root of delight
By him it was planted at Yougal so gay
An’ sure Munster’s praties Are farmed to this day”

Another suggestion is that after the Spanish Armada potatoes from the Spanish ships were picked up and planted, after being washed up on Irish shores. The Irish climate and soils were perfect for growing the potatoes, and was an easy and cheap way to provide food during the famine and plague in the 16th-17th centuries. A sad period occurred in the great potato famine of the 1800’s due to a bad fungal disease which wiped out masses of the potato crops.

A traditional soup, “Brotchan follchep” for generations would feature potatoes and oatmeal for soups, but gradually the oatmeal was replaced with leeks.

We associate leeks with Wales since the Elizabethan times, it is considered to be their national emblem, and the custom is to wear one on March 1, St David’s Day, (however I would think that would get a bit smelly by the end if the day!!!) It is said to date back to the seventh century, when during a battle against the Saxon’s the Welsh would wear them in their helmets to distinguish them from the enemy. Remember to wash leeks carefully as they trap sand and soil, I usually cut off the ends, slice them thin, and put in a colander, then rinse thoroughly with running water. I hope you enjoy mine and Marys’ version of this delicious soup.

Leek and Potato Soup

4 leeks
3 medium potatoes (I prefer Idaho’s for this recipe)
4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
4 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
4 sprigs of parsley

Slice the white parts of the leek and wash well, drain. Peel and slice the potatoes finely. Melt the butter in a large pan, and add the potatoes and leeks. Cook gently five minutes, stirring to prevent sticking and browning. Sprinkle on the flour. When thoroughly mixed, add the stock, herbs and seasoning. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring frequently, lower the heat and simmer 30-40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf. Cool for a bit, and puree in a blender or processor. Return to the pan, reheat and adjust the seasoning to taste. Heat the milk and cream in a separate pan (or microwave gently) and add to the soup. Stir in the chopped parsley. Yield 6-8- servings

So Happy St David’s Day on the First, and St Patrick’s Day on the 17th, and special wishes for all the Mum’s in Britain on the 18th.

(I welcome comments, recipes and requests and can be reached at Yourcuppatea1@yahoo.com.)

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