Happy St David's Day!
A gloriously warm day, the kind full of sunshine, promise and the scent of flowers. What better day to celebrate the patron saint of Wales, sat in a sun drenched room thinking of days long gone by in my adopted home country. In this abundantly beautiful land, that has welcomed me with arms wide open.
March 1st celebrates Dewi (St David) and his bringing of Christianity into Wales. Born towards the end of the 5th century, he was a scion of the royal house of Ceredigion. He founded a Celtic monastic community at Glyn Rhosin (The Vale of Roses) on the western headland of Sir Benfro, the spot where St David's cathedral still stands and his glory was prophesised many years earlier. Sometime in the early to mid-tenth century, a poem was written, Armes Prydain, and it predicted that the Cymry (Welsh people) will unite and join an alliance of fellow-Celts under the banner of St David. During Dewi's lifetime, his fame as a teacher spread throughout the Celtic world, even influencing the original Welsh flag, which depicts light being brought into the darkness (it is black with a gold cross). Perfectly fitting then that as I write this, hazy light is streaming in through the window.
The national day was chosen on the day of Dewi's death, possibly in the year 588 or 589, and he was recognised as a national patron saint at the height of Welsh resistance to the Normans. Celebrations go back a long way with the 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys noting how the Welsh celebrations in London for St David's day would spark wider among their English neighbours. By the 18th century "taffies" (gingerbread figures baked into the shape of a Welshman riding a goat) were being made by confectioners. Today, many of the 3 million population of Wales will wear a daffodil, leek, be sending their young children off to school in traditional dress or be taking part in a parade or concert with pride. The leek, St David's personal symbol, arises from an occasion when a troop of Welsh were able to distinguish each other from a troop of English enemy dressed in similar fashion by wearing leeks. The daffodil is an alternative emblem, which is a generic Welsh symbol and is in season during March. In Welsh the symbols have similar names; cenhinen (leek) and cenhinen Pedr (daffodil, or literally Peter's Leek). I will leave it until another post to talk about the daffodil.
In my Welsh class today, we celebrated with our lovely tutor Sharon and a feast. There were daffodils, welsh cakes, caerphilly cheese, bramley apple sauce and grapes. Welsh cakes (picau ar y maen) are similar to scones (only flatter), traditionally baked on top of the stove or fire, on a bakestone or heavy griddle and are delicious warm. The following recipe is from the highly recommended book, The Great British Book of Baking. It is my current favourite book, filled with enticing recipes and stuffed with stunning photography.
Welsh Cakes - makes 15
225g self-raising flour
a pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
75g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
25g currants or sultanas
1 medium free-range egg yolk mixed with 3 tablespoons milk
a 6cm round cutter
a griddle or heavy-based frying pan
- Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub in using the tips of your fingers untiul the mixture looks like fine crumbs
- Stir in the sugar and fruit. Add the egg yolk and milk, stir the ingredients together using a round-bladed knife, to make a soft but not sticky dough. If the dough is dry and won't come together, add a little more milk
- Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured work surface and roll out about 1cm thick
- Cut into rounds using the cutter, re-rolling the trimmings as necessary.
- Heat the griddle or frying pan - grease it very lightly only if necessary, as the Welsh cakes should not be fried!
- Cook the cakes in batches until puffed up, a good golden brown and just firm on each side, adjusting the heat so they cook evenly. Allow about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan, dust with sugar and eat straight away
Wishing you all a lovely St David's day, I will leave you with the very words uttered by Dewi as his tearful monks prepared for his death - "Brothers be ye constant. The yoke which with single mind ye have taken, bear ye to the end; and whatsoever ye have seen with me and heard, keep and fulfil".