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Welsh Leek Soup for St. Tavy's Day on March 1st
(Holiday SoupSong 3: February 22, 2004)
Ahem, it's been some 3+ years since the last "Holiday Soupsong"--so much for promises. But my December meltdown--when you ended up with 3 Christmas soup recipes instead of the usual Soupsong of the Month--reminded me that I have been remiss. So I'm giving you plenty of time to locate those plump leeks and plan your menus for a March 1st solidarity-with-the-Welsh celebration of St. Tavy's Day.
Question #1: Who is St. Tavy?
St. David, or Dewi Sant, was a Welsh-born 6th century saint of the Celtic Church. In fact, an 11th century Welsh monk by the name of Rhygyfarch wrote about him that he was of royal lineage (the product of one Prince Sandde raping Dewi's mother, the saintly Non and niece of King Arthur)...that he was consecrated to the church before he was even born...that he performed many miracles while spreading Christianity to the pagan Celtic tribes...and that he became an Archbishop before dying on March 1, 589 AD.
Does it mean, since we're celebrating his death, that he died a martyr? By no means. After a long and virtuous life, and founding many monasteries along the way, he died a very old man and was buried in what is today St. David's Cathedral in Pembrokeshire.
Question #2: Why leeks?
Phoenicians are said to have introduced the leek to Wales when they were trading for tin in the British Isles--a casual act that would unexpectedly elevate this humble plant to national status a thousand years later. Legend has it that some 60 years after Dewi's death, in 640 AD, the Briton King Cadwallader was sorely pressed by invading Saxons. To distinguish themselves from the enemy, the Welsh wore leeks in their hats--and subsequently gained a great victory over their enemies.
Since that time, the Welsh have revered leeks, identified them with St. Tavy, and eaten them with pleasure and as a matter of national pride. Remember in Shakespeare's Henry V when the Welsh Captain Fluellen turns to young King Hal after his victory at Agincourt and says: "Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service; and I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy's day." (Act IV, Scene 7)? Alas for the Welsh, Cadwallader was to be the last king of the Cymry to wear the crown of Britain
Welsh Leek Soup
It's a simple and tasty soup--I hope you enjoy it.
And for a full account of this history and recipe, complete with leek riddles, you need only wait for my forthcoming book, An Exaltation of Soups: The Soul-Satisfying Story of Soup, as Told in More than 100 Recipes, publication date September 2004.