Traditional Welsh foods
What are the traditional foods of Wales?
Unlike England where a number of culinary traditions filtered down from the upper levels of society, the traditional dishes of Wales literally grew from the land.
Reports from 1896 show that farmers and tenants survived on home-cured meat of domestic animals, home grown vegetables, dairy products and cereal-based dishes. Farmers and cottagers would fatten and slaughter at least one pig a year to provide a constant supply of salted bacon. On larger farms, a bullock or cow was killed and the meat shared between neighbouring farms.
Meat and Vegetables
Cattle provided milk to produce butter and cheese, and vegetables such as leeks, carrots, cabbages, herbs and, from the 18th century onwards, potatoes were grown. Wild fruits, plants, animals and birds were used when in season. Communities living close to coastal regions were able to vary their diet by collecting shellfish and seaweed to make laverbread.
The harsh landscape meant that oats and barley were the most common cereal crops, with wheat confined to the fertile lowlands. Oatmeal was one of the basic elements in the diet of the Welsh. Among the everyday foods served in most rural districts until the early 20th century were Llymru (flummery) and sucan (sowans), consisting of oatmeal steeped in cold water and buttermilk, boiled until thickened and served cool with milk or treacle, bwdram (thin flummery), uwd (porridge) and griwel blawd ceirch (oatmeal gruel).
Oat-bread was the most common bread to be eaten in Wales until the late 19th century. It was used in north Wales as a basic ingredient in cereal pottages such as picws mali (shot) or siot (shot); a popular light meal consisting of crushed oat-bread soaked in buttermilk. Br?es (brose) was a common dish in the agricultural areas of the north and was regularly prepared as a breakfast dish for the men-servants. It was made from crushed oat-bread steeped in meat stock and sprinkled with crushed oat-bread before serving.
Welsh rural society was largely self-supporting with the exception of sugar, salt, tea, rice and currants, which had to be purchased. Very little fresh fruit was bought and eggs were only eaten on very rare occasions.
The open hearth
The open fire was central to cooking throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and in many rural homes well into the 20th century. Such limited cooking facilities also governed what could be prepared. Stews, joints of meat and puddings were boiled in a cooking pot or cauldron.
Pot ovens were used for roasting meat and baking cakes. Bakestones were widely used to bake oatcakes, drop scones, soda bread, pancakes and griddlecakes (such as Welsh Cakes).
Although the tradition of living off the land survived until a later period in the rural areas, change came with improved roads and modern shopping facilities, not to mention the arrival of fridges and home freezers. Today, the majority of these dishes are mostly eaten on special occasions as 'traditional food'.
Domestic Life in Wales by Minwel S. Tibbott. Published by University of Wales Press and the National Museums & Galleries of Wales (2002).
First Catch your Peacock: A Book of Welsh Food by Bobby Freeman. Published by Image Imprint (1980).
Article Date: 23 April 2007
A small tinplate screen, found in the industrial communities of both north and south Wales. Small pieces of meat were suspended from the hooks inside the curved, reflecting hood and the whole oven would sit on a trivet (an iron bracket) in front of the fire. It was also possible to bake tea-time favourites such as round cakes, or teisen lap in the shallow drip-tray.