Tag Archives: Welsh food

Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day, the Welsh National Holiday



On March 1st, I’ll be celebrating St. David’s Day.  “Who/What?”  Well, think another Celtic country celebrates its national day–David instead of Patrick, Wales instead of Ireland and leeks and daffodils instead of Shamrocks. And some home-made Welsh Cawl.

St. David's Day the day for Welsh Cawl

St. David in a St. David’s Day Parade with Welsh Flag.

You can learn more about St. David and his day from this article in The Telegraph.

Of course, my special occasion planning goes straight to “What do we eat?”

Welsh Cawl for St. David’s Day

The answer to that question for St. David’s Day seems to vary, but always includes some Welsh Skillet Cakes and the Welsh soul food, Welsh Cawl.  Pronounce it like “owl”. Make it with winter vegetables. Sup it from a bowl with some crusty bread.

Like beef vegetable soup or stew, this dish is quite flexible, so feel free to toss in what you have on hand. But the basics that make it uniquely Welsh Cawl include lamb, leeks and potatoes. If you read that article on St. David, you might have picked up that the saint recommended the Welsh wear leeks in their caps when they went into battle. Smelly, what?  However, a more practical reason for leeks in the soup is that they  are widely available in late winter/early spring.

Leeks for Welsh Cawl

Leeks, ready for harvesting

The other vegetables that might be included in your Welsh Cawl could be carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and even some greens, like spinach or kale (which I’ll toss in to mine when I reheat it.)

Although this is a simple recipe, it takes a while to make it, and everyone recommends leaving it in the fridge for a day before you eat it. So plan ahead. The flavors have a chance to meld, and to me the most important reason for the day’s delay is that the fat accumulates on top and you can skim it off.

Peasant Food Isn’t The Bargain It Used To Be

Vegetables for Welsh Cawl

Vegetables for Welsh Cawl

Our peasant ancestors made this soup for its taste–but also for its economy.  In Wales on their small farms, they always had lamb available at this time of year, and they ate every cheap cut of meat from it. Generally they used neck for the Cawl. While lamb may still be abundant in parts of Europe (and New Zealand and Australia),  lamb in 21st Century America has graduated to a luxury item.

I could not buy lamb neck, even at a specialty butcher shop, and I wanted a piece of meat a bit meatier than the second choice, lamb shanks. So I went with another cut I had seen mentioned in online recipes–lamb shoulder. It was expensive.  $24.45 for less than three pounds. And a good deal of that was gristle and fat which got trimmed away after the initial cooking.

Of course it was not Welsh lamb–it came from Australia, which is fine, because I suspect that a good number of the sheep farmers in Australia originally emigrated from Wales.

Then there were the vegetables. Potatoes and carrots are standard, but not as many people like parsnips and rutabagas as I do.  Plus they don’t grow in the winter here in the Southwest.  So I paid $1.50 for one rutabaga and $1.99 for a pair of parsnips.

But the real shock came with the leeks at 2.49 per pound, I paid 1.77, and of course, threw most of them away, because I used only the white part.

That brings me up to $29.71, which would get close to $30.00 by the time I figured out (which I’m not going to do) the price of two potatoes, an onion, and one giant carrot.

On the other hand, the combination of lamb shoulder and veggies made over a gallon of soup, which will make at least 12 servings.

Welsh Lamb Cawl

Serves 12
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 3 hours, 30 minutes
Total time 4 hours, 30 minutes
Dietary Diabetic, Gluten Free
Meal type Soup
Misc Serve Hot
Region British
On St. David's Day in Wales, the traditional comfort food is Welsh cawl--a hearty soup of lamb and winter vegetables.


  • 2-3 lb lamb (See notes)
  • 1 Onion
  • 2 Leeks
  • 2-4 Potatoes
  • 1 Rhutabaga
  • 2 Parsnips
  • 2 Carrots (or one very large)
  • Herb bundle (parsley, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme)
  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil


1. Put oil in bottom of large pot, heat and add meat to brown on all sides.
2. When meat is browned, add onion, cut in quarters and whites of leeks, chopped in 1/2" slices-- cover meat with water.
3. Cut a small piece of cheesclot;, put herbs in the center and tie opposite corners to make a packet. Add to the water in the pan.
4. Bring to a boil and simmer for two hours (depending on the size of cut of meat and type of cut). Add water if needed to keep meat covered.
5. Peel other vegetables and cut in dice. In a small amount of oil in skillet, brown each type briefly.
6. When meat is cooked, remove from pan (leave onion and leeks in broth). Set meat aside and keep warm by putting aluminum foil on top. Put rhutabaga in broth and simmer 15 minutes.
7. Add carrots and simmer another 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove meat from bones, cut in small pieces, and remove excess fat. Add parsnips and potatoes to the broth.
8. Add meat back and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Take pot off heat, let cool slightly and put in refrigerator for one to three days.
9. To serve, reheat gently. Add greens if you desire. Serve with a spring of parsley.


Lamb neck is suggested as the favored cut for this recipe, in which case you would need to pick the meat off the bones after the initial cooking of the meat, and the cooking time would be shorter.

The same would be the case with lamb shanks, another possible cut of meat.

As the meat simmers, you may need to skim off fat. Add water if needed, to keep the meat covered at all times during cooking.

Wales, Food From Another Homeland

The Culture and Food of Wales

Women in Welsh costumes

Women Taking Tea. Toward the end of the 19th century, there was  a fad of making postcards of people in traditional Welsh costumes. Ahh, those hats!!

That delightful photo is part of a large collection of rescued 19th century photos that is held by the National Museum Wales. You can see 104 of them on Flicker and learn more at the collection’s web site. There are a few Morgans identified in this collections, but although they might be distantly related, I have to keep in mind that the Morgan brothers that left for America had been gone for about 200 years when these pictures were taken.

“Welsh expats can be found around the world, but many have emigrated to the United States, in particular Ohio, Idaho and Pennsylvania.” The Guardian Newspaper on line.

That description closely fits the pattern of the Morgan family, my ancestors stretching back from great-great-grandfather Jesse Morgan.  Although when two Morgan brothers left Wales they originally settled in New England, within a few generations, they had moved to Pennsylvania and then on to Ohio.  One of Jesse’s sisters and several of his nephews and nieces lived in Oregon–not Idaho, but next door.

Oddly enough, a strong Welsh community survives in the Argentinian province of Patagonia.  As far as I know, none of Jesse Morgan’s relatives ventured as far as Patagonia. (But I wouldn’t mind an excuse to travel there.)

I want to know more about being Welsh.  Since the ancestors I have explored earlier were mainly English, Scots-Irish or German and Dutch, Wales is a new location with new traditions to look at.  Yes, still Great Britain, but with a very distinctive culture.

The Foods of Wales

Of course, I explored Welsh foods first! Although Jesse Morgan, my great-great-grandfather, was a member of the sixth generation in America, surely some of the traditional foods must have still been served. Lamb is a mainstay of the Welsh diet. Did my New England and Pennsylvania Welsh ancestors raise lambs? And I need to learn about Caerphilly cheese, a Welsh native cheese. Did they attempt to replicate native Welsh cheeses? Did the women of the family stick to tried and true native bread and cake recipes?

Welsh Cheese

Welsh Caerphilly Cheese

A great source is the website Wales.com and its page on Welsh food. I know that for sure I will be trying Welsh cakes–a skillet bread I also like the look of Bara Brith (speckled bread)–a kind of melding of fruit cake and bread that looks dense and rich, like Boston Brown Bread.

Welsh Bread

Welsh Bara Brith Bread

Ancestors in Aprons already shared a recipe for Welsh rarebit, and a discussion of the name.  In Wales, they add a variety of ingredients.

How I would love to take a culinary tour of Wales , attend a food festival, or at least visit some Welsh markets

The Living Language of Wales

On the one hand, I want to relate to the Welsh, but on the other hand, do I want to learn to speak the language?

It’s called Cymraeg, and is a language with entirely regular and phonetic spelling. Our place names may look complicated but once you know the rules, you can learn to read and pronounce Welsh fairly easily.

Our Celtic language is closely related to Cornish and Breton and is one of Europe’s oldest living languages; the Welsh we speak today is directly descended from the language of the sixth century.” Wales.com

Despite the assurances of the website–it does not look easy to me. Take the longest word:


Ah well, the Welsh national saying is  Gwnewch y Pethau Bychain  which means ‘Do the Little Things’. So I think I’ll start with cooking instead of talking.