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Traditional Welsh Cooking

Need inspiration for dinner? Welsh food writer Annette Yates may have the perfect dish for you. Her latest cookbook hits bookshelves today. The Best of Traditional Welsh Cooking contains step-by-step directions for more than 60 classic dishes from various regions. Can’t find a recipe that suits your fancy? Then try one of her other cookbooks: A Taste of Wales, Welsh Heritage Food and Cooking, or Real British Dishes. A member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and the Guild of Food Writers, Yates has written more than 20 cookbooks.

Wales’ Mum

On Mother’s Day (in much of the world), it seems appropriate to give a belated nod to the woman known as the mother of Wales. (In Wales, Mother’s Day is usually celebrated in March; the date varies with Lent.)

With numerous descendants, Catrin of Berain (1534/35–1591) has been dubbed the “Mother of Wales.” Catrin was a descendant of Henry VII; her parents were Tudur ap Robert Vychan of Berain, Denbighshire, and Jane Vielville. A large family tree is a given for a Tudor; however, Catrin’s roots extend even further thanks to four strategic marriages and her large brood.

Catrin’s husbands were, in order of marriage, John Salusbury, Sir Richard Clough, Maurice Wynn, and Edward Thelwall. With each union, her wealth and power increased. She had two sons by her first husband; two daughters second by her second; and a son and a daughter by her third. In addition, Catrin of Berain had 16 stepchildren and 32 grandchildren. Her fourth husband was the only to outlive her.

Some gossipmongers claimed Catrin had seven husbands, while others insisted that she killed her first three. She purportedly killed one spouse by “pouring molten lead into his ear”!

Welsh Word of the Day

Looking to learn Welsh word by word? If so, check out the Welsh word of the day. Fittingly, today’s word is “Sul,” which sounds like “seal,” and means Sunday. BBC Radio host Huw Stephens selects the words and provides their phonetic pronunciations. Once you’ve mastered a few words, you may wish to move on to Welsh phrases. If you’re really ambitious you might tackle the “Big Welsh Challenge,” an interactive video course designed for beginners.

Spirits of Plas Newydd

In the wee hours I found myself watching an episode of Most Haunted, a series I dislike for numerous reasons, particularly the screeching, spoon-fed details, and absence of scientific methods. I watched the show, despite its flaws, because the episode featured Plas Newydd. The Welsh home is reportedly haunted by the “Ladies of Llangollen” and other spirits. 

In the late 1700s, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby left Ireland for Wales. The eccentric ladies settled in Llangollen and transformed the cottage known as Pen-y-Maes into a gothic style home that incorporated stain glass and intricate oak carvings.  The ladies renamed their home Plas Newydd, or “new hall.”

Over the years, they hosted notable figures such as William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, the Duke of Wellington, and Lady Caroline Lamb. (The lifestyle of the Ladies of Llangollen reminds me of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.) First-hand accounts of the Ladies’ lives can be accessed through the National Library of Wales.

Legendary Quest

Want to embark on a legendary quest? Then let’s grab a map, courtesy of Inspirational Wales, a Web site published by the South West Wales Tourism Partnership—one of Wale’s four regional tourism partnerships. Our quest map follows Arthurian legend through South West Wales, directing us to five legendary sites, among them Arthur’s Stone and Merlin’s purported birthplace, home, and prison.

Punishment Devices

Looking at punishment devices from past centuries, I’d say today’s criminals are coddled. Years ago, criminals might find themselves manacled to a punishment tree, fitted with a scold’s bridle, or positioned beneath a guillotine. Hard labor ranged from stone breaking to working the treadmill at Beaumaris, essentially serving as a human water pump. Noncompliant criminals might find themselves in a whipping room or a dark cell (solitary confinement in the dark). In contrast, lenient jailors might resort to silent monitors, restraint jackets, or simply handcuffs and leg irons.

Prison diets were rather barbaric too. In the 1800s, the menu consisted of bread; potatoes; gruel, which  contained up to two ounces of oatmeal per pint; and scouce, a meat stew comprising nine pounds of beef pieces to 90 pounds of potatoes.

Payments to a Serving Maid

The National Library of Wales’ digitized collection contains a trove of primary documents. One manuscript that caught my eye details sixteenth- and seventeenth-century fashion in Wales, specifically lower-class women’s fashion. Most of the handwritten lists are in Welsh; however, the document summary outlines notable points and includes a link to transcribed lists.   

Outhouse Relics

In the 1970s photographer James Maxwell Davies discovered a collection of photographic images in an old outhouse. Although the discarded glass slides were badly damaged, Davies was able to restore more than 100 images originally captured for posterity by Tom Mathias.

Mathias’ collection depicts rural Cardiganshire life in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Among the photographs are images of coopers to coppers, hay harvesting to bridge building, servants to gentry, and even a Girl Guide patrol leader. The collection includes a rare photo of coracle, pictures of women in traditional Welsh costume, and portraits of local people and their families. Mathias also took many pictures of buildings, slate quarries, and horse-drawn delivery vehicles.

Gelert’s Grave

In the village of Beddgelert a bronze statue commemorates the tragic tale of Gelert, a prince’s dog. The story of Gelert is a variation of the “faithful hound” myth that appears in many countries including India, Malaysia, and Egypt. A pair of headstones—one in English, the other Welsh—relate the tale.

“GELERT’S GRAVE

IN THE 13TH CENTURY, LLYWELYN, PRINCE OF NORTH WALES, HAD A PALACE AT BEDDGELERT. ONE DAY HE WENT HUNTING WITHOUT GELERT “THE FAITHFUL HOUND” WHO WAS UNACCOUNTABLY ABSENT. ON LLYWELYN’S RETURN, THE TRUANT STAINED AND SMEARED WITH BLOOD, JOYFULLY SPRANG TO MEET HIS MASTER. THE PRINCE ALARMED HASTENED TO FIND HIS SON, AND SAW THE INFANT’S COT EMPTY, THE BEDCLOTHES AND FLOOR COVERED WITH BLOOD. THE FRANTIC FATHER PLUNGED THE SWORD INTO THE HOUND’S SIDE THINKING IT HAD KILLED HIS HEIR. THE DOG’S DYING YELL WAS ANSWERED BY A CHILD’S CRY. LLYWELYN SEARCHED AND DISCOVERED HIS BOY UNHARMED BUT NEAR BY LAY THE BODY OF A MIGHTY WOLF WHICH GELERT HAD SLAIN, THE PRINCE FILLED WITH REMORSE IS SAID NEVER TO HAVE SMILED AGAIN. HE BURIED GELERT HERE. THE SPOT IS CALLED BEDDGELERT”

According to lore, the word Beddgelert translates to Gelert’s Grave; however, other research indicates the village was named after a saint. Apparently, the grave was a late 18th century marketing ploy devised by a hotel landlord whose business needed a boost.

Welsh Fun & Goodies

We Love WelshReady to test your Welsh knowledge? Try the “How Really Welsh Are You?” quiz. Warning: it’s fast paced, so read quickly! If you’ve never seen a life-sized leek, check out the Really Welsh Snaps section. While you’re visiting the site, download a few Welsh icons, listen to some stories, or read up on the Really Welsh products—the ice cream sounds delish!