Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: A meal in honour of St. David

Cathi Litzenberger offers some recipes for St. David's Day, but you don't have to be Welsh to enjoy them.

Today, Feb. 29, is Leap Day, signifying a Leap Year. It came about with the transition from the Roman calendar to the Julian, in 45 BCD (before common era), to the Gregorian calendar.

Because it takes 365.25-plus days for the earth to revolve around the sun, they needed to add another month, which they named July (after Julius Caesar) and an extra day, which was added to the last month of the old calender (Feb. 28). This extra day was added every 1,460 days; years with a leap day are all divisible by four. Years that can be divided by 100 evenly are excluded except for those that can also be divided evenly by 400. Sound complicated? Well it works, that’s all that really matters.

Many people know this day as Sadie Hawkins Day, an American folk event or pseudo-holiday originating in 1937 from Al Capp’s classic hillbilly comic strip, Li’l Abner. When I was in high school we celebrated Sadie Hawkins day by dressing up as hillbillies and those that were brave would ask a boy to the dance or sock hop. Today, it’s not considered wrong for the fairer sex to lead in asking the other out and so Sadie Hawkins day, for the most part, has been relegated to history.

Since there are no particular leap year foods, I’ve chosen Welsh recipes in honour of St. David’s Day tomorrow. Daffodils and leeks are two Welsh symbols and no celebration would be complete without welsh cakes with jam or sweet cream.

Welsh Cakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup granulated white sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter

1/3 cup currants or raisins

1/4 cup chopped candied citrus peel

1 large egg, lightly beaten

2 – 4 tablespoons milk

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, ground cinnamon and mace. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Stir in the currants and mixed peel.  Add the beaten egg and enough milk to form a light dough.

Knead the dough gently on a lightly floured surface and roll to a thickness of 1/4 inch (5 mm). Cut into rounds using a 2 1/2 inch (6 cm) cookie cutter. Lightly butter a griddle, heavy frying pan, or electric frying pan and heat to medium hot. Cook the Welsh cakes for about 5 minutes per side, or until they are golden brown, but still soft in the middle.

Immediately after baking, sprinkle with granulated white sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature. Welsh cakes can also be eaten buttered or split in half and spread with jam.

Makes about 20 – 2 1/2 inch cakes.

Note: Welsh Cakes can also be baked in a 350 degree F (177 degree C) oven. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake for about 7 – 9 minutes on each side or until set and very lightly browned yet still soft inside (they won’t get as brown as when you cook them on a griddle). They can also be cooked on a baking stone in the oven. Heat the stone in a 350 degree F (177 degree C) oven and then bake the Welsh Cakes on the stone, turning after about 4 – 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Real Potato Leek Soup

18 small red new potatoes

1.5L chicken stock

3 leeks, chopped

1/4 cup butter

2 cups milk

Salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes into a large saucepan with water to cover. Bring to the boil and cook until tender.

Meanwhile, sauté leeks in butter until translucent. When potatoes are done, skin them while they are still hot and cut them into bite-sized pieces.

Place potatoes into a stock pot with chicken stock and leeks. Season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat until simmering, then remove from heat and stir in milk. Serve immediately.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist.