Saturday, July 2, 2011

Welsh Potatoes

Hello again friends. I'm plugging away on the requested revisions to the book. Originally I had written a chapter about Danish foodways, as the Scandinavians comprised about a third of the foreign born population in Utah, and in some places like Ephraim and Brigham City dominated the local culture. The requested revision is to balance the chapter with the three major foreign born populations: British Isles, Scandinavian, and German-speaking (primarily Swiss).

I hadn't thought the British foodways would be anything special. After all, how different could it be from the New England foods that typified Brigham Young's diet? Yesterday at the LDS Archives I got to reading a diary of a Welsh convert, William Ajax. He often wrote in Gaelic, particularly poems and place names. I think this shows his reluctance to leave the culture entirely behind.

Upon reaching Salt Lake City Ajax lamented that potatoes seem to be a rare item in the city, and he had none all the way across the plains. Butter likewise, he says, is rare, as are onions and cheese. Upon further research, it appears these items are mainstays for Welsh cuissine. The potato was, as in Ireland, one of the major Welsh crops, and it shows up in such dishes as potato cakes (teissenau tatws) and potato based stews such as tatws pum munud.

I've made potato cakes for years, and never thought of them as exotic or foreign. I like my welsh-influenced potato cakes much better than the latkes we have at Passover. The basic formula is just a cup of mashed potatoes, a fourth-cup flour, an egg, and a splash of milk. Like William Ajax, I like onions in lots of things, so I mince half an onion and mix that in. William also likes traditional Welsh cheddar, so I often shred a bit of that and mix it in. S & P to taste, of course, and then fry in bacon fat. Later in William's diary he made note of a kind neighbor who gave him a half pound of bacon fat. Gotta thank God for good neighbors.

The garden is going nuts these days, and I'm finishing up a chicken coop. William Ajax started his "stock" with a single laying hen shortly after entering the valley, and I hope to do the same soon. Until then...