We must have pulled a hundred leeks today. They are small, sweet and tender great for fragrant cooking or they can be eaten raw in crunchy salads. Leeks, the kings of the winter vegetables, are easy to grow, hardy and look handsome for months.
The Lets Get Growing team take turns to dig them from the earth with sharp spades and flashing forks. The upper leafy flags are cut off and the hairy roots discarded. Finally they are washed in cool flowing water which freezes our fingers, but it is worth it. There they are; the beauties, firm and white, in trays, what a satisfying sight!
Some are sold at local pubs, the tiny ones, for we know the customers like those miniature gems. The Minsteracres kitchen is supplied with lots to feed its many guests and the remainders we bag to take home to cook in our favourite recipes. We talk, drooling in anticipation, of leeks sautéed in butter, creamed in quiche. We plan to create a culinary feast, perhaps a leek and tomato tart, or a leek and suet pudding, what about a leek and cheese pie we ask? Here’s my chosen one.
Onions basil and garlic
Thinly sliced leeks buttery splash
Chives and parsley mash
Salt and pepper dash
Broth and sip
Poem by Donald Meikle
Ours are not show leeks, huge in size and popularity in the mining towns of the north east. They do not attract large bounty or fame, they are small and sturdy having survived the harsh winter. They have not luxuriated in heated greenhouses, nor are they set in dubious concoctions that promote unusual growth. They are not lavished with witchery nor fought over by rival gardeners. They are merely tended with care and a watchful eye.
The leek originates from Central Asia and was introduced to Britain by the Romans. The Greeks and Romans revered the leek for its healing properties for it was prescribed to strengthen the larynx. Apparently Emperor Nero ate leeks daily to improve his oration (pity about his fiddling) and the philosopher Aristotle gave credit to the leek for the clear song of the partridge.
The Welsh are known to produce very fine singers. Is it a coincidence that one of their national emblems is the leek? We too love to yodel in the garden, maybe it is fuelled by the leeks we eat. Sadly I think I would have to consume a lorry load to sing as well as Shirley Bassey or Duffy. Do you remember Tom Jones in his younger days; his stage was often littered with the undergarments of women. I didn’t really appreciate what was going on as a child. Now, I can see what those women meant as his voice and presence seems to improve every year. I am waiting for Tom to reveal that it’s his secret leek guzzling that works that particular magic.
I believe the Welsh leek is a symbol of victory and endurance. They defeated their Saxons invaders, having fixed the leek in their helmets to distinguish themselves from their foe. The bloody battle took place in a leek field. I imagine the leeks like fluttering flags, tortured soldiers, standing in a row, bent by the wind and nipped by the snow.
It was in these times past that the leek was seen as a medicine able to cure a variety of illnesses, the common cold, the pains of childbirth, the effects of lightening strike and battle wounds. It was a tasty and healthy ingredient in cawl, traditional Welsh broth. And it was also held as a means of foretelling the future and warding off evil spirits. Young maidens were told they would see the faces of their future husbands by placing a leek underneath their pillow.
Is the leek’s reputation sullied by association with bloodshed and fierce rivalry? Do the myths that it wards off evil and has magical use diminish the leek’s fan base? Not a jot! Perhaps it is the very link with proud people who have experienced injustice and hardship that makes the leek an everlasting symbol of hope and endurance. In any case it continues to curry favour in a myriad of cook books and gardeners’ allotments.
I can only conclude that leeks must have great power. They have cured ailments since time immemorial and can bring forth beautiful song from birds and humankind. They are the darlings of many a Geordie leek show, growing despite the vicious winter onslaught and the addition of unspeakable unguents. They make women throw their pants at ageing men and see visions of them at night. They enliven the pride of a Nation and are the root of many a tasty recipe enough to tempt the palate of the fussiest eater. Furthermore leeks can clearly topple giants, for I hear it said, ‘a small leak can sink a large ship.’ Enjoy your soup.
Read Dianne’s earlier blogs: