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Guest blog: A Welsh Christmas

Hannah Stokes looks at what makes a Welsh Christmas

Hannah Stokes is a Post Graduate Broadcast Journalism student at Cardiff University.

She graduated from Durham University two years ago with a degree in English Literature and taught in France for a year before moving to Wales. She writes a food blog at cardiffcooks.wordpress.com

  • A look at Welsh Christmas traditions
  • What’s on the menu this year

By Hannah Stokes

Last year I was in northern France, in Picardie, in the run up to Christmas, teaching English to primary school children; I managed to make Christmas food vocabulary, writing letters to Santa, and mince pie tasting last at least a month. This year I’m in Wales for the first time, and it’s great to see that while we’re all celebrating the same sort of thing, the chance to get together with family, special food, and a nod or two to the Christmas story, we all overlap a bit of culinary tradition and a bit of individual creativity.

Twelve months ago I was learning about the galette des rois eaten at Epiphany, tasting my first foie gras, and dunking chunks of baguette into bowls of melted camembert.

In Wales I’ve learnt about Plygain: the traditional 3am Christmas Day gathering of men in rural churches to welcome in the day with song. As the families waited for 3 o’clock to arrive, they’d knock up some Cyflaith, or toffee, huddled round an enormous pot on an open fire. They’d drop spoonfuls of the liquid into cold water, and the shapes formed would help predict the initials of a future partner. When the service finished, everyone would head home for bread, cheese and ale.

I went along to the Roath farmers market to find out what is selling ahead of Christmas this year

Then there’s Wassail, a drink similar in flavour to mulled wine, but the fruit, sugar and spices are combined with warm beer instead. It would be passed round gatherings in an elaborate Wassail Bowl, sometimes with up to twelve handles, and the drinkers would wish for a successful harvest in the coming year.

For New Year’s Day there’s Calennig: children decorated an apple mounted on sticks with cloves, holly and a candle, and would walk door to door asking for Calennig, or small change.

I visited Roath Market in Cardiff at the weekend, and asked a couple of stall holders what was selling well this year:

While some people are sticking with tradition, others are using Christmas as an excuse for their favourite food, or a chance to experiment.

Nicola Tudor is Cardiff’s best known food blogger CardiffBites. She’s had her menu planned since January, as every year someone different cooks from amongst a group of friends. This year she’s serving blinis with smoked salmon; turkey, beef and baked ham; and a dark chocolate and chestnut mousse to finish. On Boxing Day she’ll stir fry the leftovers with a cranberry and sweet chilli sauce.

At Cowbridge Food and Drink festival, I asked chef Angela Gray what she’ll be enjoying on Christmas Day:

Eira Edwards is a deer, cattle and sheep farmer in South Wales. She’ll be eating Glamorgan turkey, Welsh leeks and home-grown swede, followed by her family tradition of blackberry and apple pie, made from her own fruit frozen from the summer.

Deri Reed is behind vegetarian catering company The Ethical Chef

Deri Reed is behind vegetarian catering company The Ethical Chef. He organises private dining experiences in Cardiff and sells his prepared meals at markets.

His Christmas menu starts off with curried carrot and Perle Las blue cheese soup. For the main course it’s sage infused pumpkin and roast cashew loaf, followed by vegetarian mince pies or Christmas pudding, served along with hot spiced apple juice.

It seems that a Welsh Christmas Day menu can combine any aspects of tradition and personal preference, as long as the result is tasty, hearty and plentiful.

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