Eating History - Leeks


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"Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service; and I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy's day. " (Henry V Act IV, Scene 7)

I was given an assignment once, back in culinary school. I had to write a report on leeks. “What the heck am I going to say about leeks?" I said to myself, “It's white and green and is a member of the lily family!" (As soon as I calmed down, I began my search. This was before the World Wide Web was more like an island, so searching for information was out. It was off to the library. ) The true origins of this vegetable are unknown. It is estimated that the leek has been cultivated since around 3,000 BC.

Its introduction to the British Isles would elevate this simple garden-variety plant to a higher status. The Phoenicians are said to have been the first to bring leeks to Britain when they decided to step into the tin trade. Leeks were not just for eating, though. It is said that in about 640 AD, Saxons were fighting with the Welsh. King Cadwallader told his Welsh soldiers to wear leeks as a badge to distinguish themselves from their blood-thirsty opponents. To this day, the Welsh still wear a leek or a representation of one in their hats. When in war, leeks were thought to have aided in victory. Long before the reign of King Cadwallader, it is said that the Emperor Nero ate leeks. According to Pliny's “Historia Naturalis", Nero ate them prepared in oil, believing it would aid in maintaining the clarity of his voice.

The leek wasn't always held in such high regard. The French called it the “Asparagus of the Poor" until one of France's own, Chef Louis Diat, created a soon to be internationally popular soup. Vichyssoise is a soup made of leeks and potatoes that is served cold. I'm not to partial to this cold soup and prefer a Potage Parisien. Here’s a recipe:

Potage Parisien (Leek and potato soup)

1 lbs. leek, white part only. For a little color you can use a bit of the softer green parts just above the white.

A healthy pat of butter

Enough chicken stock to cover the ingredients. About a cup or so will do

2 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced

Bouquet Garni (Herb satchel)

Optional: Heavy Cream

Salt and Pepper

Clean the leeks. Make sure you remove the sand from between the layers. Slice the leek.

Melt your butter in a sauté pan, lower the heat and add the leeks and the bouquet garni. Let them cook until translucent.

Add the chicken stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. The addition of cream is optional. A few tablespoons should do.

Did you know?

Leeks grow just about year round with March through October being the best time for them. They are full of iron, beta-carotene, vitamins B1 and B6 folate, and vitamin C. Leeks provide fiber and are fat free.

Paul Rinehart is classically trained and is the founder of Online Cooking .


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