Is That a Leek in Your Pocket?

St. David's Day Leek Corsage

Nothing says Saint David’s Day like accessorizing with leeks.

At least to the Welsh, who don an allium boutonnière every March 1, the feast day of their patron saint. The precise root of this practice is mired in myth, although it seems that this cousin to the onion was elevated to both sartorial splendor and national emblem back in the sixth century during a battle against the Saxons that took place in, of all places, a leek field. David—their patron saint, not LC’s beloved saint and publisher—reputedly ordered troops to identify themselves by affixing the oniony stalk to their helmets. They emerged victorious. Ever since, this saint’s feast day has meant leeks to the Welsh—whereas to those of us at LeitesCulinaria.com, it means a day spent reminding our David that no, the holiday’s not for him, and by the way, he’d better watch himself if he ever hopes to be canonized.

Donning a leek corsage as an act of patriotism has persisted throughout the centuries, meriting a mention or two in Henry V and, more recently, sprouting into veggie contests on this day at Welsh grammar schools. The glory goes to the lad sporting the, ahem, longest leek. (We’re not making this up. We swear.) Victory, however, seems a dubious honor, given that the winner is prodded to eat the allium. Nothing says “champ” like the crunch of gritty sand in a raw leek, right? (This assumes he’s not given the option of halving the stalk, soaking it in cold water till the dirt sifts to the bottom of the bowl, then sautéing it slowly with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of nutmeg before wolfing it down.) We imagine the culmination of the ritual must offer more than a little comfort to the second-place schoolboy, who, though deemed inadequate in the length department, will at least have better breath, not to mention a bit of greenery of his own to contemplate for dinner.

Leeks Recipes to Honor Saint David’s Day

Comments

  1. March 1st, huh? Another date to mark on my food calendar. I love the article, Erin and I love leeks too! After following the corsage link to the reference, I read that folks thought it was a green onion or spring onion. From the description, it was probably a wild leek or ramp they spotted on Prince Charles’ lapel.
    Leeks are very early risers but even so, in Ontario I have to wait until late March or early April to celebrate with fresh. Regardless, tomorrow I’ll have to put something together from last year’s “crop” – and they’re gonna hate me at work the next day 😉

    1. Thanks, Dan! Glad to hear you’re celebrating. I picked up a few leeks myself at the grocery store yesterday, but I think they’d be rather unwieldy as an accessory. I’ll have to mark the day by eating them. That Swiss chard, leek and goat cheese tart looks like a tasty way to honor David–both ours and the Welsh saint, of course.

  2. As you probably know already, I’m a fan of patron saints and the “name days” that celebrate them. Perhaps because there’s no such day for me, or else because these make me think of my Greek grandparents, who celebrated their name days and never their birthdays.

    Erin, this is such a great piece. David, to you I say “Xronia polla!” which is the Greek equivalent of “many happy returns” and is what’s said to someone on their name day as well as their birthday.

    To everyone on Saint David’s Day: may your leeks be, uhm, long and tasty. (God, did I just write that?!) Cheers!

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