What is Welsh food? It’s the question Carwyn Graves sets out to answer in Welsh Food Stories, a grand tour of the history of Wales’ produce and the traditions which are still being sustained by a dedicated group of artisans. He meets cheesemakers and bakers, dairy farmers and fishermen, to paint an optimistic picture of the country’s food and its future.
Along the way, he takes us to Anglesey to illustrate the importance of sea salt and draws fascinating history lessons, many less widely known than they should be. Take the story of Welsh oysters: in 17th century Carmarthen they were so plentiful you could buy 100 for a penny, then the price of six pears or a dozen eggs. In 1756, a writer acclaimed Tenby oysters as the world’s largest – but Graves explains the eventual sad collapse of the industry as boats from further afield saturated the market and the shellfish beds were exhausted.
More importantly, Graves makes a persuasive case for Welsh food in Welsh Food Stories as a distinct culinary voice within the European tradition. Drawing similarities with the food of the Alps, the shared importance of lamb with Norway and the Pyrenees, and the common significance of shellfish to French and Iberian cooks, he argues for Welsh food as a Western European cuisine with unique features: “a mostly peasant tradition” borne of its natural geographical advantages.
He urges us to support specialist producers like Halen Mon salt, Ty Tanglwyst dairy or cheeses from Caws Hafod. “Quality is always worth seeking out” is something every food lover can rally to, and it concludes a book to savour – a valuable resource for anyone who cares about the food we eat and its wider standing in the world.
Welsh Food Stories, Carwyn Graves (Calon/University Of Wales Press)
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words JONATHAN SWAIN