March 1 is celebrated by Welsh, expats, and friends the world around as St. David’s Day. St. David was a Welsh-born sixth century saint of the Celtic Church. A scion of royalty, he dedicated his life to the church and spreading Christianity in pagan Wales. St. David rose to become Archbishop. He died on March 1, 589; the anniversary of his death is a Welsh national holiday.
In Wales, traditionalists mark St. David’s Day by wearing a leek, the national symbol of Wales. Leeks have been a symbol of Wales since the early seventh century, when King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his soldiers to wear leeks in their helmets to distinguish them from the invading Saxons. The Welsh won a decisive victory; they’ve adopted the leek as a national symbol ever since. Even now, in the 21st century, the Welsh Guards, a regiment of the Household Division of the British Army, proudly wear a leek pen as a cap badge. Here at the Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market, you may not find many farmers or shoppers wearing this mild member of the onion family, but you will find bunches of leeks stacked high at many vegetable stands.
Leeks are a member of the alliaceae family, which includes the more familiar onions and garlic. Unlike its cousins, the leek does not develop a bulb near its roots. Instead, it looks like a green onion or scallion on steroids: a thick, heavy cylindar vegetable with a white base turning pale and then a deep, dark green. The white and pale green portions of the leek are the only parts used in cooking, although one or two of the dark leaves can be used as part of a boquet garni in making stock or vegetable broth. The pale portion of the leek is protected from light by small hills of dirt, thus every recipe using leeks cautions the cook to wash the leeks carefully before cooking. The white ends are generally free from dirt, but occasionally you’ll find a bit of earth nestled in the crevices of the pale green portion of the stalk.
The variable weather of early March makes a warm, hearty soup or stew a welcome dinner entree. From the Farmer’s Table features three traditional Welsh recipes which highlight or include leeks.
The Culver City Farmers Market is held from 3 pm to 7 pm every Tuesday on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds.
Katie Malich would rather eat her leeks than wear them.