Leeks

“St. Davids Day, the first of March, kept in honour of St. David Bishop of Menivy in Wales, at which time the Welsh men wear Leeks in their hats, in commemoration of the singular victory obtained by them, under the conduct of St. David, over the Saxons” – An Universal Etymological English Dictionary (1675)

Leeks are known throughout history.  They are found on hieroglyphics in Egypt.  They are mentioned in the book of Numbers as a food that the Jewish slaves ate in Egypt.  Pliny (23 AD-79AD) writes about the uses of leeks.   The Leek has been used in many comedies and bawdy poetry of the 16th and 17th centuries.  Regardless of its origins in history, the one thing that is known is that it is of the onion family, that it is not only used culinary wise but also medicinally and that it can change the acceptance of ones breath.

There are many Leeks.  Allium ampeloprasum is the Latin name of the leek you find in your local grocery store and the one we always call Leek, however, there are many types of Leeks in historic writings.  You may have heard the word Ramp when talking of Wild Leeks.  These are now commonly know as scallions or spring onions.  You may have heard of the House leek.  Funny enough, it is not an allium but it is eaten and interesting enough, it grows wild on the houses in England. In many 16th, 17th, and 18th century writings several Leeks are mentioned: Leeks of the Vine, house leeks, Wild leeks, French Leeks, Dog Leeks, Scotch Leek, and Broad leav’d Leek or London Leek.  However, in today’s world you will find there are even more types of leeks then the ones mention above.  When researching leeks you will find that right along side the type of leeks written about there is also the illnesses that they are intended to aid in the healing of.

Leeks are Hot and Dry in the 4th degree and therefore have expulsive faculties of cold and moist ailments.  That being said, Leeks are said to “Cause bad blood” (Pambotanologia Sive Enchiridon Botonicum; Robert Lovel, 1665).  Blood is hot and moist, so I am assuming although, one is dry and one is moist that because they are both Hot in nature it is not good for the body.  Lovel goes on to mention that leeks are good for ridding one of worms, good for catarrhes or thin rheums, stays the spitting of blood, opens and cleanses the lungs, expectorates tough phlegm and is helpful in childbirth and provoking courses in women.  Leeks are also said to be hurtful to the eyes/sight.  In Eighteen books of the Secrets of Art and Nature (1661) Johann Jacob Wecker says that leeks are good Locust deterrent.  In a Way to get Wealth, William Larsen says to use leeks as a mole deterrent.  Larsen also says that the best time to plant leeks is on the New Moon in February or March and to gather seeds in fair weather on the Wain of the Moon.  Regardless of their medicinal value, leeks are also valued for their culinary uses.

“He that eat cumminseed first, shall never breath forth the stinking ill smell of Leek, though he eat leeks in abundance, for eating of that takes away the ill sent of this.” (Eighteen Books of the Secrets of Art and Nature, 1661)  Although, when looking for receipts for Leeks I found little, I can suppose from the statement above that eating leeks raw must have been the fashion in the 17th century.  Robert Lovel suggest boiling leeks make them “less hurtful and looseth it’s sharpness”.  In the late 17th and throughout the 18th century many writers of cookery books include a leek soup or a soup that has leeks in it.  Does that come from the belief stated by Lovel?  I am not sure, but it does leave one to ponder, since I only found a couple of receipts that are not soup but had leeks as an ingredient.  I did however find several mentions to when they are in season and how to grow them, which leads me back to maybe they were enjoyed raw.  I remember growing up and the lady that watched me loved to eat onions raw with a glass of milk.  She ate it like an apple, and onions are from the same family as leeks.  So, given the information I have found and knowing that there are people who like to eat raw onions today, why could it not the same for our ancestors.  Of course, I am just speculating.

With all this on leeks, did I recreate an historical receipt this week?  In a word, no.  But I did cook a side dish and thought I would share this with you anyway, just because it turned out so delicious!

Take 4 nice size leeks, clean and cut into about 3 inch pieces.  Then cook in 1 1/4 cups milk for about 16 minutes.  Be watchful to not let it boil or scorch.
At the same time fry up some bacon (I used turkey bacon this time around)
once the leeks are done drain and put them into a well buttered shallow baking dish. Crumble bacon over top.
In the pan used to cook the leeks place 1 cup cream, 1 egg, 1 Tablespoon mustard (I used Dijon), and a pinch or two of salt and pepper. Cook whisking until thickens.  Once thicken pour over the bacon and leeks.  Top with shredded cheese ( I shredded Cotswold).  Then place in the oven under a high broiler for about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your oven.

See how creamy it is!  I just couldn’t stop eating it.

Result:  One of the best side dishes I have ever had!  It is a must try.

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Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 11:43 am  Leave a Comment  

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