Monthly Archives: November 2011

Cockaleekie Soup

As noted in the previous post, it is likely that it was Scotland’s French allies who introduced the leek into Scotland — at very least, the French encouraged their use in Scottish recipes. Probably the most well-known use of leeks in Scotland is the country’s famous cockaleekie soup.

Cockaleekie soup would traditionally be served as a soup course, with the chicken removed and served later, probably after the haggis. However, I like the more recent, semi-traditional versions that can, with the addition of salad and bread, be a whole meal. (Also, traditionally, you’d be boiling an old fighting cock with its head and feet still on—so I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed that this has been updated.)

The addition of prunes is an item of controversy–some see them as immutable tradition, others view them as pollutants. I like the vaguely wine-like undertones they give the broth. You can make your own decision. If you opt for prunes, you need to use ones that still have their pits; if the prune has been pitted, the insides dissolve and make the broth muddy. Though I add prunes while cooking, and enjoy eating them myself, I recommend leaving them in the pot if serving this dish to guests, since a pit can be an unwelcome surprise in the midst of feasting. Continue reading


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When King Henry says, in Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” that he will wear a leek in his cap, he is identifying himself with his Welsh subjects. The reason this created a connection is that, when King Cadwallader and the Welsh faced the Saxons in battle in AD 640, the Welsh soldiers identified themselves by wearing leeks in their caps. Leeks were so closely associated with the Welsh, that a leek appears on some Welsh coins. It is to the Welsh what the thistle is to the Scottish.

Leeks have been consumed for so long in Wales and other Celtic countries that some hypothesize that the British Isles are a possible point of origin. Other scholars say the Mediterranean is where they emerged. They were popular in Egypt and ancient Rome (Nero’s nickname was “leekeater”), the Chinese were praising leeks by 1500 BC, and leeks were being written about in Mesopotamia as early as 2100 BC. So wherever they started, they clearly were popular and on the move pretty much from the get-go.

If leeks did start in the Mediterranean, rather than colder climes, as some hypothesize, then the Romans would have brought them to Britain when they invaded in 43 AD. So Britain has had them for a couple millennia, even if leeks didn’t actually start out there. Continue reading

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