'There were three jovial Welshmen
As I have heard men say,
And they would go a-hunting
Upon St David's Day..'
Anonymous 17c Welsh Ballad
It’s St David’s Day again, time to celebrate all things Welsh. I spent the happiest years of my childhood in Wales and all my oldest friends are from there. So ‘Dydd Gwyl Dewi hapus’ to all. That actually means have a tidy St David’s Day, but you get the gist.
I was in my early teens when we moved there from Yorkshire and I'm sure the little town we lived in was where Dylan Thomas found some of the characters for Under Milk Wood. There were salmon poachers on the river and there were lots of extra marital goings on in the town. On one famous occasion when a husband came home unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon, the Nogood Boyo in the bedroom grabbed his shirt and nothing else and leapt from the window. His wife grounded him when he got home by the simple expedient of cutting off the legs of all his trousers.
The old lady who was the council rent collector was ancient, not often sober and went round town in an old raincoat with hundreds of pounds in her open briefcase. My Dad worked with someone who was a 'home nudist' i.e. she went naked as soon as she got behind her own front door, unfortunately she never drew her curtains. I went to school with Ivor Weale whose father owned the local garage and the milkman, Ralph Dyer, would open the back door and shout 'Dyer 'ere' when he dropped off your pinta.
We’d been there about a year when my Mum remarked casually to a friend that we’d only ever seen a Wye salmon in the river and not on our plates. A few days later a parcel arrived wrapped in newspaper and string, we were instructed to eat the fish and bury the bones and bits in the garden, on no account should we put anything fishy in the dustbin…
I went to the pictures every Saturday night and then on to the disco in the Strand Hall where I danced with country boys who smelt of coal tar soap. I joined the tiny public library, and as I disdained the children’s books, the elderly librarian let me have an adult ticket, but vetted what I borrowed. In the school holidays I had a part time job in an old fashioned chemists shop where I got bustled into the back when farmers' wives came in for all their necessities, in case I should be corrupted by their requirements.
For completely sentimental reasons I’ve made a pot of Liptauer - something we bought every week from Lyn Davies at Bristol House Grocers. There was always a big bowl of it in the chill cabinet next to the Brussels pate. How did this delicious Austrian cheese dip ever get to Breconshire in the 1970s? I’ll never know. There are lots of different versions. Here’s my recipe.
200 g cream cheese – the higher the fat the firmer the dip
100g goats cheese or feta - I think feta is better(!)
1 heaped teaspoon Hungarian paprika, you can always add more after tasting..
2 teaspoon capers chopped
2-3 cornichons finely chopped
1 teaspoon caraway seeds, I lightly crush them.
Blitz the two cheeses together, then add the other ingredients, mix well and put it in the bowl from which you want to serve it. Sprinkle with more paprika and a drizzle of oil.
Liptauer is fantastic on anything from water biscuits to black bread - I especially like it on slices of good rye loaf with extra gherkins or on a baked potato.
'Now the town is dusk. Each cobble, donkey, goose and gooseberry street is a thoroughfare of dusk - and night's first darkening snow and the sleep of birds....'
From 'Under Milk Wood' by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)