In advance of her demo kitchen on 2nd March, part of the St David’s Day celebrations, Beca Lyne-Pirkis explores the impact on her cooking of her native Welsh culture and influences from further afield
As a Welsh cook and food writer, you can imagine how proud I am of my country, its culture and heritage. In my work, I am constantly inspired by its rich mix of traditions—but I have also been highly influenced by my personal links with other countries and cultures.
I often talk and write about recipes and stories from my upbringing. The wonderful characters in my family—from farming stock in west Wales and across the pond in the mid-west of America—have heavily influenced the cook that I am today, and I feel fortunate to be able to draw upon their wealth of knowledge.
Many of the recipes that I have inherited from my Welsh family are very simple. The meals prepared on the farm by my grandmother—Mamgu, as we called her—were hearty and delicious, using whatever was to hand. My mother often talks about how rationing never really reached them on the farm after the war, reminiscing with my dad about how Mamgu would slaughter a pig, making use of every bit of the animal, from bacon, gammon and roasting joints to sausages, faggots and brawn.
A demon in the kitchen
Mamgu was the original nose-to-tail cook, a maverick with a carving knife and a demon in the kitchen, turning her hand to anything, creating without fuss the most comforting and delicious dishes to feed however many there were for dinner that day. To many, Welsh cuisine may seem simple, but if you have great produce, there’s no need to mess around with it. Cooking it simply means you can appreciate the produce at its best, which is exactly what my Mamgu would do.
My family in America often ask me for traditional Welsh recipes like bara brith and Welsh cakes. Their grandmother—my great-aunt—married a GI and emigrated to St Louis when she was 18. Aunt Irene was a proud Cardiff girl and would always talk to her children about her family back in Wales. The fact that several decades later, we’re still very close and equally proud of each other’s culture and heritage is testament to my great-aunt and my family’s proud Welsh heritage.
Preserving Welsh culture
I am also fascinated by the link that Wales has with the South American region of Patagonia, or Y Wladfa as we’d say in Welsh. In July 1865, the Mimosa ship docked at Porth Madryn on the Argentinian coast, having left Liverpool in May that year. On board were 153 passengers, excluding the captain and crew, and their aim was to establish a Welsh colony in Patagonia, to preserve the Welsh language and culture. According to records, there are around 50,000 Patagonians of Welsh descent, with 10 per cent of these Welsh-speaking.
I’ve never been over, but it is top of my list of places to visit. It’s hard to describe the connection that I feel to a country that I’ve never visited, or have any family connections with, but I think it has something to do with the sheer determination of those original settlers to preserve the Welsh language and culture that strikes a chord with me. The recipes that were taken over were of course originally Welsh, but over time have been influenced by the produce and food of South America to create their own style and flavours. One of the most famous recipes is torta negra—their version of bara brith.
I look forward to one day making the journey over to Patagonia, to meet the people, experience the Welsh-inspired food that has evolved there—and of course to continue to teach my children about the rich culture and heritage that we have, both here in Wales and beyond.
Join Beca for tips, tastings and recipes on Friday 2nd March in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm