I have come to the conclusion that the cuisine of this small island would not quicken the pulses of BBC Masterchef’s judges. It is not complicated enough, and the emphasis is usually on taste rather than appearance (the reverse will always be true on television no matter what they tell you). Today, of course, we have fallen for the lure of the convenient superstore, which can turn winter into summer for us.
Those inhabitants of the Island who remember the pre-1960 years will tell you a different story. The only shops were those in the village. Even some of the smaller villages would have perhaps three grocery stores which sold a range of fresh goods sourced mainly from local farms, or sometimes even gardens.
They will tell you about the pale yellow butter (never golden), stamped with the mark of the farm (most farms churned butter and each one had its distinctive butter pattern), delivered by the farmer’s daughter on her bicycle, equipped as it was with a large basket suspended from the front handlebars. Or the richly brown eggs, brought by the same courier (the shells were thicker and more durable in those days), and handed over in a brown paper bag a dozen at a time. (That bag never went to waste, incidentally. It was either returned to the farmer to be reused, or it was pressed into some sort of service in the house of the recipient. Likewise envelopes delivered by the post were slit open carefully, in some cases by busy knitting needles, and pierced several times with deft movements. These would be filled with lavender blossom and placed in the linen drawer. The larger envelopes would be relabeled and used to store important documents.)
Bread was either home made or bought from one of the village bakers. Fresh bread, though coveted by the children of the family, was frowned upon because it was not deemed ‘good for you’. Tomorrow’s bread was therefore bought today, with a double order on Saturday, for no shop would be open on the Sunday. It was allowed to age, ‘sadio’ was the local word, overnight when it would slice easier come the following morning. Sliced bread was unheard of. Bread was the staple, and was eaten with every meal, no matter if another carbohydrate such as potato was served. Children would be sent to buy the hot loaves, and often fell into temptation, and bite into the fragrant bread on the way home. If temptation could be resisted then they would be rewarded with a slice of crust spread with butter and whatever jam was in use.
Food was simple, but by virtue of its peerless ingredients, it was always of the highest quality. So for breakfast yesterday’s bread was eaten with farm butter and home made jam (blackberry usually, for the fruit was free for the gathering in the Autumn). Dinner could be anything from deliciously satisfying Tatw Popty or Lob Scouse, or just simple sausage and mash. Tea could be simply bread and jam or maybe a boiled egg (but such an egg!), again with the inevitable bread and butter. There was always some sort of cake to finish.
Supper was never an elaborate affair. It could be just a tomato, sliced, with a sprinkling of vinegar, salt and sugar. Or perhaps a boiled onion with a knob of butter. If one was lucky there would be a slice or two of ham. Tea was served with every meal.
The exception to the rule was Sunday Dinner. Sunday was chapel day, and it was expected that the older family members went twice a day to the morning and evening services. The children had to go to Sunday School. Dinner was served after morning chapel about half past twelve. It was always a roast, mostly beef which was inexpensive at the time, lamb less often, pork occasionally, because it was not considered healthy, and about once in a blue moon, chicken. Chicken was such a rarity and a delicacy that it was whispered about in anticipation during preceding week, “Cyw iâr Dydd Sul”, “Chicken this Sunday”. Seasonal vegetables were served, whatever was available.
Sunday tea was also an elaborate affair with cakes baked the day before, and jelly or trifle, and, yes, you guessed, bread and jam.
The community looked after itself. Rabbits were freely available. Many a child born after the war and before the myxomatosis epidemic, was nourished on rabbit stew. Occasionally, a housewife (sorry no househusbands in those days), returning home would be confronted by a package on her doorstep. A surreptitious look inside would occasion a glance over the shoulder and a hurried entry into the house. The family would know that there was pheasant, or trout, for supper supplied by the local poacher, who would be paid when he called after dark for his two shillings (10p).
The fish man called on a Friday. He would come in a van, the condition of which would render it illegal today, and the back would be filled with a pungent mass of cod, plaice, herring, cockles, mussels, and the very expensive shrimps and prawns. Cod and plaice and cockles in season were the most popular. The white fish were cooked simply again, fried usually, and served with parsley sauce and potatoes. Cockles which were bought alive, would have to be left to purge in clean salt water, and boiled. They were eaten using a pin to pick them from the shells, after dipping them in vinegar and salt. Herrings were bought because they were cheap, but were not a particularly popular dish as the bones in them put most people off. One way of cooking them was to place them in the hot ashes that had fallen from the fire.
No garden went to waste growing flowers (though some were grown in the borders). Vegetables such as potatoes, peas, beans, carrots, cabbages and salad stuff were always in abundance in season, and were much anticipated. The first potatoes to be lifted formed a meal in themselves, eaten drenched in butter (honestly) on bread as a sandwich. Try it before you knock it, with the next Jersey Royals you can get.
So we shall gather what we can. The recipes here will be those that Anglesey people remember from their early days. Although some will be indigenous to the county such as the eponymous Anglesey Eggs, others will be those that they enjoyed during their childhood, but can be found in other parts of the country. They do, however, form part of the essential Anglesey Cuisine.