In the 1800s, as in Ireland, the Welsh relied upon a daily diet of starches such as bread and potatoes. With meat scarce (and expensive) at certain times of the year the Welsh (in this period) developed methods of stretching out what little food they had. Meat was often boiled in pans on the fire with the vegetables to flavour the vegetables, but the boiled meat was then eaten on separate days of the week. One of the most popular (and very tasty) dishes that evolved from this careful management of food was ‘The Miser’s Feast’ or ‘Ffest Y Cybydd’.
Careful household management of the food was nearly always essential. Within Wales, the period from the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century, was renowned for the poverty of the workers and labourers, many of whom were paid in sacks of corn or potatoes at rates above market prices by the farmer, land owner or factory owner – and although there was a scarcity of meat available, pork remained the mainstay of the diet (fresh or cured) and it was not unusual to see pigsties even in urban mining communities.
Ffest Y Cybydd (The Misers Feast) Recipe
- 700g of potatoes peeled and cut into small chunks
- 1 large onion, peeled and diced small
- 4 to 6 slices of thick cut bacon
- 1 tsp of sea salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Peel and cut up the potatoes, place them in the saucepan, do the same for the onion, dicing it small, only just cover them in water and sprinkle over the salt. Bring the saucepan up to the boil and lay in the thick slices of bacon on top – cover the saucepan with a lid. Reduce the heat and boil at a simmer for 25 minutes, until everything is cooked. While it is simmering once or twice use a long handled spoon to skim off any impurities that have risen to the top.
Once cooked turn off the heat, remove the bacon and reserve in a dish. Pour (drain) off most of the remaining water and sprinkle in the pepper. Use a potato masher to mash the potatoes and onions and remove the mash to a serving bowl. Trim the fat (rind) off the boiled bacon, and then dice the bacon small with a sharp knife. Add the bacon back to the mashed potatoes and onions and stir in. Eat on its own (as a Miser’s Feast) or as a side dish to roasted welsh lamb chops with vegetables and gravy.
Note: Both salt and pepper were used to enhance such dishes as Ffest Y Cybydd, and although these recipes sound plain, they are actually packed full of traditional flavours. When salt cured meats like bacon were first cured (in season) and in plentiful supply the meat and potatoes were eaten on the same day by the family, often mashed together. Although great on its own, today, The Miser’s Feast makes a wonderful side dish to a more richly arranged plate of welsh lamb chops, roasted vegetables and gravy.
The Original Recipe: Ffest Y Cybydd
From ‘Country Dishes’ Barbara Hargreaves (Ed.) 1962
Place in the pan layers of peeled potatoes and sliced onions and a little salt, cover with water and bring to the boil, then place on top of the vegetables some slices of bacon and simmer slowly until cooked. This dish is so named because the miser was supposed to eat the vegetables flavoured by the bacon one day, while the bacon was to be kept to be eaten cold with plain boiled potatoes the next day.