Traditional Welsh foods

Margaret Maddocks baking round cakes in a Dutch oven, North Cornelly, Glamorgan.

Margaret Maddocks baking round cakes in a Dutch oven, North Cornelly, Glamorgan.

What are the traditional foods of Wales?

Unlike England where a number of culinary traditions filtered down from the upper levels of society, the traditional dishes of Wales literally grew from the land.

Reports from 1896 show that farmers and tenants survived on home-cured meat of domestic animals, home grown vegetables, dairy products and cereal-based dishes. Farmers and cottagers would fatten and slaughter at least one pig a year to provide a constant supply of salted bacon. On larger farms, a bullock or cow was killed and the meat shared between neighbouring farms.

Meat and Vegetables

Cattle provided milk to produce butter and cheese, and vegetables such as leeks, carrots, cabbages, herbs and, from the 18th century onwards, potatoes were grown. Wild fruits, plants, animals and birds were used when in season. Communities living close to coastal regions were able to vary their diet by collecting shellfish and seaweed to make laverbread.


The harsh landscape meant that oats and barley were the most common cereal crops, with wheat confined to the fertile lowlands. Oatmeal was one of the basic elements in the diet of the Welsh. Among the everyday foods served in most rural districts until the early 20th century were Llymru (flummery) and sucan (sowans), consisting of oatmeal steeped in cold water and buttermilk, boiled until thickened and served cool with milk or treacle, bwdram (thin flummery), uwd (porridge) and griwel blawd ceirch (oatmeal gruel).


Oat-bread was the most common bread to be eaten in Wales until the late 19th century. It was used in north Wales as a basic ingredient in cereal pottages such as picws mali (shot) or siot (shot); a popular light meal consisting of crushed oat-bread soaked in buttermilk. Br?es (brose) was a common dish in the agricultural areas of the north and was regularly prepared as a breakfast dish for the men-servants. It was made from crushed oat-bread steeped in meat stock and sprinkled with crushed oat-bread before serving.

Welsh rural society was largely self-supporting with the exception of sugar, salt, tea, rice and currants, which had to be purchased. Very little fresh fruit was bought and eggs were only eaten on very rare occasions.

The open hearth

The open fire was central to cooking throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and in many rural homes well into the 20th century. Such limited cooking facilities also governed what could be prepared. Stews, joints of meat and puddings were boiled in a cooking pot or cauldron.

Pot ovens were used for roasting meat and baking cakes. Bakestones were widely used to bake oatcakes, drop scones, soda bread, pancakes and griddlecakes (such as Welsh Cakes).

Although the tradition of living off the land survived until a later period in the rural areas, change came with improved roads and modern shopping facilities, not to mention the arrival of fridges and home freezers. Today, the majority of these dishes are mostly eaten on special occasions as 'traditional food'.

An important record of the traditional method of baking bread in a pot oven.
In this edited version, Mrs Leis Rogers of Ffair-rhos is seen lifting dough which has already been mixed from a bowl onto the kitchen table. She then kneads it into a small round loaf, marks it with a knife, and then puts it into the pot oven to bake on the open fire. A lid is put on the pot, and blocks of peat from the fire are lifted with tongs from the fire to be placed carefully on the lid. An hour later, Mrs Rogers is seen lifting the lid of the pot oven with the tongs, taking care not to spill any of the ashes on the lid onto the loaf. The loaf has been successfully baked - she lifts it out of the pot oven and knocks the underside of it with her fist to test it before placing it on the table to cool.

Background Reading

Domestic Life in Wales by Minwel S. Tibbott. Published by University of Wales Press and the National Museums & Galleries of Wales (2002).

First Catch your Peacock: A Book of Welsh Food by Bobby Freeman. Published by Image Imprint (1980).


28 October 2021, 13:31
I was looking for the origins of a dish I knew as Browis or Browys, growing up in North Wales.
I seem to remember it was very basic to make and consisted of meat stock (Oxo/Bovril) and bread.
Then I saw your reference to Br?es (Brose) and thought yes, that's it.
Thank you
4 August 2019, 08:45
interesting information thanks I am surprised at the sheer amount of oat dishes
Budd Nelson
7 February 2017, 23:02
wonderfully informative while a doing research for a short story that takes place in circa 500 A D NorthWales
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