The Leek – Allium porrum
The French have a saying, “poireauter,” which means to wait.
Leeks Don’t Move
From whence this expression? It was apparently coined in the 19th century, amongst leek growing farmers. Enormous care and effort goes into producing a straight, tall leek. They must be planted deep, not too far apart but not too close together, and the soil must be built up to a point where enough of the leek is below ground so at harvest time it is pure, ivory white. The term “faire le poireau” came to be associated with someone who was standing still, immobilized, as the leek does in the soil. The term became a verb so that now, when you’re waiting, and maybe being stood up, you’re “poireaute-ing”!
The Primordial Leek
Which is anecdotal but bears witness to the primordial nature of the leek to the French. Here, life without leeks is simply not worth living. I’ll always remember the winter there were no leeks in France, due to a severe, country-wide, freeze. As it became clear that the leek bins at the market would remain empty, a slow but fundamental panic began to seize the population. All point bulletisn went out over the radio and television in order to reassure, with headlines like “How to Make a Delicious Meal without the Leek.” It was funny to me, but not really. More endearing than anything else as I thought “Where else but France would such caring and dependence on a single vegetable be newsworthy?”
I fell in love with the leek before ever setting foot in France. I’d been raised by two generations of amazing cooks who inspired me, and as a child the only shows I never missed on television were those of Julia Child and her cohort Graham Carr. Leeks were a common ingredient in their dishes so that by the time I got to college, where I found other budding cooks, they had become beloved. We amateur gourmets ate together regularly and one of our favorite dishes was the most simple: leek and potato soup. It’s a recipe that is always successful (even when, God forbid, cheese was sprinkled on top as we young cooks were wont to do), it’s delicious and its economical.
My Leek Relationship Expanded
Today, my relationship with the leek has expanded, my dependence on the leek primordial as is the case for all my French cohorts. We simply cannot survive without it. It infuses all soups, most stews, many broths. It is transformed into a side dish, a filling for pastries, a must add to a quiche. Without leeks the cook is handicapped, the world doesn’t turn.
No Penury of Leeks Now
Fortunately, there has been no penury of leeks for a very long time. We use them with abandon and I’d like you to do the same. If you don’t know the leek, begin with this sumptuously simple preparation; if you do know the leek, make this because it’s a little different than the usual. And remember the next time you’re waiting around, maybe being stood up, that you’re “poireaute-ing, making the leek”. Just having this phrase up your sleeve dulls the pain!