LEEK, the Allium Porrum of botanists, a plant now considered as a mere variety of Allium Ampeloprasum, wild leek, produced by cultivation. The plant is probably of Eastern origin, since it was commonly cultivated in Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs, and is so to the present day; while as regards its first appearance in England both Tusser and Gerard two of the earliest writers on this class of subjects, the former of whom flourished in the early part and the latter in the later part of the 16th century speak of it as being then commonly culti- vated and used. 1 The Romans, it would appear, made great use of the leek for savouring their dishes, as seems proved by the number of recipes for its use referred to by Celsius. Hence it is more than probable that it was brought to England by the Romans. Italy was celebrated for leeks in the time of Pliny (H.N. xix. c. 6), according to whom they were brought into great esteem through the emperor Nero, derisively surnamed "Porrophagus," who used to eat them for several days in every month to clear his voice. The leek is very generally cultivated in Great Britain as an esculent, but more especially in Scotland and in Wales, being esteemed as an excellent and wholesome vegetable, with properties very similar to those of the onion, but of a milder character. In America it is not much cultivated except by market gardeners in the neighbourhood of large cities. The whole plant, with the exception of the fibrous roots, is used in soups and stews. The sheathing stalks of the leaves lap over each other, and form a thickish stem-like base, which is blanched, and is the part chiefly preferred. These blanched stems are much employed in French cookery. They form an important ingredient in Scotch winter broth, and particularly in the national dish cock-a-leekie, and are also largely used boiled, and served with toasted bread and white sauce, as in the case of asparagus. Leeks are sown in the spring, earlier or later according to the soil and the season, and are planted out for the summer, being dropped into holes made with a stout dibble and left unfilled in order to allow the stems space to swell. When they are thus planted deeply the holes gradually fill up, and the base of the stem becomes blanched and prepared for use, a process aided by drawing up the earth round about the stems as they elongate. The leek is one of the most useful vegetables the cottager can grow, as it will supply him with a large amount of produce during the winter and spring. It is extremely hardy, and presents no difficulty in its cultivation, the chief point, as with all succulent esculents, being that it should be grown quickly upon well-enriched soil. The plant is of biennial duration, flowering the second year, and perishing after perfecting its seeds. The leek is the national symbol or badge of the Welsh, who wear it in their hats on St David's Day. The origin of this custom has received various explanations, all of which are more or less speculative.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)