The Ploughmans Lunch is a staple of British dining. It can be served as a full plate of food, or bound into a hearty sandwich for a more on the go lifestyle. It is delicious and I advise any one who has not tried it to give it a go as it is cheap and easy to construct.
For those not in the know, the starting point for a Ploughmans is cheese (sometimes several cuts) and bread, preferably a crusty roll. To that we tend to add some pickle- not pickled gherkins- but something like Branstons Pickle which is like a chutney. Commonly added to this are cold meats, apple, onion and some like to add either a boiled or pickled egg. And that’s it, though in pre-packed sandwiches you will also find the addition of lettuce- do NOT add this to your plate version you monster. You can lay it out on a plate, or load it all into the crusty roll and munch down for a tasty treat.
But our interest here is not simply how to make the mighty beast that is a Ploughmans, but to look at the obscure history behind it.
The story goes that the Ploughmans Lunch was a common meal taken out by those working the fields, farmers, ploughmen- hence the name. References to a Ploughmans Lunch can be found as early as 1837 and it rose in popularity after World War 2 when cheese came off the ration. This all sounds like the meal dates back centuries and has been part of British tradition for all that time. However, that is not the case- the Ploughmans Lunch was a marketing ploy dreamt up by the Cheese Bureau in the 1950s to sell more cheese. It was a money making stunt and we as a culture fell for it hook, line and sinker. The simplicity, ease and tastiness of the lunch also probably had a lot to do with its popularity.
But what of the earlier mention of a ploughmans lunch? Well it’s a lone reference from a book of the 1830s and is in all likelihood simply what it says- a ploughmans lunch which could be the above mentioned combination or it could be a cucumber sandwich, or a bowl of soup. Ploughmans Lunch here meaning just what a ploughman has for his afternoon meal. That cheese and bread might have been something Ploughmen ate, does not make that a Ploughmans Lunch in the way we understand it. The popular lunch was invented as I say by the Cheese Bureau as a cheeky ploy to make profits for businesses. It is cheap and easy to prepare and with cheese off the ration it was pushed as British institution.
The Ploughmans lunch is as ancient and traditional as a Chicken Tikka Masala is Indian.