Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Ploughman's Lunch Personified

An 1880 photograph of an actual ploughman enjoying his lunch.

Click on this image for a close-up look at The Exempliary Ploughman's Lunch

As frequent travellers of Britain know well, the pub lunch is one of the few bargains still to be had. While British cuisine has improved greatly over the past decade, the cost of eating out in restaurants has gone through the roof. Pubs present an opportunity to eat home-cooked meals with their tipple, at a reasonable price.

There are a handful of pub food staples to choose from: steak and kidney pie, bangers and mash, scotch eggs and chips, shepherd's pie, fish and chips and the EBCB (eggs, bacon, chips and beans). Scampi and chips is a more recent addition, as are filled baps, curries, pizzas and other international dishes.

I have been a long-time fan of the Ploughman's Lunch. It is a perfect accompaniment to a pint of CAMRA real ale, or good hard cider at lunchtime in a British country pub. So what, if it now appears that it was the imaginative creation of an advertising executive in the Sixties? (If you were a ploughman, you would not have called it a "ploughman's"). It seems to be a relatively recent invention, in the guise of a traditional British meal.

The fact is that it is likely that ploughmen did enjoy a hunk of cheese with a jar of ale. But the ploughman's that has evolved in British pubs is a much more elaborate combination. Four chunks of cheese is a good start. Mature Cheddar, some Stilton, a ripe slice of Brie, and a contrasting Double Gloucester. Next is some fresh home-baked bread, preferably in the form of a crusty French roll. Branston Pickle is a staple ingredient, and a big dollop is appreciated. Some small pickled onions work wonders. A field tomato and a nice hard-boiled egg also add flavour. Then, a generous host will add a slice of Melton Mowbray pie, or even a complete small one. Alternatives are a thick slice of country ham or a local pate. What have I missed? Ah! A crisp green apple. And the salad. Not just some lettuce leaves, but a varied mix of vegetables.

Quality varies dramatically. I've had scrimpy city pub ones that are all out of packets, including the processed excuse for cheese.

The one you see here is one of the best. It's so huge, it takes two to devour the large plateful. It's so good, we've had it more than once. You'll find it at The White Lion Inn in Patterdale, near Lake Ullswater in the Lake District. Mr. and Mrs. Dawes, the publican and his wife, deserve credit for serving this exemplary ploughman. The only thing I'd change is the slice of white bread.

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