If there’s one thing George Orwell and I have in common, it would be our defence of English cooking (and well, that’s probably it). Although I myself am not British, my brother has lived in England for the last ten years, and I’ve come to love a wide variety of British staples. And while I can appreciate that some of their national dishes might be too out-there for some palates, like black pudding or clotted cream, there’s one meal I think anyone would find quite cracking: the Ploughman’s Lunch.
My first experience with a Ploughman’s Lunch was 10 years ago, during my first trip to England. Along with my parents and brother, we took a bus tour into the English countryside to visit Stonehenge, which included lunch at a local pub. Given that we’re Canadians, we took our lunch outside to eat on a picnic bench, and the scene could not have been more picturesque – a clear blue sky, and fields of green grass as far as the eye could see, dotted with fluffy white sheep in the distance. The England I had seen in so many pictures, and without a doubt the highlight of that trip (Stonehenge was cool, but food).
The Ploughman also honours my most perfect meal, the cheese board. But the idea here is to remain rustic with the ingredients, and employ only your hands and a small butter knife to eat it. Rather than intimidate, this cheese board pats you on the back. I’m already questioning my choice to pre-slice the cheese, because really, no frills are needed.
Other fine enhancements that the Ploughman’s Lunch has to offer are rich, creamy butter and the incomparable Branston pickle. If you haven’t tried Branston pickle, it’s a tangy, malty condiment that goes perfectly with mature cheese and is available in many supermarkets. And where most cheese boards call for a refined glass of red wine, the Ploughman’s Lunch needs a sturdy British ale, served in an even sturdier vessel.
The Ploughman should be eaten as a reward for any kind of manual labour – housework, sports or even a long walk (I count it). Set your ingredients out on a cutting board before you start your work and allow them to come to room temperature, which is critical for flavour here. When your task is complete, and hopefully you’re a bit sweaty, grab the board, wipe off your brow, and tuck into a lunch that will transport you to fields of green grass and fluffy white sheep. Or at least, will be delicious.
Makes 1 lunch
Bread (cut in thick slices, untoasted)
Cheese (I used mature cheddar and Red Leicester)
Butter (Salted is preferable)
Branston pickle, or another tangy pickle
** (We can be generous in this definition for all you pickle haters, although I don’t understand you)
Onion (Green onion, red onion, pickled onion, etc.)
Greens (Watercress, rocket [what the Brits call arugula])
Shaved ham (I tend to not have this around, hence why it’s not included on my board)
Apple (Something crisp, I used a British Cox)
Mustard (I used dijon since it was already in the fridge, but of course I recommend English mustard)
Ale (Or cider. Don’t drink? Enjoy with a strong cup of tea)
Crisps (Potato chips, duh)
- Arrange the Non-negotiables on a wooden cutting board.
**If you are one of those people who absolutely HATES pickles, substitute with another tangy spread. Try mango chutney, prepared horseradish, or even sun-dried tomato for the truly vinegar-phobic. Just know that I’m shaking my head.
- Decide on your ‘Considerations’, and add them to the board.
Add as much as you care to eat.
- Pour yourself a British ale, open your bag of crisps.
Try to serve the ale at ‘cellar temperature’ (just not seriously cold). Salt & vinegar is a nice flavour option for the crisps.
- Tuck in.
Bonus points for enjoying outdoors.