Monday, January 09, 2012

Plough Monday Lunch.

Today is Plough Monday, which is to say it is the first Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany) and the traditional first day of the British agricultural calendar, when farm-workers return to their jobs. I bet farm workers of the past were overjoyed when Epiphany fell on a Tuesday.

A ‘traditional’ dish on this day was said to be ‘Plough Pudding,’ which I do not fully understand as heavy, plain suet puddings were an everyday starchy filler for the British populace throughout the year. In other parts of the world, it is said that sausages are ‘traditional,’ but this also seems difficult to verify.  Surely, the obvious dish of the day is a traditional ‘Ploughman’s Lunch’?  

The Oxford English Dictionary tells me however that ‘although often assumed to be a traditional rural meal, the ploughman's lunch (now freq. abbreviated to ploughman's) first appeared in British pubs in the late 1960s.’

This is not true in the strictest sense, of course. The pub version  – one or two substantial wedges of good cheese (sometimes a wedge of pork pie) with good bread, pickled onions, and some sort of ‘chutney’ (especially Branston Pickle!) – is a rather more elegant offering than our olden-day farm worker would have carried in his pocket out into the fields, but there is no doubt that the basic bread and cheese was a staple lunch for the workers probably for centuries. As The Cultivator & Country Gentleman (1866) explains:

‘The cheese of the English working man being a necessary, must be of such a texture that it will bear handling and carriage and sub-dividing to any extent, similar to his first great necessary, bread itself, which he consumes  together with it as his “bread and cheese.” Indeed, nearly all classes in England take a daily “lunch of bread and cheese.” The landowner takes his luncheons in the field, carried by his servant, who also takes his – when out shooting or in a tenant’s house – both my lord and his servant eating cheese. Ploughmen and driving boys in the field eat cheese as part of their daily “lunch” or “bait.” Harvester, hop-pickers, every one takes a “bait” of bread and cheese.’

So, there you have it. Dry hard bread and dry hard cheese were the ‘real’ tradition, the twentieth century pub meal is the glammed-up modern tradition.

A ploughman was not at the bottom of the farm-workers’ pecking order. The job was skilled, and good ploughmen were always in demand. According to The Topographical, statistical, and historical gazetteer of Scotland (1853) (and I hardly suppose it was much different in England), the ploughman was paid very little cash – not more than a few pounds a year – but received substantial allowances including a house, garden, a cow, ‘the produce of 1,000 yards of potatoes’, ‘... 60 bushels of oats, 18 bushels of barley, 6 bushels of peas ...’ To say that he worked hard for these allowances - the value of which ‘may be estimated as not exceeding £26 a year’ - would be an understatement of monumental proportions. The same journal informs us:

‘For all these considerations ... he is obliged to take charge of, and work one pair of horses, in every requisite operation connected with the farm; - he must attend the stable every morning, noon, and night, to give food to the horses; - he must take his turn with the ploughmen to remain at home on Sunday to give food to the horses; - he must work in winter as long as there is daylight, and in summer ten hours a day in the fields, and in seed-time and harvest his hours of labour are unlimited; - he must supply a female labourer to work at farm labour in all seasons, and for the same time as himself, when required; and for whose labours he receives eightpence or tenpence a day, when she is employed, according to the rate of wages; this female must reap corn during harvest, as rent for the house and garden, for which she receives the ordinary victuals allowed in harvest; - his own family must feed his cow in winter; - and he must work his garden only at leisure hours.’

Makes a day in front of a computer screen seem like a bit of a doddle, doesn’t it? You don’t have to ‘supply a female labourer’ in most modern jobs either. At least, not in the jobs you would tell your mum about.

Recipe for the Day.

Here is a nice pineapple chutney for you. It is not a ‘traditional’ side to the cheese at a ploughman’s lunch, but it sounds interesting, I think. If quince paste is OK with cheese, why not pineapple chutney? Serve it at your next two wine and cheese parties, and it will be your own new tradition.

Pineapple Chutney.
Take four small ripe pineapples, cut in. halves lengthwise and remove the cores, and scrape the pulp into a pan; then add half pint vinegar and half pint lime juice, one large onion (minced), one clove of garlic (minced), six chillies, ½ lb. chopped raisins, ½ lb. sugar, two oz. salt, half oz. ground ginger, and a pinch each cayenne and spice. Boil slowly for two hours until it thickens.
West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Victoria), Oct 19, 1926

Quotation for the Day.

Age doesn't matter, unless you're cheese.
Billie Burke.


Keith said...

Oo arrr, I do miss them there ploughman lunches I used to get in the Old Country. Went down right nice with a Stout.
Now I makes um myself! Aharr.Nowt like a good piece of cheese an home made bread.

sesanner said...

Janet . . . Excellent article! Your quoted historical sources are a stimulating conversation with one's ancestors. The ploughman and his laboring woman . . . one hopes they found merriment amongst all their labors. I want to believe their lives were substantially better than the lives of factory workers. At least clean air and fresh food.

Your writing, again, is lyrical, amusing, insightful, and wonderfully literate.

And as you are the writer, Le Loup is certainly a fine lead character on your pages. Can a reader ever see enough of "Oo arrr" in print?

I thoroughly enjoyed this article and will be pondering the ploughman . . . thanks to your research.

The Old Foodie said...

Thankyou, Le Loup, as always, for your interest and enthusiasm. I bet your home-made ploughman's lunches are pretty good! You are indeed, as sesanner says, a fine lead character here on this blog!

And thankyou, sesanner, for your very kind words. I should add that I have corrected the "few pounds s week" to "few pounds a year." I couldnt help wondering how much 'leisure time" the ploughman and his family got to tend their own garden (and hens, and cow) - which must have had to contribute a substantial amount to the family meals.

Shay said...

That pineapple chutney sounds like something I'll have to try the next time our local grocery has canned pineapple on sale.

(real pineapple, in the Midwest US, in winter, is cost-prohibitive).