Today is ‘Plough Monday’, it being the first Monday after Twelfth Day. There are numerous explanations of the name, but the most generally accepted is that it was the day in Olde Englande when the labour of the plough and ‘other rustic toils’ began again after the Christmas season ended.
The details of the festivities of the day varied a little from region to region, but the general idea was that everything was dressed up – men, cows, and ploughs included, and much parading, dancing, singing and general harmless rabble-rousing went on.
Tusser Revidicus (1744) explains the guiding principles of the day:
“After Christmass (which, formerly during the Twelve Days was a time of very little work,) every Gentleman feasted the Farmers, and every Farmer their Servants and Task Men. Plough Monday puts them in mind of their business. In the morning the Men and Maid-servants strive who shall shew their diligence in rising earliest. If the Ploughman can get his Whip, his Plough-staff, Hatchet, or any thing that he wants in the Field, by the Fire-side, before the Maid hath got her Kettle on, then the Maid loseth her Shrove-tide Cock, and it wholly belongs to the Men.”
On the subject of the “Shrove-tide Cock” – which I know has intrigued you all greatly – another author says:
“In some places, if the Ploughman (after that day’s work) comes in with his Whip in the Kitchen Hatch and cry “Cock in the Pot” before the Maid cry “Cock in the Dunghill,” he gains a Cock for Shrove Tuesday.
Now, before you all get excited at the thought of the “Shrove-tide Cock,” and look to getting the tradition reinstated – language, tradition, and ethics being constantly evolving things - it may not mean what you probably think it means.
A “Shrove-tide Cock” was a rooster used for the Shrove-tide sport of the “Cock-Shy”. Think of a fairground “Coconut Shy”. Essentially, the poor rooster was tied up and used as target practice, the weapons being rocks and sticks and anything else the sportsman or woman had to hand.
But I digress. As far as food for the day goes, it involved variations of the staple peasant trilogy of bread, cheese, and ale, so perhaps not too exciting for us. I have seen reference to a “Plough Monday Pudding” but have not been able to track it down. Instead therefore, I give you a recipe from Mrs Beeton which is a little less on the peasant-food side of things, and more on the Lord and Lady side.
Ingredients: The remains of cold plum-pudding, brandy, custard made with five eggs to every pint of milk.
Cut the remains of a good cold plum-pudding into finger-pieces, soak them in a little brandy, and lay them cross-barred in a mould until full. Make a custard with the above proportion of milk and eggs, flavouring it with nutmeg or lemon-rind; fill up the mould with it; tie it down with a cloth, and boil or steam it for an hour. Serve with a little of the custard poured over, to which has been added a tablespoonful of brady.
Book of Household Management (1861) by Isabella Beeton.
To get into the spirit of the day, it being unlikely that yoking up a plough is one of your duties today, you could instead decorate your computer monitor a little, and do a little Morris-Dance at your mid-morning break, if your boss allows.