Sunday, 17 January 2010

Ploughman's Lunch

I don't really go in for New Year's Resolutions. I don't see much point in actually courting the sensation of failure when I don't lose 10kgs, save money, drink less, practice dancing more or learn a language. But I do think it is a good idea to take a step back from time to time, consider what you are doing and evaluate whether those things are constructive.

So I've been thinking about this blog in those terms. What am I doing? How is it going? What should I do differently? There are still some questions that I haven't resolved - the ones about accepting freebies from PRs for review and putting advertising on the blog, mostly - but I have made a few decisions. The main one is that I am going to post less often. Fewer "this is what we had for dinner" posts, and concentrate on some of the more interesting and unusual things that Paul and I attempt. More in-depth exploration of seasonal ingredients. Possibly more healthy options and perhaps even some slightly smaller portions in the photographs! But I'm not prepared to swear to that one.

And here, to celebrate my new found focus, is a Ploughman's Lunch.

Now, the origins of a ploughman's lunch are a bit hazy. It looks like a properly old-fashioned traditional sort of a meal, but it is believed that it was part of a milk marketing board campaign in the 1960s to get pubs to sell cheese. If that is true I think whoever came up with that campaign is a genius and should get a national holiday in their honour. Or at least a statue.

You are supposed to picture a brawny labourer - possibly with his shirt off and sweat glistening on his broad shoulders - sitting down in the shade of a tree, taking a lump of good cheese and some crusty bread from a cloth wrapping, and enjoying it with a mug of cool beer that a curly haired tot has carefully carried into the fields. You are going for rustic. Pastoral. Unspoilt.

We used to spend quite a lot of time at a pub in Sydney that did a killer ploughman's as a bar snack. The Lord Nelson ploughman's consisted of freshly made beer damper, enormous slabs of excellent cheddar cheese, pickled eggs and Branston pickle. And that really is the best model to follow.

In my opinion a ploughman's may contain: ham sliced from the bone, pickled onions, chutney, British cheese, celery sticks, crusty bread, apples, pickled beetroot. There is no room for: brie or camembert, tomatoes, sliced white bread, mayonnaise, ciabatta, sweet chilli jam, smoked chicken breast. And a ploughman's lunch is most emphatically NOT a cheese and pickle sandwich in a triangular carton selected from the shelf of a supermarket. Hell no.

For the last four years - ever since we bought it in a timber craft shop in Knysna - Paul and I have been saying that our blackwood carving board was the perfect thing to serve a ploughman's lunch on. It took a while to assemble all the other elements.

Beer damper: I followed this recipe, using half strong wholemeal flour and half plain white flour and adding baking powder to get the self-raising effect. I rubbed the butter into the flour as if I were making scones, and used Leffe Blonde as the beer because it tastes good, it was what I had and it was what we were going to be drinking with our lunch. The flavour of the beer does come through, so this is no time for cheap lager. I put the dough in a mound in a greased caketin, rather than wrapping it in foil. The hot bread was crusty and delicious, and the leftovers made really good toast the following day.

Pickled onions: I used this recipe of Delia Smith's for pickled shallots in sherry vinegar. They need to sit for a month before you eat them, so I'd had these in the cupboard since early December. These are much milder than a lot of commercial pickled onions, and they have a lovely crunchy texture.

Cheese: For Christmas I bought Paul a "hat trick" selection from the Cheese Society. For 3 months they will deliver him a selection of artisan British cheeses. For our ploughman's, we used Dambuster and Hereford Hop. The Dambuster is a waxed cow's milk cheddar from Lincolnshire (made with vegetarian rennet). It was full-flavoured without having that gum-ripping sensation you get from some mature cheddars and had quite a creamy texture. The Hereford Hop is also a cow's milk cheese made from vegetarian rennet. It's from Gloucestershire and is a bit softer and milder than a cheddar, the texture is almost like that processed smoked "bavarian" cheese you get with the brown rind. It's rolled in crushed hop flowers, which adds a subtle nutty, herbal flavour that I found extremely pleasant.

So there you have it. Home made bread, eaten warm, home made crunchy pickles, top notch cheese. A proper ploughman's lunch.

22 comments:

The Cat's Mother said...

oh those cheeses....

George Gaston said...

I remember when I was traveling through the English countryside; I'd always order a Ploughman's Lunch at the village pub. Mainly because I enjoyed the simple local foods ~ usually made up of a great local cheese, local ham, wonderful fresh bread and a marvelous chutney made by the local vicer's wife.

There was a story around each one and always filling. Great post and thanks for the memories...

Foodycat said...

Mother - they were lovely! In that selection we also got a blue, a caerphilly and another cheddar.

George - that is exactly how it is supposed to be!

kat said...

Now to me that is the perfect lunch! I should do that here more often as we have such amazing cheeses available in this dairyland.

Rachel said...

I think your idea to post less often but more indepth has a great deal of merit and I look forward to reading more of your interesting and adventurous posts. If you wouldn't mind a suggestion for your blog, as you asked, my tired middle-aged eyes would love a different background. The black background with white type is hard to read for more than a minute or two. I get eyestrain easily. Just a suggestion.

Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said...

I think you and I share similar reasons for not going in for New Year's resolutions. I enjoy your blog but look forward to any new direction you feel like taking it in! I also agree with you on the parameters of a ploughman's lunch. Not the time for chilli jam at all! Yours looks fabulous :D

HH said...

Nice description of the ploughman! I would like some right now if he was going to be in the picture! lol! I am off to the Nelson today, we might have to sample it....or make my own at a later stage...

Simona said...

What a nice post! I had never heard of the ploughman's lunch, so I was very intrigued by the reading. And I like the presentation of your version of it.

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

Mmm, it's good to be a ploughman!

ARLENE said...

I thought the Ploughman's lunch was the best idea and ate it nearly every day the summer I studied in London. I love your blog and will look forward to whatever changes you ultimately decide to pursue.

Chef Aimee said...

I would love a ploughman's lunch any day!

mscrankypants said...

Brawny labourer, sweat glistening ... sorry, was there food?

Foodycat said...

Kat - you certainly should!

Rachel - that's interesting about the black. I will experiment with other colour schemes, thanks!

Laura - thank you!

HH - oh you have to have the ploughman's at the Lord Nelson!

Simona - it's very British, and you really don't see it in many other places.

Natashya - they seem to have it OK, don't they?

Arlene - it's a pretty healthy way to eat, really.

Aimee - I need to figure out how to get the warm fresh bread at work.

Cranky - I'm pleased you liked the distraction! I put him in for you. Like the woman in the red dress in Matrix.

Jennifer said...

The bread sounds good Foody. I've never tried a loaf like that. It's on the list for the weekend.

Ben said...

I think it takes a while for a blog to really find its "voice". In my case it took almost 2 years... And those are some good resolutions for your blogging career. I know that whatever you decide, if you do it with passion, will be successful.

Happy New Year!

Foodycat said...

Jennifer - definitely worth a go! It doesn't have the same texture as a yeast raised bread but the flavour is good.

Ben - thanks! You are very kind!

MrOrph said...

i know what you mean with finding your vein blogging. i have been up and down and back and forth, just now finding a groove.

great story behind what seems to be a perfect lunch; definitely one i could go for!

Debinhawaii said...

It looks like the perfect lunch to me. Loving those cheeses! I will look forward to reading your future posts.
;-)

Foodycat said...

MrOrph - I am glad you are back in the blogosphere!

Deb - thanks!

Dharm said...

We have an Irish pub here that makes a killer Ploughmans Lunch too. A bit pricey but delish nonetheless!!

James said...

Nice Blog. I think you are headed in the right direction with this. You would think that in the states you could not get a good Ploughman's however there was this little cafe in Bellevue Nebraska of all places, run by a retired British couple, he had retired there when the British Bomber Wing had shut down at SAC Headquarters. Anyway they served British tea and fish and chips etc. Their Ploughman's was the best, loved the pickel. Keep up the good work.

Foodycat said...

Dharm - those Irish pubs get everywhere! We went to one in Hong Kong too.

James - thanks for visiting my blog! The cafe in Nebraska sounds really good; it is nice to know that you can get good British food outside the Isles!

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