A ploughman’s lunch

Most if not all pubs which serve food at lunchtime will have a ploughman’s lunch on the menu. A ploughman’s lunch is a hunk of bread (not a slice) a chunk of English cheese and some pickle – I think ideally it should be pickled onions and not chutney and such like that you usually get today. Traditionally you would be served beer to drink with it.

There is some dispute about whether this really is at traditional meal or whether it is something dreamed up by publicans wanting to promote food at lunchtime in their pubs, or the Milk Marketing Board to promote the eating of cheese. Certainly food was served in pubs at lunch times, it’s not just a post war idea; my grandfather Reuben used to serve unpressed tongue with a chunk of bread in his pub, the Portland Arms Hotel in Cambridge – and this was in the 1920’s. My dad Donald talked of going over to a pub in Newmarket, possibly the White Hart,  which had a great big ham behind the counter; the barman would slice off some ham so wafer thin you could almost see through it his knife was so sharp! You still see hams behind bars in Spain, but no doubt there are all sorts of food hygiene regulations which prohibit it in British pubs.

These days if you ask for a ploughman’s you would usually get an apple as well, maybe slices of ham, maybe some salad… I think delicious though it might be it’s going away from  the old idea. Ploughmen and other farm workers would have had their lunch out in the fields, and it really would have been just a hunk of bread, chunk of cheese, maybe a pickled onion or two and a flagon of beer. A very early English  poem written about 1400, mentions the ploughman’s simple lunch, beer would have been drunk instead of water because it was less harmful!


  1. redjim99

    Cheese and a pickled onion, with a beer. Nothing better is there. A good old Cheddar, or a Red Leicester. Although those pesky French have a few good ones too. A soggy smelly Camembert hit the mark as well. Or a Gaperon, a garlic creamy ball of taste.



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