Monday, July 5, 2021

Ploughman's lunch

Cottage loaf - I can bake too.

If I had to make a call for 'last meal on earth', then I reckon a picnic would come top of my list—with a flask of tea and a blanket to sit on, ideally, in the lee of the Cheviot Hills. Such is my land of lost content...

But for an average Tuesday when it's more likely raining and the wind blowing hard, I'll settle for a ploughman's lunch as a close second best. Especially with a hunk of my cottage loaf to go with the cheddar, the pickled onions, obligatory chutney and of course, a sliced apple on the side. 

I made one last week—comfort food of a sort—and my son said it was like my being in France (as I'd hoped to have been). He was no doubt thinking of the brie and salami we buy at the market, the huge plum tomatoes, the fresh baguettes from our village baker...  Summers in the Alps are fuelled by this fare.

But for all the similarities I reckon he's wrong, because there are few meals more English than a hearty ploughman's - pickled onions for a start, you don't get them in the Haute Savoie. Nor do you find chutney very easily, and as for apples - pah: Golden Delicious at best and that's a misnomer if ever there was one.

I jest of course, for the food in France is fabulous, and were I to drink, the wine would be too. But we shouldn't underestimate the delights of our own. I'm serious when I say I would rank a ploughman's in my favourite meals. Last week I accompanied mine with a glass of alcohol-free beer and finished off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Delightful.

George Orwell wrote that the best of British food lay in our bread, cheese and puddings. He rated haggis too and I'd join him in that, though not for a picnic; English apples—and Scottish raspberries—we'd both agree, are the best in the world.  I wish I'd had some home-grown tomatoes with my platter last week, that would have topped it off to perfection.

Or maybe, I could have followed it with a rhubarb fool like the one Jane made on Saturday. That's another of our specialities even if the plant comes originally from elsewhere—though try telling them as much in Yorkshire; forced rhubarb from Wakefield was once despatched daily to London to meet the demand.

As was stilton cheese which is named after the village on the A1 where the carriages stopped to pick up supplies. Pubs sometimes offer it as an alternative to cheddar in their ploughman's; others add ham, a pork pie or even a pickled egg.  No end of variation I guess, but I'll stick to the basics thanks very much.

It's not that I'm a Luddite, nor that I can't appreciate anything more sophisticated. Rather, it's that simple foods and settings are what gives me most pleasure. I'd rather have fish and chips by the quay than Dover sole in a fancy restaurant; I rate good eggs more highly than any caviar... My favourite food in all the world is homemade bread and jam.

Which come to think of it, would make a fine last meal in itself.


  1. It's only when reading this that I realised I haven't had a proper 'Ploughman's lunch' in a pub for donkey's ages. It used to be a regular feature of Sunday bike rides when I was based in London, stopping off at for lunch at a country pub in one of the home counties. Your post has made me feel nostalgic for a sunny garden attached to a pub with a thatched roof in some quaint village in Kent or Suffolk. The North of Scotland, for all its wonderful features, is not really country pub and ploughman's lunch territory. (I once heard a phone-in programme on Radio Scotland where the presenter was asking listeners to name one thing that England did better than Scotland, and almost everyone who called in said "pubs"!)
    Cheers, Gail.

  2. I traveled to Europe at the age of seventeen, turned eighteen in Paris. I was educated much in those three weeks we traveled. Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland. I think that was it. The thing I learned which has stayed with me the longest is what food really is. I had no idea, being raised on a typical American diet of my era. My mother, who did not really like to cook, embraced all things frozen, boxed, canned, and instant. Our bread was white and fit only to make tiny bread balls out of to catch fish on. Our cheese was orange and came in flat slices.
    It was in Europe where we camped a lot, ate some meals out, that I learned what real bread and cheese are. What fruit can taste like, how soup tastes when it comes out of a pot, not a can. I was dumbfounded. I was in heaven. Since then, I've always tried my best to cook and eat food which is real. And mostly I succeed. I agree with your last meal choice although I might ask for pinto beans and cornbread. Another simple and truly delicious meal.

  3. Hari OM
    ...and I would join you! I am known in my family as the picnic queen. I adore a packed lunch and a flask... or even better now, I have a portable flame and can boil water or heat beans on the back fender. Not that I have a car anymore. Just the cheese and bread with some coleslaw, ta. Am allergic to apples and onions are not friends either - though I can cope with a little pickle. And guess what? I have bread on the bake right now!!! Here's to a few more such meals. You know, just to make sure... YAM xx

  4. All food tastes better to me when it's eaten outside. My family always tease me when it comes to picnics - a feast in a hamper every time.

  5. I agree that simple good bread - white or brown but home bakedpreferably, good tasty cheese - stilton white or blue or a really good cheddar (not easy to come by) a little Lincolnshire pork pie and some really good, tasty tomatoes would suit me fine.

  6. That reminded me of the 'Cat's Pub, where a delicious ploughman's lunch was to be had. Over generous in all its proportions, but a delicious treat for under a fiver, fresh salad, the crisp crunch of a radish or the bite of spring onions, lashings of butter and the tart taste of Branston pickle;)

  7. Honest Food. Strangely I was having that conversation with a neighbour (Greek) only a couple of days ago - where one chooses to eat out with friends and family, what sort of food lends itself to the best enjoyment of the occasion. Then yesterday BBC Radio 4 had a broadcast on picnics the history of picnicking and what would be your ideal picnic. While at university in Dunedin I paid for my education by working in a restaurant where the owners unashamedly promoted family food from around the world, traditional dishes enjoyed in homes they had visited on their travels: simple, inexpensive, wholesome, readily available ingredients (often grown in my or the restaurant owner's gardens in fact), cheap cuts of meat, nose to tail eating - all that sort of thing long before it became a fashionable statement of values. It is where I first encountered cilantro, and thought it exotic when in fact it is really only 'parsley' to the cuisine of some cultures. And that was just one of dozens of ingredients new to me, foreign to 1970's Kiwis, and regular (honest) food to people in other parts of the world.
    Despite all that my best last meal would still be a baked potato with melted cheese - and possibly a dribble of garlic oil as a nod to all I've learned since being a kid whose favorite food was baked spuds (cooked in the warm ashes of a bonfire).

  8. I do love fresh baked bread. Our family reunion is coming up this saturday. Tim will drive an hour and a half to fire up the outdoor bread oven and everyone brings their favorite lump of bread dough. He'll bake it, 20 loaves at a time. Aletha will bring honey from her bees and there will be home made jams of all kinds. It really is a good time, and we intend to have our own outdoor oven at our retirement property.

    The outdoor bread oven was built by our beloved Uncle Herman who died 10 years ago in his 90s. He was a rare man, and I miss him still. His wife will eat with us.

  9. Sounds good. But I would wash it down with some English bitter.

  10. I used to enjoy pulling the knob off a cottage loaf. Best bit.

    1. I was always sent to the corner shop to buy one and the knob disappeared on the way home !!

    2. Best Ploughman's (with a wonderful selection of cheeses) was served at the Lone Barn in Hungerford Bottom, near Hamble in Hants. I remember it still.

      You can't beat home-made bread, home made chutney and pickled onions, and a good English apple (can't wait for apple time here as we can stock up locally now we are close to the Hereford orchards.)

  11. Crusty, crunchy toasted farm bread with butter (lots) and a thick-cut Dundee marmalade would be my 'last meal of choice!
    It's almost lunchtime here Mark and I would have no problem dropping into an English pub for a great Ploughman's. My 'local' in Torquay was always the Devon Dumpling, within a few minutes walking distance of the house I grew up in. It's still there and I hope and pray to be there come Sept.
    You make a jolly good looking 'cottage loaf'.
    My brother in France is watching the 'Tour' come past his village toward Carcassonne today. Wish I was there too. I can imagine the great supper my SIL will make - 15+ years of their living in France pays off when it comes to real food - the best!
    Enjoy the weekend - perhaps with a picnic?

  12. Homemade bread with homemade jam of course!
    Re your comment on my blog..when were you taking your son around the tracks?

  13. Dear Mark,

    I hope you are having a good brand new week. I’m so glad to see this following line in this post: “Such is my land of lost content” as it came from A. E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, one of my favourite poems.

    I do like to make my own bread every week and I’m impressed with your homemade cottage loaf. I often dread to think what the French make of the kind of bread and cheese we sell in our supermarkets. As far as haggis is concerned, it is an acquired taste. I’ve tried the real authentic one as well as the vegetarian haggis. I’m not too keen on both choices.

    My thoughts are with you, Jane and her mother. I am really sorry to hear that it has been a tough time. I’m learning a lot about you and Jane from reading your book. I hope that Oscar is keeping an eye on you. Our pets are such sensitive creatures and they know how to comfort us or at least make us smile when we are in their company. Their unconditional love is the most consoling and precious gift of all.

    I’m glad to read in your post today that you have found a way to share your thoughts while you are out for walks. I must admit that some of the best ideas come to me when I am out for my walks. My morning walks tend to be silent and solitary and all my ideas go into a form of incubation during the walk.

    I don’t think that I would make an ideal walking companion as I tend to be lost, dwelling in my own little clouds. I know that there are many artists and writers who are sociable, extrovert and highly interactive with other people. I think that I’m quite envious of these social butterflies.

    I agree with Jean Rhys when she once said: “I think if I had to choose, I’d rather be happy than write.”

    Best wishes, ASD