Awesome Pub Grub – A Tradition Worth Preserving

For 2000 years the public house has been a part of British culture. The invading Romans connected British settlements with a network of roads. As the army marched on its stomach, enterprising Romans brought the concept of the tabernae to these shores and the tavern was born. Naturally, the British took over the taverns and built a few of their own; that’s when wine was replaced by beer. During the time of Henry VII, the tavern became known as the public house or pub. Travellers knew that when they saw an inn they’d get a hot meal, warm beer, and a bed for the night; and even though the industry may not be as vast as it once was, the pub is still important to the people of Britain, as is the food it serves.

What Is Traditional Pub Grub?

The pub has had an on and off again love affair with food. From its inception as a stop for travellers, inns have always offered food in some form or other, but the beer has always been the main attraction. The last two decades have seen a change in what has been expected from pubs and for many food has taken over as their main source of income. Back in the time of Chaucer the Cook prepares meat pie, a thick stew and a dish of chicken in oats. Pies seem to have been a menu item for centuries (so it is only right that some modern pubs celebrate British Pie Week). Some classics have fallen out of favour such as chicken in a basket (or indeed any basket meals). Others, such as tikka masala or a mild chilli, whilst relatively modern, have still been on the menu for decades. One classic, however, causes some controversy…

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The Ploughman’s Lunch – A Mix Of Ancient Preserved Food

There is no doubt that every part of the traditional Ploughman’s Lunch is truly archaic. Cheese has been eaten since cattle were first domesticated and the history of bread predates writing. It is unclear when meat first started being cured but was a well-known technique in Ancient Egypt. The Ploughman’s is an odd meal at first glance. Most parts of it are made up of foods that have been preserved. Pickling extended the life of onions by months, if not years. The traditional sweet pickle condiment uses a combination of vinegar and sugars to preserve vegetables, and cheese stored surplus milk without it going off. Before refrigeration, the slaughter of an animal would mean that either a feast would use every part of it or the majority would have to be preserved in some way. In England, pork was traditionally preserved as ham, bacon or gammon. Nitrate salts cured the pork and altered its flavour in ways we found appealing.

The Ploughman’s Lunch – Ancient Fayre Or Modern Fake?

When the bar staff brings you a plate of ham, bread, cheese, pickles and butter you feel like you are partaking in a ritual as old as time. The name and the basic nature of the dish connects you spiritually to you ancestors working in the field. As you tuck in it is easy to imagine them unwrapping something similar from a handkerchief and joining you. There have been many attempts to trace the origin of the Ploughman’s but none of them is conclusive. It is true that the Milk Marketing Board did develop the concept of the Ploughman’s in the 60s and promoted it to pubs in an effort to sell more British cheese. Many take this as evidence that your rustic peasant lunch has more to do with cynical ad men than your farming ancestors. Further digging, however, shows that the same thing happened in the 1950s and at that time it was talked about as a revival of a much older meal. The older meal may actually have been called a Ploughboy’s Lunch and it was much the same as it is today. The name may be new but cheese, bread and ham have been part of the offering for inns since they were tabernae.

The Gastropub And The Future

Even the most upmarket pubs still offer some variant on traditional British foods. Cured pork as gammon steaks, bacon, ham or continental sausages is on every menu. Fish and chips have swum out of the chippy and sit as a fixture on pub menus. Bangers and mash may change its name and the gravy may be rebranded as a jus but the meal remains the same. Regardless of the high-end items and haut cuisine on offer pubs know what people want and they will always slip in the favourites. Steak and ale pie, the Ploughman’s, curries and a traditional roast are not likely to be dropped any time soon.

Written by Cassie Steele