The Ploughman’s Lunch, a summer favourite

Now that summer’s here a Ploughman is a must for your home menu. This substantial meal requires very little cooking, just preparation of some ingredients and then assembly at service time. A Ploughman’s Lunch is also a good meal at a pub as it should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes from order to table. It is also perfect for busy summer home cooks.

According to a blog on WiseGeek, the term “Ploughman’s Lunch” is one made popular during a marketing campaign in the 1960’s by the British Cheese Board. Although its official name wasn’t “Ploughman’s Lunch” until that time, this popular meal has been around since the early 1800’s, possibly earlier, when ploughmen’s wives sent their husbands off to plough the fields with a packed meal consisting of bread, cheese, pickles, and salad and/or fruit, which, since the ploughing was done during cold winter months, would keep well without further refrigeration.

The Ploughman’s Lunch has actually become sort of a British icon, and the Brits generally refer to it simply as a “Ploughman’s.” A Ploughman’s can be put together at a moment’s notice; at some pubs, there is even a notation next to this menu item claiming that it can be brought to the table in less than 10 minutes. A Ploughman’s is a perfect warm-weather meal for busy cooks, since pre preparation rather than  cooking time  is involved. It may become a family favorite, too, because it is a substantial and filling meal; the possibilities for the individual components are endless.

The Ploughman’s is important enough in Britain that whole books have been written on the subject. “The Definitive Ploughman’s Lunch,” by Keith Faulkner is one of the more recent ones. Faulkner has thoroughly researched the subject, and includes the history of the Ploughman’s, information on the pubs in Cornwall and Devon serving the best Ploughman’s, and some recipes for preparing a proper Ploughman’s at home.

While the components of this popular meal vary slightly from pub to pub, the most traditional Ploughman’s include a freshly baked bap, baguette, wholemeal or granary bun, or slices of thick bread with English Cheddar, Stilton, and/or Brie cheese. Branston pickles are classic with the Ploughman’s Lunch, as is the mustard based relish called piccalilli.  Pickled onions are considered a must by many, but some prefer green onions with salt for dipping. Salad can be greens with any dressing, and/or fresh fruit such as an apple or grapes. You can also ham or sausage, which isn’t traditional, but is very good.

A Ploughman’s is the perfect meal to serve in hot summer weather, or to pack and take on a picnic. For those who are not close to a good Pub, or planning to visit one soon, a quick stop at the supermarket will guarantee that, once home a Ploughman’s Lunch is only about 10 minutes away!

Here is how to make a proper Ploughman’s:

Gather the ingredients:

  • Bread: Most grocery stores and bakeries sell freshly baked rolls or a small baguette. Any favorite roll or bread may be used as long as it is freshly baked.
  • Cheese: Mature cheddar is the most popular cheese to serve with a Ploughman’s; Stilton comes in a close second. Since the Ploughman’s is classic British pub food, it’s only fitting to serve English style cheese.
  • Pickles: Either Branston Pickle or piccalilli are the traditional choices. Tiny pickled onions are also a good accompaniment.
  • Salad: A simple lettuce salad with tomatoes is often served, with mayonnaise (preferably Homemade or Hellmans or Kewpie) you can make it easily at home. You can include Julienne sliced seasonal vegetables in the salad (use your De Buyer mandolin to Julienne the veggies).
  • Fruit is usually served in addition to the salad, and this dressing is great drizzled on fruit such as apple slices, grapes, strawberries, and pineapple.
  • Julienne Vegetables (optional) – very thinly sliced Seasonal Vegetables included raw in the salad, an ideal job for your trusty De Buyer Mandoline.


There are many pickle options. A very popular option is Branston Pickle; there are many good recipes on the web.

Other options include a good Chutney, or a good Onion Marmalade.

The posh ploughman’s

An entertaining rendition of the once-humble ploughman’s lunch — cheddar cheese and pickled onions are taken to town with a slab of rare roast beef served with crusty bread. Optionally you can include julienned  seasonal vegetables. Set it out on a large latter and let people help themselves or use individual patters.

Feeds 6. Takes 1 hour plus resting fillet.

1 fillet of beef, rolled and tied, or rib eye fillet, around 1 kg
1tbsp vegetable oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
300g mature cheddar cheese
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp red wine vinegar
1tsp Dijon mustard
2 bunches watercress for serving
Pickled onions

To cook the beef – heat the oven to 220C. To cook the beef, heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and sear the meat until browned and a little crusty on all sides. Transfer it to the oven and cook for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180C and roast for a further 12 minutes per 450g, for a rare to medium-rare result. Remove the beef and rest, under a loose sheet of foil, for 30 minutes to one hour before carving.

To serve, slice the rested beef thinly, and season with sea salt and pepper. Finely slice the cheese. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, sea salt and pepper in a bowl.

Wash the watercress thoroughly, trim off excess stems and pat dry. To serve as a buffet, arrange the beef with the watercress on a large platter (or individual platters) and drizzle with the mustard dressing. Set out the bread, cheese and onions, pickles and invite everyone to help themselves.

All ingredients are available right here in Darling.

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Peter Hall

Peter Hall – born in Belfast (N.Ireland). Supports the Blitzbokke and Sheffield Wednesday (who?). Part-time blogger or geek, part-time scribbler, reluctant part-time gout sufferer and occasional curmudgeon. Proud father of talented daughter (triathlete) and son (musician) who live in Australia.

One thought on “The Ploughman’s Lunch, a summer favourite

  • December 27, 2018 at 11:45

    I love Cathy’s recipes keep them coming


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