Category Archives: Beer

The Ploughman And His Lunch

If there is a dish designed to evoke images of a bucolic England lost forever, it is the ploughman’s lunch, a simple repast of bread and cheese, designed to fill the stomachs of agricultural workers as they toiled on the land. In true Masterchef style, pubs nowadays cannot resist the opportunity to “elevate” the dish.

It is easy to see why bread, cheese, and ale made up the traditional meal of agricultural workers. They were common foodstuffs, easily carried to the fields, did not require cooking, and were filling. There are references galore in literature to agricultural workers eating bread and cheese during or after labouring in the fields.

For public houses, especially in market towns, providing a meal of bread and cheese made commercial sense. It required little preparation, was what agricultural folk were used to, and cheese being especially dry and salty made the customers thirstier and drink more beer. Even well into the 20th century, it was often the only meal available. Martin Armstrong observed in The Weekend Review (1932) that “on these occasions in country inns when bread, cheese and beer seem so extraordinarily good, the alternative is generally nothing; and compared with nothing bread, cheese and beer are beyond compare”.

Curiously, the meal was known prosaically as bread and cheese rather than a ploughman’s lunch. It took a sustained advertising campaign to associate the term with bread and cheese.

Rationed between 1942 and 1954, cheese’s natural relationship with beer had been severely damaged and sales of the dairy product were in the doldrums. Once rationing was over, the Cheese Bureau was set up “for the admirable purpose of popularising cheese and, as a corollary, the public house lunch of bread, beer, cheese, and pickles”, reported the Brewers’ Society’s A Monthly Bulletin in its July 1956 edition. “This traditional combination”, it went on, “was broken by rationing; the Cheese Bureau hopes, by demonstrating the natural affinity of the two parties, to effect a remarriage”.

The same edition gave an account of a tasting held at the splendidly named Samson and Hercules in Norwich, a dancehall rather than a pub, at which the writer and broadcaster, Adrian Bell, “made a spirited plea for the “auld alliance” of beer and cheese”. He went on to tell of a pub near where he lived where “all you need say is, “Ploughboy’s Lunch, Harry, please”. And in a matter of minutes a tray is handed across the counter to you on which is a good square hunk of bread, a lump of butter and a wedge of cheese, and pickled onions, along with your pint of beer. Ploughboy’s Lunch, that’s called – remember those words: they stand for something pretty good”.

Thefollowing year, in its June 1957 edition, A Monthly Bulletin reported on a much grander tasting, organised by the Cheese Bureau and the Brewers’ Society, held at Fishmonger’s Hall in London with five hundred guests in attendance, After sampling sixteen cheeses and beer brewed by eight London brewers – those were the days – “there followed a “Ploughman’s Lunch” of cottage bread, cheese, lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, cold sausages, and, of course, beer”. Bell’s ploughboy had clearly grown up in the intervening eleven months.

The report went on in optimistic vein to assert that “this is just the sort of light midday meal that one might expect to find in an ordinary public house, where the customers do not wish to spend much time or much money on their lunch, and where the landlord cannot afford a catering staff. Licensed victuallers please note”.

Publicans did begin to take note, but it took a concerted publicity campaign over the next few years to re-establish the connection between cheese and beer and to associate the name of a ploughman’s lunch with the meal. Events were held around the country to promote the delights of English cheese and its pairing with beer. Newspaper reports of the events, such as those held in Preston in March 1960 and in Kensington in September 1961, still felt it necessary to explain what was meant by Ploughman’s Lunch. Even pubs had to educate the public. In 1962 a board outside the White Hart in the Sussex village of Catsfield, stated that “although lunch is not served, Salads and Ploughman’s lunch – beer and cheese – are always available”.

By the 1970s the ploughman’s lunch was firmly established on the pub menu and was at the height of its popularity. It seemed to fit in with the zeitgeist, appealing to a yearning for a lost and distant past, while pushed for all it was worth by publicans who appreciated the higher profit margins it offered over meals that had to be carefully prepared and cooked. The 21st century version of the meal is a much more elaborate affair, but it is salutary to note that the name, ploughman’s lunch, was cooked up by marketeers rather than handed down the centuries.

Job Of The Week (6)

Raise your glasses to the new Benedict Goodale. Paul Boswell has just been appointed to the prestigious post of Ale Taster for the Cheshire town of Congleton, a post which has been in existence since 1272. Boswell, formerly employed in the brewing and pub industry for 35 years, took the oath in a ceremony held in the Beartown Tap in Willow Street.

The position of ale taster, which he will hold for a year, was one of four that the town was allowed to appoint under the charter granted to it in 1272. The others were mayor, town crier, and catchpole, a form of debt collector.

The role was a combination of trading standards and weights and measures, designed to ensure that ingredients of the correct type and quality were being used and that the citizens were not being overcharged for their ale. His powers are now ceremonial, no longer able to levy fines on errant publicans or even send them to the stocks or to jail.

Still, it is good to see some customs maintained. Cheers!

Diet Of The Week

While I’m happy to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday I have rather given up on giving up things for Lent. So, I am in awe of Del Hall from Cincinnati who has given up solid food for 46 days, relying on beer for the majority of his sustenance, topped up with water, black coffee and herbal tea. I have been on a bender like that but not for so long.

This is the third year that he has followed this unusual diet and claims that not only did he lose between 40 and 50 pounds in weight each time in 2019 and 2020 but also saw an improvement in his blood pressure and cholesterol levels. He is restricting himself to between three and five beers a day, he says, and is going to change the type and brands of beer he quaffs regularly so that he does not get bored with it.

As well as hoping for some health benefits, he had already lost just over 5 pounds after three days, he is raising money via a crowdfunding initiative called Sgt. Del’s Virtual Tip Jar to help local bars and restaurants that have suffered through the pandemic.

More power to his elbow!

Beer Of The Week (2)

Looking for a Kolsch that is inoffensive and not too bitter? The Minocqua Brewing Company from Oneida County in Wisconsin has launched a Biden Beer that is said to be just the ticket.

It is a limited-edition brew and is on sale at $6 for a 32-ounce crowler and $15 for a three-pack.

Owner, Kirk Bangstad, sees this as the culmination of his campaign in support of the Presidential hopeful, having been threatened, in September, with a fine for a sign in support of the Democrat which covered one side of his brewpub.


Covid-19 Tales (6)

Pubs will need all the help they can get when they re-open. The Federal Federation of Cafés in Belgium has come up with a novel idea – a reverse Happy Hour or Helpy Hour.

Instead of getting two drinks for the price of one, the Federation is encouraging topers to volunteer to pay double the price for their favourite beverage in an attempt to preserve the Belgian café culture. The President, Diane Delen, claimed that the helpy hour would be “a temporary measure that will help avoid an avalanche of bankruptcies”.

It might just take off. I would pay almost anything for my first pint of draught real ale.