The British love their pubs as they are not only a place to drink alcoholic beverages, they are very often the focus of community life in villages, towns and cities. Pubs have also a long tradition of serving food but lately, they are also going through a renaissance all over the country, with food of a higher standard and better appeal. And one of the most famous pub grubs is the Ploughman’s Lunch. I still remember the first time I tried it in a pub (I can’t recall the name, sorry) in Windermere, in the Lake District. From then on, I have ordered a Ploughman’s Lunch whenever I have had the chance.
A Ploughman’s Lunch is a lunch packed for a ploughman to take with him into the fields for his lunch. A basic Ploughman’s consists of crusty bread, a good lump of local cheese, pickled onions and chutney or relish. This combination may vary considerably and it may also be embellished with a selection of cold meats, ham, maybe a slice of pate and/or slice of pork pie, even a scotch egg. Sometimes, it also includes seasonal fruits such as apples or grapes. Traditionally, the bread, cheese and pickles were home-made by the ploughman’s wife. The drink that accompanies this lunch is, of course, a pint of the local beer or cider.
There is a little controversy on the origin of this traditional cold meal, as there are not any historical records. Ploughmen have been eating bread and cheese with beer for aeons, but the term “Ploughman’s Lunch” was not coined until the 1960’s, when the Milk Marketing Board were trying to sell cheese in British pubs.
We love to prepare this meal at home. There is always cheese in our pantry, and cheddar is a regular in our kitchen. Nowadays it is very easy to find a good quality cheddar in Spanish supermarkets. We have also tried Ploughman’s with other cheeses, as I think that what it is important is that it is good quality and that you choose the one you like.
Chutney is more difficult to find here and I believe that it is not optional as it boosts the meal and makes it something more than bread and cheese. In big supermarkets it is possible to find Branston Pickle for those who do not live in Britain.
As you can imagine, I prefer to make my own relish (please find below my recipe). But are you clear about the difference between pickles, chutneys and relishes? I have always been confused on this. Branston Pickle is actually a relish!
Pickles are preserved in vinegar and assorted spices. They do not need to be cooked for as long as chutneys, with the exception of fruit pickles, where the fruit is heated gently to allow it to absorb the spices and the vinegar. Pickles are usually based around one vegetable or one fruit only. Vegetables used for pickling are first soaked in brine (salt and water solution) for up to 48 hours. This procedure removes the excess moisture in the vegetables and helps them to stay crisp. It also prevents the development of bad bacteria. After the salting process, the vegetables must be rinsed clean in cold water and well drained before being coated in vinegar.
Relish is a very versatile preserve as it can be used with lots of dishes. Relishes use vinegar and spices, like chutney and pickles, although the finished texture is a lot different. Relishes are usually only made of chopped vegetables (not fruit) and they do not require to be cooked as long as chutneys. The ingredients keep their shape.
Chutneys are made from chopped fruits and/or vegetables which are mixed with spices, vinegar and other ingredients, and then reduced to a smooth pulp. They come from India and this is why many chutneys can be very spicy. The word chutney derives from the Indian word chatni, which means pickle. Chutneys require long and slow cooking as this is the only way to get their smooth texture. Ideally they should not be consumed inmediately as they improve over time and they should be left to mature for 3-6 months.
When making these preserves you should always use stainless steel pans rather than iron or brass pans, as the vinegar, which is very acidic, reacts with these and will give the pickles a metallic taste. If the ingredients need to be strained, use nylon sieves. On the other hand, you should use sterilised jars (kilner jars are highly recommended).
And this is finally my recipe, Sweet Onion Relish.
- 1.5 kg sweet onions, finely chopped
- 700g red onions, finely chopped
- 2 red bell peppers, washed, seeds and stems removed, finely chopped
- ¼ cup / 65g sea salt
- 1 cup / 200g granulated sugar
- 1 cup / 220g light brown sugar
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 2 cups / 450ml cider vinegar
- 1 tsp mixed pickling spices
- glass preserving jars, sterilized
- Combine the chopped onions and bell peppers with the salt. Stir and let stand for 30 minutes.
- Then, drain the vegetables in a sieve, squeezing gently.
- In a large stainless steel pot, combine the sugars, turmeric and vinegar.
- Put pickling spices in a muslin bag and add to the vinegar and sugar mixture.
- Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
- Add the well drained vegetable mixture, increase heat to medium.
- Bring to a boil and lower heat to medium low. Then simmer for 30-50 minutes.
- Fill the sterilized jars and close the lids firmly.
This is the final result. The picture is not very good, sorry, but I promise I will learn how to take better shots in the future. But I will tell you that even though you cannot appreaciate it from the picture, this relish is absolutely delicious.
Recipe adapted from Jams, Chutneys, Pickles Preserves. Pr Books Limited.