The History Of The Ploughman’s

With the recent release of our new platter deal at The Haldon Hotel we wanted to take a look back through the history of the much loved Ploughman’s lunch.

The book Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede (1394) mentions the traditional ploughman’s meal of bread, cheese and beer. English rural laborer’s ate this meal for centuries and it contributed to the main source of their fat and protein as many could not afford meat. Instead of expensive seasonings, onions were often used and were a valuable source of vitamin C.

Farmworkers in Devon were said to eat “bread and hard cheese with cider very washy and sour” for their midday meals. This diet was associated with rural poverty however it also gained an association with an image of wealth amongst the rural higher class.

Farm laborer’s often carried their food with them to eat in the fields however similar food was served up in public houses as simple but inexpensive meals. In 1915 William Cobbett recalled that farmers going to market in Farnham, 40 years prior, would often add bread and cheese to their pint of beers. In the 19th century the English peoples appeal to serving bread, cheese and beer together was noted as “the very dryness and saltness heighten thirst, therefore the relish of the beer”

Bread and cheese remained the only food available in many rural pubs during the 20th century. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the first recorded  use of the phrase “ploughman’s luncheon” occurred in 1837 from the memoirs of the life of Sir Walter Scott by John G. Lockhart. The second reference is from the July 1956 monthly bulletin of the Brewers Society which describes the activities of the Cheese Bureau. This was a marketing body associated with J. Walter Thompson.

By the 1950s the ploughman’s had the English in awe, the simplicity and deliciousness was all everyone wanted. Being able to request it at a pub and a few minutes later a tray being handed over the counter with a hunk of bread, lump of butter, a wedge of cheese and pickled onions not missing the pint of beer was a staple for all pub goers. However, the ploughman’s were about to get even better.

Only a year later in June 1957, another edition of the monthly bulletin of the Brewers Society referred to a ploughman’s lunch that was said to consist of cottage bread, cheese, lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, cold sausage, and beer. The meal rose rapidly in popularity during the 1970s many have argued this was due to the upgrade the ploughman’s got.

However, it appears that the main reason it was favored by caterers was that it was simple and quick to prepare even for less skilled staff, required no cooking, and involved no meat which made it potential for high-profit margins.

The ploughman’s has remained a pub classic right up to modern day and many believe it is here to stay for many more years to come.