If you've ever eaten at an English pub, you’ve probably seen something called ploughman's lunch on the menu. Despite its popularity today, the meal had humble beginnings, originating during the mid-1700s as the standard midday fare for British farmers. Such lunches were usually prepared by the farmers' wives or provided by their employers and eaten in the fields while the farmers were on breaks.
As Kate Arding, of Tomales Bay Foods in San Francisco, explains, a traditional ploughman's lunch usually consisted of whatever the farmer’s wife had in the kitchen that day. The cheese -- either cheddar or Stilton -- was most likely made on the family farm, the beer was probably made locally, and the bread and chutney were homemade. In addition, the lunches may have included a variety of fruits and vegetables.
According to Kate, there are no hard-and-fast rules for preparing a ploughman's lunch, as the process is more one of assembly than actual cooking. Further, when the lunch is offered on a pub menu today, there are often several choices of ingredients from which to choose. Nevertheless, when preparing your own version, Kate recommends making the cheese the focal point; adding Branston pickles, pickled onions, and slices of various fruit and vegetables; and, of course, topping off the meal with a classic British libation -- an Imperial pint of delicious ale.