What is a British Ploughman's Lunch?

Typical Ploughman's Lunch. Foodcollection RF / Getty Images

Go to almost any British pub for a taste of traditional food and you are more than likely to see a Ploughman's Lunch on the menu, but what exactly is this?

A ploughman's lunch does what it says on the tin; it was lunch packed to take out into the fields for. you guessed it, a Ploughman.  Just where the name or contents of a Ploughman's comes from has been lost in the mists of time, but there are suggestions that the name only evolved int he 60's through savvy marketers.

More likely they resurrected the lunch as there are records of it mentioned in 18th-century literature. 

Most certainly, this meal is not for the fainthearted as it often contains cheese, meats, pickles, sometimes even a slice of meat pie as well as bread. Always ask what's on offer before ordering.


What is Usually in a Ploughman's Lunch?

A Ploughman's is crusty bread, cheese plus pickled onions and chutney but this can vary considerably and it may also contain a selection of cold meats, ham, maybe a slice of pate and a slice of pork pie, sometimes slices of apple or other seasonal fruit.

Traditionally the cheese, bread and pickles would be home-made by the ploughman's wife - making it a cheap and substantial lunch. Today, a good Ploughman's will be cheeses of the region and at the very least British, the same for the meats and other accompaniments. The bread must be a thick wedge of crusty bread or a baguette, anything less will not hold up when piled high with cheese, chutney and pickles.

And to drink ...in a pub, it must be a pint of the local beer or cider unless you are driving of course. 

The Modern Ploughman's Lunch

Traditional as a Ploughman's lunch is - as described above - it has taken on a modern mantle thanks the rise of the gastro-pub in Britain. Gastro-pubs are those traditional pubs where the emphasis is more on the food than the drink and sociability.

Many gastro-pubs are now run by chefs rather than the traditional pub landlord. They have taken the classic Ploughman's and dressed it up with scotch eggs, pates and terrines, game and other "fancy" meat. Bread will now more often be a sourdough or artisan bread rather than the simple baguette. The emphasis on these platters will be the provenance of the ingredients, the more local to the surrounding area of the pub the better.