Friday, July 23, 2004


Hmm.  That was my attempt at an attention-grabbing opening paragraph.  The only reason anyone I don't know would look at this site is because the address came up next to theirs in the "most recently published blogs" list.  Apart from that, I'd hazard a guess that about 95 per cent of people who compose  blogs are American.  So, what better way of getting computer users to read this than to insult them?  Still, if you are from the U.S., dear reader, then at least you can retort with insults about how I'm probably a horse-faced inbreed living in a stately home, and how you lot "saved Yoorupp's ass" during World War 2.  And as for the state of those goddam Brit lame ass faggot haircut pop groups - what kinda name is A Flocka Seagulls anyway?

Yeah, "whatever" (as we tend to say over here nowadays), you might as well press the back up button now and click onto the diary by the college dropout from Portland, Maine who's having boyfriend trouble, or the very "specialized" site for people who have an all-consuming interest in feet.  Most of the stuff I write about is far to parochial to be of international interest.  Far too parochial to be of interest to anyone outside this house, actually.

So I might as well shoot myself in the foot, as it were, by staying in my dreary little "Brit" hovel and assessing something quintessentially English, yet again.  Yes, I'm going to look earnestly and in depth at pub food.  For any Americans still reading at this point (highly unlikely, I know), a pub is known across the Atlantic as a bar.  Specifically, I'm going to contemplate a meal that has been a staple at pubs for centuries (probably) - the ploughman's lunch.

I've fearlessly done loads of research on the subject of this delicacy, i.e., I looked up the first entry on a wordsearch on this computer, and was directed to a website (www.outlawcook.com) which described the origins of the ploughman's lunch.  It consisted of equal amounts of bread and cheese, and, rather eyewateringly, an onion eaten raw like an apple.  I think the article was designed to describe the meal to an English speaking audience of potential tourists.  The author suggested that the best ploughman's lunches are likely to be found in the real English rural areas of Devon, Hereford and Somerset, rather than the crappy pseudo-countryside home counties around London (in one of which I reside!).  Unfortunately, he neglected to tell readers that transport to the west country from London tends to be an absolute nightmare, particularly trains, and any tourist would surely rue the day he spent 18 hours trying to get to the middle of nowhere to eat a pleasant but hardly life altering meal.

Of course, the reality of most ploughman's lunches is far different from the Egon Ronay recommended feast of delicious home-cooked bread, farmhouse cheese and crisp pint of bitter.   The typical ploughman's consists of the following ingredients:

Six pounds of sweaty Cheddar cheese
Four pounds of Red Leicester cheese (for colour contrast)
Big dollop of supermarket own brand chutney
Two pieces of "Round" lettuce (the cheapest, most flavourless sort)
Dish with various condiments - low fat mayonnaise, salad cream, vinegar, tomato sauce, French mustard, English mustard, brown sauce (all in sachet form)
Slightly stale crusty half of French loaf

This should be accompanied by a pint of gassy lager.  Indeed, the whole eating experience is one of the most unpleasant to be had.  The combination of dry bread and endless cheese leads to the diner having to chew away at the food for, oh, several hours.  The lettuce will barely help and the chutney's tartness doesn't seem to lessen the parched feeling , so that the tongue is virtually stuck to the roof of the mouth by the time one manages to finish eating.  The only relief to be gained is by drinking the ale which, alas, will merely contribute to  an epic bout of indigestion.

So, why does the ploughman's erm, plough on into the twenty first century?  My opinion is that pubgoers like the idea of a meal that is vaguely like a salad, but not nearly as healthy or boring, and is an alternative to the hot food on offer.  Mind you, the only people who actually order the dish tend to be nascent vegetarians or people who think they are choosing the "healthy" option. 
All that cheese though -  virtually furring up the arteries even as you consume it. 

But the real reason that this humble dish survives to this day is that it is link with the past - a past of Constable paintings, jars of homemade jam with little lacey cloths on top of them, child labour, the plague, scurvy, rickets, consumption, women being burnt at the stake, criminals being hung, drawn and quartered, and farmers marrying their sisters.  In short, the idyllic times before the likes of Starbucks took over our town centres and, like, corporate branding controlled our lives and things became a real bummer.  There'll always be an England (or an imaginary one at any rate) so stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr American capitalist filthbag!

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