Britain's greatest traditional meal
Miranda Ward blogs about North American perceptions of English food and provides instructions on how to best enjoy Britain's great traditional meal -- the Sunday Roast.
Ten years ago I visited Britain for the first time. My parents and I toured the country for two weeks; I would sit in the back seat of the car listening to a Cranberries CD and writing stories in a green spiral-bound notebook.
We had come from California, where friends would usually buy us eggs freshly laid from their free-range chickens, or lettuce from their organic vegetable farm. I would frequently pick my own oranges and watch my grandparents crack macadamia nuts with a machine in the garage. And then there were jokes, every one of them, the gist being – that the English can’t cook!
The funny thing was that there we were in England, and we weren’t having a hard time finding a good meal anywhere. We ate the best Indian cuisine we’d ever tasted; we had Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese. And…Cornish pasties!
After a long hike along the coast, a pastry full of hot meat and creamy potatoes, is exactly what you want -- especially when it starts to rain with such force that the parking lot floods and turns the stairwells into waterfalls. We had bread and cheese -- glorious cheese! And ate more chocolate than seemed humanly possible.
Here I am in England ten years on and now living here. The English are no longer the focus of quite so many food-based jokes, we know better now it seems. What I like best, and what is probably most interesting I suppose, is the European approach to eating. Here’s what I mean -- you can stretch a meal out over time and there’s no better day to do this than on a Sunday.
The ‘Sunday roast’ is the classic meal for doing this and it doesn’t get more English than this. A hunk of meat (beef, pork, chicken, or lamb), potatoes roast in goose fat (or butter), vegetables (maybe some cabbage, carrots, parsnips, leeks), all slathered in gravy.
The thing that’s nice is not so much the hearty sustenance (though I’ve no objection to it!), but that it’s more of an event than a meal. A Sunday lunch (or dinner) is a social engagement of a very special nature; casual, gentle, slow-paced.
Sunday lunch instructions
- Plan ahead, but not too far ahead. Mention to your friends on Friday or Saturday that you’re thinking of doing lunch, and would they like to come? But don’t buy any of the ingredients until Sunday morning. Planning is over-rated, but also you’ll get fresher stuff. Go to the butcher not the supermarket if you can.
- Don’t start cooking until your friends start to arrive -- that would be silly (remember: planning is over-rated). They’ll be late anyway which means you have the morning free to do with it what you will.
- By this time everyone will be starving. Serve some crisps and a few drinks. Commence the cooking!
- Forget a crucial ingredient, then take a stroll to the corner shop and hope they’ve got what you need.
- Several hours later the food will be ready...and boy! You'll be ready for it! But to wash down all that meat and grease you need wine -- lots of wine!
- Remember halfway through the meal about pudding. Something quick -- a fresh fruit crumble is always nice, something which involves your guests. Have them get their hands dirty making the crumble while you nip to the shop to get cream.
- Continue with the wine-drinking. For maximum effect, do not do anything even remotely productive for the rest of the day.
- (Tailor these instructions to suit your needs.)
Miranda Ward grew up on a cattle ranch on the coast of California and settled in Oxford England whilst studying International Relations. She met her partner in a pub on the evening of her first day in Oxford. She is currently writing a book. Republished from Miranda's blog -- My Wandering Days.
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