A cold snack meal of bread, butter, cheese and pickles, possibly with the addition of apple, celery, hard-boiled egg, etc.
Ploughman having lunch, c1930?
Described in John Connor's 'The Rise of The West' as; "A latterday example of 'merrie England' fakery is the ploughman's lunch. Evocative of some late-Medieval rural idyll, it was actually invented as pub food in the early-1970s by ad men keen to offload industrially-processed cheese." It has also been described as; "A completely successful fabrication of the past". However, that is not quite true...
That bread and cheese, especially with beer, is the expected luncheon dish for ploughmen has been established for centuries, indeed "Both bred and ale, Buttre, melk, and chese" are mentioned in 'Pierce the Ploughman's Crede' of about 1394. Francis Grose's 'Provincial Glossary' of 1787 says that in Kent, "the plowmen ... eat a bit of bread and cheese and drink some beer when they come out of the fields at ten in the morning and six in the evening". The ploughman's dinner of bread and cheese is repeatedly given in texts from the 18th Century onwards, and, at least once, was even enforced by the courts when a group of ploughmen successfully sued their employer when he gave them other food than the customary bread and cheese. (Sheriff Robertson of Forfar, 'Dundee Courier', 30 October 1891). The 'Royal Cornwall Gazette' of Thursday 24 April 1890 (p7) even reports a ploughman winning an eating competition on account of his extraordinary ability to consume bread and cheese.
What a traditional 'ploughman's' probably ought to look like -
bread, cheese, ale and a few onions.
And such a lunch has long been seen as the essence of honest fare; 'The Practical Works' of Richard Baxter in 1838 has; "the ploughman's brown bread and cheese is more savoury to him, and breedeth fewer sicknesses, than the fulness and variety of the rich." The 'Western Daily Press' on Thursday 12 May 1859 (p2) relates how the great Duke of Wellington; "would eat bread and cheese like any ploughman."
Some more ploughmen having lunch
So bread-and-cheese as the traditional luncheon of ploughmen is indeed ancient, but it seems fairly clear that its naming as a distinct dish and current popularity beyond the ploughing classes originates largely from a 1960's marketing policy first by the brewery industry, then taken up and promoted by the milk industries.
The idea is first known from an item of July 1956 in the 'Monthly Bulletin' of the Brewer's Society where it is envisioned that; "All you need say is, ‘Ploughboy's Lunch, Harry, please'. And in a matter of minutes a tray is handed across the counter to you on which is a good square hunk of bread, a lump of butter and a wedge of cheese, and pickled onions, along with your pint of beer." (OED). The concept appears several times in the 'Bulletins' thereafter, and, by June 1957 had become "ploughman's lunch"
Then, in 1961, a budget Statement of the English Country Cheese Council of 29 November 1961 shows an item for 5,000 Ploughman's Lunch Showcards to be purchased in conjunction with the Milk Marketing Board, presumably for distribution to pubs.
What a 'Ploughman's Lunch' typically looks like now, (2012)
even though this is at the English Tea Room, Covington, Louisiana, USA
Yorkshire Ploughman's Salad Sauce
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