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Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding


A meal necessarily consisting of slices of roast beef, gravy, roast potatoes and at least two other vegetables (commonly carrots, roast parsnips, peas or cut cabbage) with small Yorkshire Puddings. Offered with horseradish sauce and mustard.

The Roast Beef of England
Punch, c1880

It is clear that roast beef has been considered the English dish for a long time. Such is mentioned in Shakespeare, and Andrew Boorde, the physician, traveller, writer, spy and Carthusian monk, in his 'Compendyous Regyment or Dyetary of Health' of 1542 says; "Beef is a good meate for an Englysshe man, so be it the beest be yonge, & that it be not know-flesche; yf it be moderatly powdered [i.e. salted] that the groose blode by salt may be exhaustyd, it doth make an Englysshe man stronge".

The song "The Roast Beef of Old England" was written by Henry Fielding for his play The Grub-Street Opera, of 1731 and is still occasionally played at military dinners.

    When mighty Roast Beef was the Englishman's food,
    It ennobled our brains and enriched our blood.
    Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers were good
       Oh! the Roast Beef of old England,
       And old English Roast Beef!

What is odd is how the roast beef dinner-on-a-plate of sliced meat, portioned-out veg and Yorkshires came to been seen as English when the traditional English Service is very much not to have a set meal, but to allow each diner to choose, individually, what items they want from the selection placed before them. The idea of a ready-plated-up meal, the 'meat and two veg', is very definitely from the Russian style of service. This Service à la russe is said to have been introduced to France in the early 19th Century by the Russian Ambassador Alexander Kurakin. As many French restaurateurs and cooks moved to England - including the hugely influential Louis Eustache Ude, Alexis Soyer and Marie-Antoine Carême - the new plated service came to supplant the Old English way, which is a pity.

It perhaps takes someone just outside of England to really appreciate what others have. Morgan O'Doherty, writing in the Scottish Blackwood's Magazine, and reported in the 'Dublin Evening Mail' - (Wednesday 07 July 1824); "whatever country one is, one should choose the dishes of the country. Every really national dish is good -at least, I never yet met with one that did not gratify appetite. The Turkish pilaws are most excellent but the so-called French cookery of Pera is execrable. In a like manner roast beef with Yorkshire pudding is always a prime feast in Engand while John Bull's Fricandeux, Soufflés &c., are decidedly anathema. What a horror, again, is a Bifstick the Palais Royal!"

Yorkshire puddings were, of course, originally a dish by themselves and only seem to be noted as an accompaniment to roast beef from the beginning of the 19th Century, for instance...

Original Receipt in The cook and housewife's manual, by Margaret Dods, 1826

ROAST BEEF is garnished with plenty of horseradish finely scraped and laid round the dish in light heaps and served with Yorkshire pudding or potato pudding.* The inside or English side as it is commonly called in the northern division of the island is by some esteemed the most delicate. To this the carver must attend and also to the equitable distribution of the fat.
*Dr Redgill who relished a joke after the serious business of dinner was despatched, holding it as a maxim that a moderate laugh aided digestion, was wont to say that Yorkshire pudding was the true Squire of Sir Loin and horse-radish his brisk fiery Page, without which attendants he looked despoiled of his dignity and bearing.

Sunday Roast
Image: Robbie Jim

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