retro re­vival

Who says a Sun­day roast with all the trim­mings needs meat? Not Matt Pre­ston! - - THIS MONTH -

Matt Pre­ston looks like start­ing a rev­o­lu­tion with his vego ver­sion of a Bri­tish Sun­day roast with all the trim­mings (ex­cept the beef!).

here are few meals that sig­nify sta­bil­ity and com­fort as much as the tra­di­tional Bri­tish roast. Some be­lieve that this tra­di­tion is handed down from the Mid­dle Ages, when whole roast oxen were shared by a vil­lage af­ter manda­tory archery and arms train­ing each Sun­day, while oth­ers point to Henry VII’S per­sonal body­guards, the Yeo­man of the Guard, whose eat­ing habits earned them the hon­orary ti­tle of ‘Beefeaters’. With these mil­i­tary links, it’s no won­der this meal be­came so closely linked with the is­land na­tion’s sense of se­cu­rity. And in an era when the Church in­sisted on fast­ing be­fore ser­vice, and for­bade the eat­ing of meat on up to 100 other days a year, you can see why the Sun­day roast had added sig­nif­i­cance – ev­ery­one was so darned hun­gry! By the end of the 17th cen­tury, roast beef was so syn­ony­mous with Sun­day lunch that a vis­i­tor to Lon­don (French-born travel writer, Henri Mis­son) wrote that “it is a com­mon prac­tice, even among peo­ple of good sub­stance, to have a huge piece of roast beef on Sun­days, of which they stuff un­til they can swal­low no more, and eat the rest cold, with­out any other vict­uals, the other six days of the week”. In con­ver­sa­tion with famed jour­nal­ist and es­say­ist Sa­muel John­son, his bi­og­ra­pher James Boswell claimed that “the feel­ing of friend­ship is like that of be­ing com­fort­ably filled with roast beef; love, like be­ing en­livened with Cham­pagne”. By the 18th cen­tury, au­thors and song­writ­ers were as­so­ci­at­ing roast beef with the health of the na­tion. In the 1735 song ‘The Roast Beef of Old Eng­land’ Richard Lev­eridge opined that “when mighty roast beef was the English­man’s food… our sol­diers were brave and our courtiers were good, but since we have learned from all vapour­ing France, to eat their ragouts, as well as to dance, we are fed up with noth­ing but vain com­plai­sance”. Ouch! Mean­while, the French took to nick­nam­ing the Bri­tish les ros­b­ifs. Colo­nial set­tlers ex­ported the Bri­tish tra­di­tion of a Sun­day roast to both the US and Aus­tralia, al­though it was rein­ter­preted in each place to cham­pion lo­cal pro­teins, such as the lamb roast Naomi Watts so fa­mously chose over a date with Tom Cruise in the nineties Aussie ad­vert. The trim­mings of a clas­sic Sun­day roast have be­come al­most as im­por­tant as the meat it­self, but are a more re­cent ar­rival. Drip­ping and bat­ter pud­dings be­gan to pop up in 18th-cen­tury cook­books, at­trib­uted to cooks across the UK, but York­shire’s bat­ter pud­dings were sin­gled out for their crisp­ness, ac­cord­ing to York­shire-pud­ding ex­pert, food his­to­rian Jen­nifer Stead. The recipe for the first drip­ping pud­ding was found in 1737’s in­ter­est­ingly named The Whole Duty of a Woman as a pan­cake bat­ter cooked un­der a roast, but it was doughty north­ern lass and cook­book au­thor Han­nah Glasse who claims the first recipe for ‘York­shire pud­ding’ a decade later. With the ad­vent of ovens, these pud­dings also be­came some­thing to be eaten when money was scarce, with noth­ing meatier than left­over gravy. And this is where the idea for this recipe comes from: a meat-free Sun­day roast. It’s cheaper, just as tasty and some might say health­ier (I’m look­ing at you, the US’S no­to­ri­ous beef-basher Dr Neal Barnard). Voted the UK’S favourite com­fort food in a 2010 BBC Good Food sur­vey, the tra­di­tion of a Sun­day roast is still go­ing strong – even if the to­tal con­sump­tion of beef among les ros­b­ifs is steadily de­clin­ing.

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