Hurricane Ploughman’s Lunch


As I sat down to write the beginning of this post, all of New England was preparing for a hit by Irene on Sunday as a tropical storm. While watching non-stop breaking news coverage, I strongly suspected that the weather forecasters were practicing worst-case scenario weather reporting. Yet I realized we were not immune from the threat of damage, especially as we have a dying tree hanging over our power lines. I prepared for the possibility of living without power for several days by stocking up on bottled water, cans of tuna, loaves of bread and lots of peanut butter.

Going meatless is a natural way of eating when the power is out. I wanted to serve my family healthy meals that were more than just peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks. While I was thinking of the meatless meals I’ve had in my life that were not hot or cooked meals, my thoughts kept returning to a great lunch I had in a pub near the British Museum in London. It consisted of cheese, bread, pickled onions, pickle relish, ham, apples and beer: a Ploughman’s Lunch. While I’m sure that many a ploughman ate such a meal countless times in the history of England; it seems probable that the name Ploughman’s Lunch was actually the result of an advertising campaign by the British Milk Marketing Board in the 1960s. An interesting post about the origins can be found at Martyn Cornell’s Zythophile blog.  Regardless of the origins it’s a great meal that lends itself naturally to a meatless preparation.

I was not terribly concerned with making an authentic Ploughman’s Lunch; instead I wanted to recreate the feeling and taste of a British pub meal with the ingredients I had on hand that I knew my family would eat. For example, one of the key ingredients of a classic Ploughman’s Lunch is Branston Pickle which is a brownish gloop of pickle relish that my American palate does not tolerate; instead I offered cucumber slices. For the pickled onions I “pickled” red onion in balsamic vinegar which I served with fresh greens and local tomatoes. I cut slices of the cheeses I had on hand (which happened to be Cabot Vintage Cheddar, Edam and some Grana Padano), piled on red grapes, slices of apple, and slices of a hearty wheat bread. I also offered some homemade beer and black pepper mustard that I made a few weeks ago. The mustard just seems to get spicier and spicier as the days go by, but it goes fantastically with cheddar and just about anything. And of course there was beer; a tasty Long Trail Pale Ale that matched the weather and the food. Of course the beer was not for Little Guy; he had a fruit punch that also matched very nicely.

I’ve included recipes for the onions and the mustard. The onions are almost too simple to call a recipe, but they are tasty none-the-less. The mustard is a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. I added the black pepper that gives it an additional kick. This is serious mustard for serious mustard fans. It turns a good hot dog into gourmet fare!

We were lucky in the storm. We lost power for about 30 seconds and only lost a few small limbs from the trees. While my street was spared the worst of it, Irene was no laughing matter. We were lucky and we are grateful for that. Instead of nibbling on our Ploughman’s Lunch by candlelight, we chowed on it while watching the mid-season premiere of Doctor Who. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Enjoy!

Balsamic “Pickled” OnionsClick here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe
makes 1 cup

1 small red onion, sliced thin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

In a medium bowl combine sliced onion, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar.

Toss well to combine and let sit for at least an hour (overnight is better). Serve with salads, cold platters or on sandwiches.

Beer and Black Pepper Mustardclick here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe.
makes 1 ½ cups

Based on a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

1/4 cup brown mustard seed
1/4 cup yellow mustard seed
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup pale ale or other full bodied beer
2 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
2 teaspoons brown sugar
3/4 teaspoons salt

In a small bowl combine mustard seeds, vinegar, beer and pepper. Stir well, cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours or overnight.

Scoop mustard, salt and brown sugar into a food processor and blend until the desired consistency is reached. Scrape into an airtight container and refrigerate. The mustard will continue to develop flavor for several days. Can be stored for several months in the refrigerator.

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