Roast Beef: The Great British Sunday Roast.
The Sunday roast is still an important part of British people, the tradition is all about every week sitting down with a big meal of roast, veggies and gravy to enjoy together with the family after a long week. It is most believed that the British people’s love of beef began during the reign of King Henry the VII in 1485. His Yeomen Warders – the royal guard – would eat fresh roasted beef every Sunday after church, and it’s suggested that this became such a ritual that the guards were affectionately referred to as “beefeaters”. Considering that by the 19th century, the recommended weekly intake of beef for an English person – royal guard or simple villager – was said to be about 3 kg, the term “beefeater” was rather apt.
Throughout the Industrial Age, almost every household would pop a roast on before heading to church on a Sunday. It had become an act with a kind of religious and social importance to it. The nobility would hang an entire animal on a spit in front of a huge fireplace and slowly roast it, while those who could not afford the larger cuts of meat, let alone a fireplace, would drop off a more modest cut to their local baker en route to church. The baker would use their empty bread ovens to cook the meat and hand it back to the villagers in time for lunch.
No doubt in those times this was the best meal anybody had all week (which may explain why they ate it over and again as leftovers in stews, pies and as cold cuts), and why the Sunday roast became such an important part of the week. Today, people in the UK are said to still eat approximately 1.5 kg of meat each week – only 200g of which is beef.
In 1871, William Kitchiner, author of “Apicius Redivivus: Or, The Cook’s Oracle,” recommended eating 6 pounds of meat each week as part of a healthy diet. (He also recommended 4 1/2 pounds of bread and a pint of bier every day.) Today in the U.K., a meat eater’s diet can include approximately 3 pounds of meat each week—only 7 ounces of which is beef—and some would even consider that too much.
Kitchener also describes in the book how to roast “the noble sirloin of about fifteen pounds” before the fire for four hours. This method of hanging the meat on a spit demanded a sizable fireplace to feed a large household. The meat was served not only on Sunday but as cold cuts, stews, and pies throughout the week.
The always present partner to the roast was, and still is, a Yorkshire pudding. The pudding was not served alongside the meat as is often seen today. Instead, it was a starter dish served with lots of gravy. By eating it first, the hope was that everyone would be too full and eat less meat on the main course (which, of course, was very expensive).
The Modern Sunday Roast.
Though meat is no longer roasted in front of the fire, and today is baked in the modern oven, the term “Sunday roast” is still used. On Sundays throughout the U.K., pubs and restaurants are packed full for the roast dinner; some even serve the meal on other days of the week. But for many, cooking and serving Sunday lunch at home is the very heart of British food and cooking. It’s considered the time for families or friends to get together and share great food.
Also included in a traditional English Sunday Lunch are roasted potatoes and root vegetables, green vegetables like cabbage and spring greens, cauliflower cheese and lots of gravy.
The Sunday Roast Reflected in the Arts.
“The Roast Beef of Old England,” an English patriotic ballad, was written by Henry Fielding for his play “The Grub-Street Opera,” first performed in 1731:
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!
Imagine a meal that is so delicious and traditional that inspires a song!
Live and enjoy a more chic life.
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