Monday 9th January 2012
Today is Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night and Epiphany, and what used to be an important date in the agricultural calendar. Traditionally it was the day on which farm workers returned to their duties after the Christmas and New Year break. A plough would be taken to the local church to be blessed in order to “speed the plough” and ensure a bountiful harvest later in the year. It was a difficult time of year for ploughman, as the ground was hard and difficult to work on, so the ploughmen would decorate their ploughs and take them around the local villages where they would ask for money from the wealthy landowners. In Norfolk “Molly Dances” were performed by the young plough boys, whilst in the Midlands “Mummers Plays” were put on for entertainment. The Plough Boys were known as Plough Jacks, Plough Bullocks or Plough Stots and they many of them blackened their faces, a tradition still practised today. In the Cambridgeshire Fens, children would collect money before they went to school, which was called “Ploughwitching”.
The obvious choice of a recipe today would be the Ploughman’s Lunch; and indeed I will share this recipe, or rather the serving idea with you, but I would also like to share a bread recipe too, a rustic country bread that would be perfect served in a ploughman’s lunch, a Cottage Loaf……a hearty unusual shaped bread that epitomises the rustic lunch and farmhouse tea time table. Just the words Ploughman’s Lunch conjures up images of lazy lunches sat outside with friends, in the Beer Garden of an old Country Pub, and it’s winter now I know ~ so why not have this at the kitchen table for an indoor picnic for Plough Monday.
This is one of the most famous of pub lunches ~ so simple and yet so satisfying, especially if taken with a pint of real ale or cider. Although the term “Ploughman’s Lunch” was first coined in the 1930’s, as part of a very successful marketing campaign, the concept behind it goes back much further. Throughout the centuries, agricultural workers would take their lunch out to the fields with them; this usually consisted of bread and cheese with ale or cider ~ a perfect combination. It’s easy to prepare and should consist of at least the following: crusty bread and butter; a selection of English cheeses; pickled onions; chutney and pickles. This also makes excellent picnic food, and is easy to pack and transport.
- 4 slices crusty bread such as cottage loaf, thick slices or 2 large crusty bread rolls or 1/2 baguette1 ~ 2 ounces fresh butter8 ounces mature farmhouse cheddar cheese, or Stilton cheese, Wensleydale cheese, Cheshire cheese, Lancashire cheese, Gloucester cheese, Red Leicester cheese4 large pickled onions4 tablespoons chutney, such as, Branston pickle, Pan Yan Pickle or Ploughman’s pickle2 tomatoes4 spring onionssaltpepper
Arrange the buttered bread on a large platter or plate; you can also leave the bread unbuttered, and place a pat of butter on the side instead.Cut 4ozs of cheese per person, it is nice to have a choice of two cheeses, such as 2ozs Cheddar and 2ozs Stilton ~ arrange these on the same platter/plate. Put the pickled onions and chutney or pickles on the side of the plate, along with a fresh tomato left whole and the spring onions.Make sure there is salt and pepper available, as well as some good real ale or cider and enjoy!
~ Traditional Cottage Loaf ~
Old Fashioned Rustic English Bread
Just the shape of this traditional loaf of bread is reminiscent of ploughman’s lunches and warm cottage kitchens. A delightfully shaped loaf of bread, which represents all that is rustic and rural in Britain, but especially England. This bread keeps well and makes lovely if odd shaped sandwiches. Cut the loaf into wedges and serve with freshly churned butter and a chunk of mature Cheddar cheese, maybe with a pickled onion or two. Quintessential British bread at its best. This reminds me of baking days in my grandmothers’ old cottage, sitting in her warm and cosy kitchen; she would have baked this in her wood burning Aga stove, as I sometimes do in the winter when my Godin wood burning stove is working. I often leave the first batch of dough to prove and rise overnight ~ leave it in a cool but NOT cold place, and then continue shaping and proving it next morning. We used to call this wooden spoon bread when we were little, as you push a wooden spoon down through the two loaves to stick them together before baking.
500 g strong white bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon caster sugar
2 teaspoons fast-rising active dry yeast or 1 ounce fresh yeast
325 ml tepid milk, and water mixed
salt, for glaze
Sift flour and salt into a bowl, stir in sugar and yeast. Make a well in the centre, stir in the tepid milk and water to make the dough. (If using fresh yeast – put the yeast in a jug with a little of the milk and water mixture, and allow it to dissolve and become frothy ~ mixing thoroughly, then add it to the flour).
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 to 15 minutes until smooth and elastic.
Put the dough in a large, clean, oiled bowl. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size.Then knead the dough for 1 minute and divide it into two-thirds and a third. Shape the pieces into rounds. Cover them and leave for 5 minutes.
Put the smaller round on top of the larger one. Push a floured wooden spoon (or your fingers) through the centre of both rounds, to join them together. Take a very sharp knife and make cuts all around the top round and the bottom round ~ see my photos. Put the cottage loaf on a lightly floured baking tray, cover and leave for about 45 minutes, or until it has doubled in size. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220C/440F/Gas 7.
Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Brush the glaze over the cottage loaf and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, until dark golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped beneath.
Cool before slicing. Delicious served with butter, jam, cheese, cold meats or make sandwiches or toast for picnics and breakfast.
That’s all for today, see you tomorrow with a sweet treat!