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Ploughman’s Lunch

posted in Lunch, Vegetarian by Kathy Maister
difficulty rating

Cold plates from around the world make a great lunch or light supper. Many require little or no cooking. In fact you can put together a delicious Cold Mediterranean Plate with all store bought ingredients like hummus, stuffed grape leaves, feta cheese, olives and some pita bread.

One of my favorite cold plates is the English “Ploughman’s Lunch.” Many years ago, my English husband introduced me to a this delicious meal along with a “Shandy” (1/2 beer and 1/2 lemonade) to wash it all down.

The great thing about a Ploughman’s lunch is that is takes less than 10 minutes to prepare!

It consists of a bit of mixed salad, crusty bread and butter, a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese, and Branston pickle, which is a sort of relish or chutney. Many Americans have never heard of Branston pickle. But if you look in the international section of the grocery store I’ll bet you’ll find it, nestled between the “mushy peas” and PG Tips tea.

Branston Pickle was first introduced in 1922 by Cross and Blackwell, in England of course. The actual recipe is still a secret! It has this really unique spicy, sweet, tangy flavor, that when combined with cheddar cheese and bread, you have yourself a little bit of heaven. You can vary proportions to your taste. Substitutes are allowed but watch out if you have any English people at your meal!

When I serve this at home, the only difference is that I usually stick to just the lemonade to wash it down. Otherwise, a siesta would be on the menu as well!



Be sure to also check out my recipe for Cold Rice Salad Plate. Everyone loves the unique blend of flavors in this recipe!

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Jon Sacker said:


As you say, a ploughman’s is a great British institution. There are of course amendments which are ‘allowed’ which your readers may enjoy, after all we have here some other wonderful cheeses and a stilton for example would make a fine alternative.

For myself, I enjoy piccalilli, mustard based relish instead as Branston and this would be equally authentic.

One other thing to point out is that a shandy should be made with bitter, a dark beer served at room temperature (NOT WARM!!) not lager.


Betsy Maloney said:

Hi Kathy- I just love the Ploughman’s lunch- We are going to try it asap-the description of the pickle is wonderful, I love trying something that is so special in another country and the combinations of the food sound most satisfying.

Your ideas are just getting better and better-Betsy Maloney

phatty said:

I hate to contradict Jon but, you know what a lager shandy is perfectly acceptable.

redyeye said:

I have to agree with Phatty on this one. Lager Shandy on a hot summers day, mmmmm, if you’re feeling a bit brave (or fancy a siesta), you can have a “Lager Top” which is 3/4 Lager with a top of lemonade. And like Kathy says two massive door stops of bread filled with a wedge of cheddar, a dollop of branston and a slice (or two) of honey roasted ham. Simple things are the best…

Jon Sacker said:

Far be it from me to start a very British argument going on Kathy’s blog – but really gentlemen, a traditional Ploughman’s needs a traditional beer!

Joking aside, yes I admit that on a hot Summer’s day maybe a lager is in order – but I would still argue that a a pint of ‘best’ still goes best with cheddar.

Kathy, one other comment/question – does the culinary delights of an American supermarket run to that other ploughman’s essential – the pickled onion (though I do draw the line at pickled eggs)!

Jon said:

I just found this fact I had to share with you. The term ‘ploughmans lunch’ was coined in 1960 by the Englsih County Cheese Council!

Kathy Maister said:

WHAT! No farmer! No Horse! No Field! Oh Well…I still like to imagine…

Ken said:

Being English I can vouch for Branston Pickle, but another addition to a Ploughmans, and used very often in country pubs are spring onions. At times they are the extra large variety and with a pile of salt to dip in, make for a very tasty lunch…with of course a beer or shandy.

Kathy Maister said:

My Husband, who is from London, likes the pickled onions. Be it spring onions or pickled onions, that’s all a bit too much onion for me! But I do love a shandy-which are totally unheard of here in the USA!

Elaine Deer said:

I once read that a shandy was an Englishwoman’s drink, and no Englishman would drink one lest he be forced to trade in his trousers for a dress.

Is this true?

Kathy Maister said:

Hi Elaine, In the Pubs, at lunchtime, it is quite common to see both men and women drinking a shandy! :)

Jon said:

Shandy drinker is a (mild) insult amongst younger male drinkers – which would be used to imply that the recipient of the insult was not as male as others. However that doesn’t stop it being a popular drink – especially in the summer. The alternative for more virile (or less self-confident) readers is to order a lager/bitter top – which is the beer with a small amount of lemonade added. I prefer this myself as it is still refreshing but less sweet than a shandy.

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Jon! I was hoping you would jump in! I really do depend on you as startcooking’s “English” translator!

Sandra B said:

Another nice thing to add to a British Ploughmans Lunch/Supper is a selection of pates, Gherkins Olives

Kathy Maister said:

Sandra, I love pate! But is it still then a Ploughman’s Lunch?

martin said:

One missing ingredient which nobody (I think) has mentioned

A Few slices of a good quality HAM (note NOT prepacked water injected stuff) from a good butcher or supermarket “Deli” counter is a must…………

Kathy Maister said:

Thanks Martin! But I must say I have NEVER had a Ploughman’s Lunch that included ham!

martin said:

Well as a true Yorkshireman ( ok very well Englishman as well) every Ploughmans Lunch I’ve had has had Ham with it

Kathy Maister said:

I love really smokey Black Forest ham and am going to try adding it to my next Ploughman’s Lunch. Thanks Martin for the tip!

Ian Cunningham said:

To Pickle Onions ( English Style ) You need 1 Large Jar with Srew lid. Brown Malt Vinegar, 4 -5 Cloves, Black Mustard Seed, Yellow Mustard Seed 2-4 dried chillies ( optional ). 2lb or 1.5 Kg of ( French Shallots or small pickling onions Salt. Peel the onions and place in a bowl as you layer the onions sprinkle very liberally with the salt do this till all of the onions are done. Cover and leave overnight or longer. You can sprinkle more salt on. ( Salt draws out the onion juice ). The next day drain off the juiuce and wash onions with cold running water and then let drain patt dry with paper towel or Tea towel . Place onions in the large jar to the top just jam them in add One half Teaspoon of Black and one half Teaspoon of Yellow Mustard Seeds Cloves, Chillies Pour in Brown Malt Vinegar to cover everything. Put on the Lid and put away for a week or so. Then Try Them with some Salt or by themselves you can slice them have them on tinned Salmon wrapped in a piec of chees or chees and onion sandwiches. The Good Old Englishman will also used the Vinegar from the Onions on Fish and Chips.

Note you can experiment with the mustard seeds chillies etc till you get the flavour that you like. One thing that you must remember is that in the UK there are many different counties that have their own style of chees ( Lancashire Cheshire Leicestershire ) and each may supply 2 different cheeses with a ploughmans lunch.

These are an aquired taste

startcooking said:

Ian Cunningham,

Thank you so much for posting a traditional English recipe to pickle onions! It looks very easy to follow.

Many thanks!

Monica Smith said:

Hi Kathy,

I am Brazilian also married to an English man (unfortunatelly, I am a widow now) who enjoy all English recipes and food. I am adore Ploughman´s Lunch, specially Braston Pickle. But I cannot find it in Brazil. Do you have a recipe? Or something similar? I would love to be able to prepare it here.

Thank you for your attention. I enjoy everything on your website!! :-)

Um abraço,


Kathy Maister said:

Hi Monica, I have never made my own Branston Pickle so I do not have a recipe available. I did just Google Branston Pickle Recipes and over six thousand choices came up. If you discover a winner, please let us know about it!


martin said:

Branstons is made to a secret receipe, So I doubt you’ll be able to match it exactly

Kathy Maister said:

It would be so cool to figure out the secret ingredient!

Jill said:


I am new to your website today, but in reply to comments on a ‘Ham’ Ploughman’s; it is quite common to find ham on the menu, but at the cafe I work at in Wiltshire, England (a real farming county) we even offer a ‘Tuna’ Ploughman’s which is a truely disgusting thought!

PS Although I don’t eat cheese, meat or fish I wouldn’t mind a nice cold cider with the rest of a ploughman’s

martin said:


True that is disgusting thought I was brought up in Yorkshire and was told that a “ploughmans lunch” was everything that would be available in the farming area ……so definitely no fish.

Although the Ploughman lunch was first coined in the 18th Century it is shrouded in the mystery of history being as theres no real receipe for it.

The ploughing of the fields was always done in the late Autumn/ Winter time when green salad would not have been available.

IIRC The Modern Plowmans/Ploughmans was created by the United Kingdoms Restaurant/ Hotel trade as a gimmick “new tradition” when it, the industry suffered a slump in trade in the 1970’s. Not many people would have known of its existance before that, well apart from the ploughmans

Kathy Maister said:

What may have started in the 1970’s as a gimmick has really taken off! Everyone now seems to have their own interpretation of what is a Ploughman’s Lunch. Can we all agree that it should at least have cheese, bread and Branston Pickle? Or maybe just cheese and bread!

Farmer Giles said:

Interesting comments!

True field workers lunches were very basic and consisted (as others have suggested) of just bread, cheese, seasonal vegetable or seasonal fruit and ale (not lager) / cider.

Chutney (Pickle) was an added when the fruits / vegetables were out of season (but made when plentiful)

There were specific regional variations and one that may be of interest to you all comes from the Eastern counties of England and not too dissimilar to the Cornish variety apart from it was a pasty with two fillings, one half meat based (mutton) and the other half with a fruit filling – The original “all in one” meal?

Anyway, in our native tongue – Am orf fa a days thrashin darn Swaffam fa nathin

Kathy Maister said:

Hey Farmer Giles, thanks for the info! I’ve never heard of a pasty that was both sweet and savory – very clever!

“Am orf fa a days thrashin darn Swaffam fa nathin“…hmmm…no clue what you just said!

Farmer Giles said:

Hey Kathy

You can google the “Bedfordshire clanger” for varying descriptions off the pasty.


I am going to do a days thrashing (harvesting) down at Swaffham (Norfolk town in England) for nothing (no pay)


The Farmer

Kathy Maister said:

Ah ha! Now I understand.

Many thanks for the translation. When my husband (from London) and I watch old British films he always does the translating! :-)

Scott said:

that was absolutely delicious!!

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