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321: History of the English Sunday roast

When you think about historic British dining one of the first things which springs to mind is the Sunday roast.   Also often referred to as Sunday dinner, Sunday lunch, Sunday tea, Roast dinner, etc., the origins of the Sunday beef roast aren’t exactly clear.  Some maintain that the concept was born during the days of the industrial revolution, while others maintain that the tradition stretches all the way back to medieval times.

English Sunday roast

It’s perhaps prudent to assume that this tradition (at the very least) has its roots in ancient practices, especially given the English people’s deeply ingrained love of beef.  For example, the term “beefeater” (of which you’ll find a number of other historic English-derived items bearing the same name) is a famous title for the Yeomen Warders which were formed in 1485 by King Henry VII.  As it is often said, during the 15th century, these guards would dine on fresh roasted beef on Sundays after church service (often consuming leftovers for the rest of the week as well).  Similarly, there is the notion of village serfs being treated to oxen roasted on a spit after church services and battle exercises were complete (perhaps as a reward from the nobility of the day).

Conversely (and as previously mentioned), some maintain that the English Sunday roast as we know it developed out practices employed during the industrial age.  As it is said, many Yorkshire families might pop a roast into the oven before they left to go to church knowing that by the time the returned, their meal would be cooked and ready.  For all intents and purposes, this seems to be an idea which holds credence to the modern iteration of the Sunday roast.  For instance, when we consider that one of the staple side dishes of the Sunday dinner, Yorkshire pudding, was developed sometime around 1737 (which also seems to directly precede the date when the industrial revolution began, somewhere around 1760).

Additionally, beef isn’t the only type of meat that’s often used for a Sunday roast, chicken, lamb or pork are also popular choices as well as duck, goose, turkey or game animals (which are often featured seasonally).  As far as the vegetables are concerned, they’re usually roasted, but steaming and boiling are also particularly fashionable, particularly among those who like to cook at home or those who might be somewhat health conscious.  Naturally, potatoes are a featured item, but carrots, broccoli, green beans, cabbage and turnips are also popular choices.

In modern times, the Sunday roast has become extremely commonplace and is routinely chosen for lunch or dinner, seven days a week.  Even if you’re not into home cooking, all you need to do is drop into an English restaurant or pub on Sunday and chances are that a nice roast dinner will be the featured item on the menu.

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