The summer I turned nineteen, I took a trip to the UK with friends. I particularly remember one afternoon in York, after hunting for church mice at the minster and buying chocolate in the open air market, we stopped for lunch at the Golden Fleece Pub. I was low on money, so looking over the menu I picked the cheapest option: The Ploughman, for £5. I had no idea what it was, and when I asked the barman, he mistakenly described a shepherd’s pie to me. What arrived at the table was a plate of salad, bread, cheese, some slices of cold sausage, a few parboiled vegetables and “pickle,” the mysterious brown, vinegary concoction that I would come to love during my stint abroad. The barman was mortified at his mistake, but on that pleasant, warm day, the Ploughman’s lunch was much more satisfying than a heavier shepherd’s pie ever could have been and since then I often recreate my own version of that meal with local goodies.
While it sounds charming and historic, the Ploughman is actually a fairly recent idea, ostensibly invented by the British cheese bureau to move more product. Whatever it’s history, it’s a perfect spring or summer lunch and can be made a hundred different ways. The nice thing is, this isn't cooking, it's just assembling according to a simple template that can flex to fit your needs. I often eat mine without bread, but it's traditional to have a roll or a slice of bread with a good crust to eat with this meal.
Ploughman’s Lunch for One (or Two)
Assemble your choices on a plate or cutting board and enjoy. This makes a terrific packed lunch for work that requires no heating.
Lard is a cooking fat that has seen a return in popularity in recent years. For people who follow a “traditional foods” or “nourishing traditions” diet, lard is often a staple, particularly in baking. Lard is high in oleic acid, which helps to lower LDL cholesterol, and is a good source of Vitamin D when sourced responsibly from pasture raised animals (source).
But whether you include it in your diet for health reasons or not, those who don’t abstain from meat find that it’s a wonderful ingredient for pie crusts, biscuits, for roasting vegetables, etc. It lends a savory flavor and gives pastry a prized short, flaky texture, and has a high smoke point (about 370), making it suitable for frying.
Rendering your own lard at home is simple. A little bit of effort will provide you with a locally sourced, inexpensive cooking fat that will last a long time in your refrigerator. I’ve used two methods with good success. One is a bit faster, but requires supervision, and the other can be done in a crock pot.
Rendering Lard, stove top method
Yield will vary.
Rendering Lard, crock pot method
Yield will vary.
Last summer I posted about lacto-fermented pickles–a simple, healthy and frugal way to pickle vegetables. Over the weekend, however, I found myself longing for the sharp tang and satisfying crunch of crisp spring vegetables brined in a vinegar solution. The results were quick and delicious.
To do your own spring pickling, you’ll need a few things to start.
1. Heat safe jars. Canning jars are a safe choice. Sterilize them in your dishwasher or by rinsing them with boiling water.
2. Vegetables, cut into 1/2-1/3″ thick wedges or spears. I chose vegetables that could stand up to having warm brine poured over them which speeds up and simplifies the process a bit–carrots, beets and radishes. Small carrots and radishes can be halved or quartered lengthwise, and beets may be sliced into pretty wedges.
3. Vinegar. Choose a vinegar that won’t overwhelm the flavor of your vegetables. A heavy or sweet vinegar (such as malt or balsamic) will likely overpower the more delicate flavor of a young carrot. Good choices are apple cider, rice wine or brown rice vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, or even sherry vinegar, if you want something a bit richer.
4. Water. If you typically use unfiltered tap water, you may want to consider purchasing spring or distilled water for its neutral taste. Mineral or metallic notes in your water can really be highlighted by the pickling process.
5. Sweetener and sugar. I chose to use unrefined, organic sugar and sea salt, but you can play with other sweeteners and salts, including maple syrup and pink or kosher salt.
6. Dried spices. You can let your imagination run a bit wild here. I like to keep things simple and add only two or three dried spices to a jar at a time, so I don’t muddy the flavor of my pickles, but you can also go for a stand-by mix such as this one. My favorite choices include mustard seeds, chilli flakes, peppercorn, dill seeds and fennel seeds.
7. Aromatics. Such as fresh thyme sprigs and thinly sliced garlic.
The pickling process.
I mix up a solution as follows, and gently heat it in a thick bottomed pot over medium heat. (This will make enough to fill approximately two quart jars.)
Next, I add my spices and aromatics to the jars, pressing them down between the vegetables with my fingers. I’m not very precise about this, but I use about two teaspoons of dried spices and a small handful of aromatics per quart-sized jar. If you want to keep things quite simple, just sprinkle in a few generous pinches of dill seed and call it a day.
When the vinegar solution is gently simmering, remove it from the heat to cool for a few moments. While it is still hot to the touch, but not scalding, carefully pour your vinegar solution into your jars so that the vegetables are covered. (If you need a bit more to top off, use a 2-1 vinegar to water solution.)
Allow to cool for a few minutes before putting lids on the jars. Screw the lids on very carefully and gently shake the jars to distribute spices. Allow to sit on the counter overnight, then refrigerate the next day.
They are ready to eat after 24 hours and will continue to pickle in the refrigerator. Try to enjoy these pickles within a month or so.