The Traditions of The Sunday Roast (doesn't show up)
These days I find that preparing our Sunday lunches makes me irrationally happy, and I thought I’d try to put into words why I find this rather peculiar ritual so comforting…
One of my favourite English traditions is The Great British Sunday Roast…
However as a Norwegian student arriving in London all those years ago I was yet to truly appreciate the ‘institution’ that the Sunday Roast actually represents. Frankly to me the Sunday Roast menu on offer at the local pub time was less than appetising.
So the first step on my true roast appreciation journey was when I was invited to a Sunday Lunch at the home of friends. By British standards this was not a formal meal but a merry gathering of both family and friends . This, for me was definitely one of the secret ingredients.
You are not necessarily invited to arrive at a specific mealtime, but at some pre ordained time that allows for a more relaxed Sunday. First comes the glass of bubbles and nibbles. Depending on the experience and level of organisational skills of your host, one glass can turn into a few, and even before the food is ready you are feeling at ease and at home, even when it is not your own. By the time you are seated at the table the conversation is already in full flow, people are helping putting the necessary implements out, re-filling glasses, passing bowls of deliciousness around, making sure everybody has a bit of everything on their plate. My view of what was on the table was suddenly changed as everything appeared touched with care, love and participation.
The whole ceremony felt like a dance orchestrated to create a sense of togetherness.
We settle down, propose a toast to the chef and dig in… Because everything is in front of you and there is plenty of it, nobody needs to rush back and forth to the kitchen, there are no worries about eating too quickly or too slowly. It is just about the people you are with and the food you are sharing, for a few hours the world outside is irrelevant.
The tradition of the English roast is believed to have been designed to be eaten after a Sunday church service. During the industrial revolution, before going to church, people would put a joint of meat into their oven along with vegetables and potatoes. When they returned from the church service, their meal would have been slowly cooked and ready to eat. Juices from the dish were used to make gravy, which was poured over the meal.
Poorer families would not have large ovens, so their Sunday roast would be dropped off for cooking at the local bakery on their way to church. It would be cooked in the bakery’s bread ovens, as bread was not baked on Sundays. Yorkshire puddings were served before the beef to fill hungry stomachs.
The key to something becoming a tradition is how it is fits around the way we live. With the changes in society, the format of the Sunday roast has evolved over time. As family sizes reduce and both men and women work full time, many prefer not to cook at all on a Sunday; this is where the English pubs stepped in.
So now Sunday Lunch has become a tradition in our home. When my children were little our Sunday lunches were a joint effort shared between a few families. We would take turns in hosting the event. You might bring a starter or a pudding to the party, and in return you get to spend time with other adults and watch your children run happily around with their friends.
As the various commitments pulled people in different directions it became harder to organise and for us the format has changed again…
When I now cook just for our family we tend to eat late in the afternoon or early evening. It has to do with teenagers natural body clocks and our other Sunday projects. If other people are involved then a Sunday lunch really is an all day event.
Few things motivate teenage boys more than a bottomless meal, and our Sunday roast to become a highlight for our family. We talk about the week that has been and the one ahead, we re-group and recharge, we cook together. We put on some music and the grown ups may have started sipping some wine, and everybody is helping out. Nobody minds being asked to take the compost out, restocking the wood baskets or laying the table, as everybody .
During these hours many lessons are learnt, but even more importantly, memories and traditions are made. Of course they have become rather handy at peeling potatoes and carrots, but important rules like ‘we always make the Yorkshire pudding batter in that bowl’ and ‘the right size of the roast potatoes’ are established once and for all. We work out how we always do things, which creates a sense of belonging.
We all have busy lives. We have businesses to run uni applications to complete, essays to hand in or a painting to finish, but for those few hours on a Sunday we work on one project together.
When we have prepared all the little things and gather around Our Family Roast, there is a general sense of individual contribution. I believe these experiences inform the choices our children make outside the walls of our house and in turn I hope they will pass these traditions on to their own children.
The family table is where we learn to sit for a moment. Manners are refined, opinions discussed, arguments tested and history is passed down. There is no better preparation for our future. This adds a sense of significance to your table, and makes it all the more important to choose one that will last. We find solid oak tables are the ideal way to bring the family together for a roast.
Having a centrepiece for these gatherings emphasises the importance of our tribe, whether we engrave them with family names, a favourite saying, house name or important dates, it simply speaks to what and who we are!
This may go some way to explain why I think it is The Family Carving board is so important. It fills me with so much joy to see hundreds of carving boards leave our workshop each year with engravings like ‘The Browns Family Roast’ or ‘Cooking together since…’, knowing that they symbolise something far greater than simply being The Best Carving Board around.
Our carving boards are of course not only for the English roast. Our carving boards are popular all over the world, from the Australian Barbie, to the South African Braii and all the way to the US for Thanksgiving.
When it comes to telling you exactly how to cook your family roast and what accompaniments should go with what, I believe there are other people more qualified to do so. Maybe start by asking your own parents or grandparents…
As far as sharing my husband’s Yorkshire grandmother’s Yorkshire pudding recipe, it is not my place to do so. We are simply the best at making carving and chopping boards…
Click here to see how our carving board is made and one of our family lunches.
Click here to buy your own wooden board.