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Ploughman’s Sandwich: The best of Britain in every bite

From humble ingredients come the best soul feeding, tummy filling feasts.

It is often the case that hard working peasants and farmers who have made it possible for civilizations to thrive live hard lives, working from dawn to dusk their dedication and efforts have indeed contributed to shape our diets.

But what do they eat?  what has their culinary heritage been, and how has their food made it to become cultural gastronomic staples?

Britain’s evangelistic passion for sandwiches tells the story of its own culinary evolution and to illustrate this let’s explore the history of the ploughman’s sandwich.

First things first, a ploughman is just another name for farmer, especially those who plough the earth to prepare the fields to be planted.

It’s easy to imagine they have: little time to eat, need to refuel good and can’t spare the time to do complicated lunch prep.

A ploughman’s lunch is a simple picnic consisting largely of: bread, cheese, cucumber, tomato, lettuce and a sharp and either sweet or savoury of pickled vegetables, this humble meal was usually washed down with ale.


In time, these ingredients became together in a sandwich and the pickled relish is nowadays ubiquitously known as Branston.

What it lacks in meat this delicious sandwich has in textures and flavours and everyone agrees that it is the pickle what binds all the ingredients together, highlighting the flavours and textures.

Ploughmans sandwich

What’s in the Branston that makes it so special?

The most common recipe includes finely chopped carrots, onions, cauliflower, swede, apples, tomato and gherkins. These vegetables are slow cooked and reduced in a mix of water, vinegar, sugar and salt seasoned with pepper, cloves, mustard, garlic and sometimes cayenne pepper, coriander and nutmeg.

Although pickled vegetables have been around in Britain since Roman times, this particular pickle made its debut in 1922, the same year BBC Radio began broadcasting and Tutankhamen‘s tomb was discovered.

branstonsThe first producers were Crosse & Blackwell established in 1706. Although now many brands like Heinz produce their own versions they’re all generically known as Ploughman’s relish and just like Kleenex became synonym of disposable tissue, Branston is the universally accepted name for the pickle.

Sadly, this pickle that garnishes one of the most beloved sandwiches is as British as sushi as the brand was sold to the Japanese company Mizkan in 2013. But let not this turn of events for this heritage brand put you off trying it, a Ploughman’s sarnie will always be a treat.

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