Bread, cheese, & ale

The current definition of a “ploughman’s lunch” (up here in the High Doganate) is a large and crusty bread roll from the oven, a pretty mound of butter, two generous chunks of cheese (one always cheddar), pickled onions and, on principle, an aluminum cylinder of ale, translated into a handled, white ceramic jar. A cold veal sausage from Benna’s (Polish ethnic shop up the way) I would count as a festal variation; to be avoided on Fridays. Aha, and I almost overlooked the tomato chutney. (Modernist touch.)

My understanding, from Piers the Plowman (his Crede), is that bread, cheese, and ale are the staples of a manorial diet; and this is also my understanding from Cobbett’s Cottage Economy, five centuries later, in those passages where he is not rebuking potatoes. (Home-baked bread was the freeman’s glory, in his considered view; potatoes were indecent and unrighteous — unsuitable even for the Irish.)

In summer, all heating wants to be inclosed, and in the absence of a thick clay oven in my wall, I make do with this metal electrical contraption that came with the apartment. But the bread, if fresh enough, could also be dispensed at room temperature.

When run out of chutney, perhaps, a modest bowl of unheated baked beans, from the Heinz corporation. Or in their seasonal prime, gorgeous fat sliced tomatoes (under a sprinkling of salt and herbs) — unknown to our mediaeval ancestors, but leapt upon the moment they had landed from the New World.

There are many variations on the ploughman’s lunch, which, according to the Wicked Paedia, was invented only in the 1950s as a marketing gimmick by the British Cheese Bureau, just as cheese finally came off ration. (The Germans, who did not have the blessing of a Labour government, were of course eating cheese to their hearts’ content soon after the War; but now I am getting distracted.)

In Canada today, we also have Kafkaesque dairy regulators. They do not ration cheese, but content themselves with making it unnecessarily expensive — at minimum, doubling the retail price — while assuring a consistently bland, low, homogenized standard for the masses. To which those masses are now trained and accustomed, in their characteristic obsequiousness. (I could get very distracted.)

Bread, cheese, and ale. … That is what I wanted to communicate today, in the muggy heat of an Ontario midsummer. I hope that I have done so effectively.

“Small beer” for the kiddies, by the bye, when they come in from the fields, for they are themselves small, slight, rather puny, and yet unready for the full siren of a larger ale — which might divert their return to the berry harvest. Small beer at breakfast; small beer at lunch; a little stronger to send them off to bed.

Alas, my own small kiddies have growed. And too, I have sowed no berries.