The Story of Roast Beef

Roast Beef History

As the weather is changing it’s time to get roasting a beautiful joint and get the family around the dinner table this weekend.

But do you know the history of the Sunday roast?!

The Great British Sunday Roast came to prominence during the reign of King Henry VII in 1485 and a nations love affair for roast beef began. The Yeoman of the Guard have affectionately been known as ‘Beefeaters’ since the 15th century because of their love of eating roast beef.

In 1871 William Kitchiner author of ‘The Cook’s Oracle’ recommended eating 6 pounds of meat a week as part of a healthy diet. He suggested the best way to cook roast beef was by way of hanging the meat on a spit in-front of an open fire for several hours.

The less well off households didn’t have the luxury of a large fireplace or the money for much meat. So on a Sunday would take their small joints of beef to the bakery on route for church where they would cook in the cooling bread ovens. With this access for all to cook meat the tradition of Sunday Lunch began.

The Yorkshire pudding has accompanied roast beef for centuries and was first called ‘Dripping Pudding’ as it was cooked using the drippings from the roast meat. In a recipe booked published in 1747 called ‘The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy’ by Hannah Glasse the puddings were renamed ‘Yorkshire Puddings’. However the puddings weren’t served with the meat as the are now, they were in fact served as a starter with gravy in the hope that guests would fill up on the puddings and consume less of the expensive meat.

Did you know there is a song about roast beef?! In 1731 Henry Fielding wrote ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’ for his play The Grub Street Opera. Some of the lyrics read;

“When mighty roast beef was the Englishman’s food, it ennobled our veins and enriched our blood. Our soldiers were brave and our courtiers good. Oh! The Roast Beef of old England, And old England Roast Beef!”

The song became customary for theatre audiences to sing before, after and occasionally during any new play coming to the stage. The Royal Navy goes into dine at Mess Dinners to the tune, which is also played at Unites States Marine Corps formal mess dinners during the presentation of the beef.

The tradition of a Sunday roast lives on and is enjoyed not just in the UK but has been a major influence on food cultures in the English speaking world. Particularly in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the USA and New Zealand.

In 2012 the Sunday roast ranked 2nd in a list of things that people love about Britain. At number one was ‘the bacon sandwich’ and coming in third was the beloved ‘cup of tea’.

A joint cooked on a Sunday can be exceptionally good value with some clever cooking it can see you through to the middle of the week! Last week we all enjoyed a Topside on Sunday with all the usual trimmings. On Monday we had leftovers – think bubble and squeak! Plus a roast beef sandwich for lunch with lashing of horseradish. Then on Tuesday I made a cottage pie with the remaining meat which fed us all for a further two nights.

For my top tips on cooking a perfectly pink topside see my recipe here…