I was going to write a review of a Sunday lunch I recently had with Yolanda and my good friends Ben and Claire back in the West Country. Instead of writing a plain old review of a meal that did not quite come up to scratch something else came to mind. It made me think about why the Sunday roast is such an important meal in the lives of us Brits, and for me in particular. This is by no means a revelation, everyone knows that the Sunday roast is a quintessential part of life in this country. I’m just sharing some of my thoughts on this and also a little insight into my food experiences and childhood.
Almost every pub that serves food will put on a Sunday roast option each week. Some will be very traditional, some may be carveries and others may be a little more modern of left field. One thing that you can be certain of is that most of them will be a bit rubbish. Yes you heard me right. Despite the cultural importance of this weekly feast most of them you encounter are pretty crap. Whole websites and Facebook groups are devoted to the search for a decent pub roast. Many recommendations are exchanged in hushed whispers between friends and colleagues, or argued about loudly on a Saturday evening. Columns in national newspapers are even dedicated to this subject, but despite all this the standards are pretty poor. I think that there are probably two good reasons for this. Firstly it is fairly difficult to get all of the elements right in such large quantities for such a long period of time. Everyone knows that a roast dinner does not require high amounts of skill. What it does require is excellent timing. Every element has to be right and ready at the same time, to do this on a large scale is hard. The second, and probably most important reason, is that no pub roast is going to compare to a homemade roast. Be that the one you remember as a child or the one that you make yourself. Everyone has a different standard through which all Sunday lunches will be measured and I am no different. This is why it is hard for a pub to provide for so many different expectations.
When I was growing up our Sunday dinners were always a pretty special event. We never had Sunday lunch in the traditional sense as our family meal was always in the evening. It was not always a traditional roast either and could be anything from curry to salmon en croute. What was traditional about it was that the whole family sat and ate together around the dinner table. When I say whole family it was just my parents, brother and me and not some huge extended family thing; that wasn’t for us. This was probably the only meal we all definitely ate together and generally consisted of at least two courses, on some occasions four or five if you count coffee and after eight mints as a course. My Dad always did the cooking and these meals played a massive role in why I love food now, even if I did not always appreciate them as a child.
I was a very picky eater when growing up and many a tantrum was thrown at that dinner table either resulting in some heated negotiations or me being sent to bed without pudding; although depending on the extent of my behaviour I was often able to reconcile with my parents and still have my dessert. For me these Sunday meals were an integral part of family life and I can still picture us sitting around the table having our dinner. Most would go without incident although on occasion either my brother or me or both would ruin things. We would then watch something like Poirot or Lovejoy on the small TV in the dining room over cheese and/or a dessert of crème caramel or chocolate mousse. Simple times but that is the power of food.
My Dad’s cooking was fantastic and these memories of Sunday meals stayed with me for many years and certainly inspired me to want to cook now. I think a part of that is down to the sense of festival and ceremony that those family dinners provided; as well as the indulgent side of my personality requiring the skills to feed it. I do not feel that this is in any way a unique experience and it is shared with many others and their families. I do however think that it is such an important element in the enjoyment of food and how it can bring families together, even if it is just for one meal a week. I am really thankful that my parents showed me this world of fantastic food and it has had a huge impact on me and my life. One day when I have a family of my own it is certainly a tradition that I will continue in the hope of inspiring my children and teaching them the joys of food.
This then for me is why Sunday roasts or meals have a special relevance and importance. It perhaps is the same for many others as well. The feeling of sitting around with your friends and loved ones and sharing a meal is a special one. They also often signal the end of a weekend and all the fun and games that may have occurred. Well something like that anyway. They could just be a good antidote to a two day hangover in a last ditch attempt to soak up the beer before Monday rolls around again.