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Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast: Authentic Pub Food, Restaurant Fare, and Home Cooking from Small Towns, Big Cities, and Country Villages Across the British Isles Hardcover – February 28, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Letter to Readers from Brian Yarvin

Dear Amazon readers,

I always love the underdog and British food has such a bad reputation that I couldn't help but be drawn to it. Soon it became my special culinary place--an unknown spot where nobody else went. I would have thought that the popularity of The Two Fat Ladies, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, and Gordon Ramsay would have done something--yet, the joy of a B&B breakfast, a Sunday pub lunch, a great curry, or a lavish tea service remains something of a cult secret.

So much of British food is a poor man's vision of a rich man's meal: breakfast with sausages AND bacon or a big Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. And even more has always been and always will be a "poor man's meal:" fried bread, dumplings and mince, or bubble and squeak.

When you travel to Britain, nobody gives you any advance notice that there are foods worth eating outside of a few fine-dining temples, and on my first trips, everything seemed new. The surprises never stopped coming: sandwiches, artisan cheeses, cereals and beverages of the highest quality, and the obvious: these legendary gardeners grew more than flowers--this very green place is paradise for produce fans.

The United Kingdom is like a Chinese restaurant with a secret menu--learn what's good, find out what to order, and you'll be among the initiated. Let everybody else suffer with kabobs or frozen pizzas; we can go on a journey. I'll share a secret with you and take you along a gastronomic path that isn't anywhere as heavily traveled as it should be. You'll love it--I promise.

Brian Yarvin

Sample Recipe from The Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast: Chicken and Leek Casserole


Makes 4 servings

Chicken and leeks seem to be an inspired combination, in Great Britain as elsewhere. Here we make that cousin to a chicken pie, a chicken casserole. You can also find the pair in a soup, Cock-A-Leekie.

1/4 cup chopped bacon
1 pound boneless chicken breast or thigh meat, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups chopped leeks, white parts only
1 cup chopped carrot
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup beer or ale
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Combine the bacon, chicken, leeks, carrot, salt, pepper, broth, and beer or ale in a Dutch oven or casserole and mix well so that the ingredients are evenly distributed.

Bake the casserole, covered, until the chicken is fully cooked, about 60 minutes.

Remove the cover, return the casserole to the oven, and bake until about 1/3 of the liquid has evaporated, about 30 minutes more.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and return the casserole to the oven. Bake, uncovered, until the breadcrumbs are nicely browned, about 30 minutes more. Serve warm.


About the Author

Brian Yarvin, a native New Yorker, has been a photographer for almost 35 years. He is an instructor of food and commercial photography at the Washington School of Photography in Bethesda, Maryland. He is also a food writer and restaurant reviewer. He lives in Edison, New Jersey.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Common Press; 1st Edition edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1558324135
  • ISBN-13: 978-1558324138
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #770,158 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Terri Pena on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Ploughman's Lunch and the Miser's Feast is fantastic! History, local producers, explanations for the odd food names, and recipes galore. When I picked up this book I had no idea there was such a variety of British food out there. Not just British food, but good British food. I know what you are thinking, that British and good food do not belong in the same sentence, until last week I would have agreed with you. Most of what we know about British food is not at all flattering, but the things that have been imported here are only half the picture. I am learning that the base foods are fairly bland, but it is the sauces and condiments that make them shine. The sauces and condiments have not made the trip across the ocean and so we were left thinking ALL British food is bland. Here is an entire book of recipes to show us how wrong we have been.

I am aware of the Ploughman's Lunch only because Husband spends a good amount of time in brew pubs and a variation of that dish can be found everywhere. Miser's Feast? What could it be? It is a dish of potatoes, onions, and british bacon or thinly sliced pork chops cooked long and slow. Like a scalloped potato without the cream, but with onions and pork. MMMM

The photo on the cover also comes from a long slow cook, Banoffee Pie. The base is made by baking sweetened condensed milk in a water bath for two hours. I have read old American recipes using this method to bake the milk right in the cans, but the Banoffee Pie is so much more.

The book contains lots of history about the region and it's food. There are enteries for people producing the good stuff locally, and every recipe begins with a bit about the dish. Sometimes it is explaining an odd name or unexpected ingredient.
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Most of the recipes in this book are not authentic to Britain, they have been Americanized by the author changing the character. Very disappointing. The Banoffee Pie is a good example. The crust of this pie is usually made with digestive biscuits and butter instead of the Graham Cracker, butter and brown sugar crust in the book. Too much sweetness for an already sweet pie. Don't buy this book if you expect authentic British recipes.
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This book is a lovely read, and the recipes are delicious and easy to follow- if you can get the ingredients. As an expatriate English person lving in the southern states, I can tell you that this book has cause much joy, amusement and some consternation amongst my neighbours who have absolutely no idea how to get hold of things like organic heavy cream and beef suet. Otherwise, it's a lovely book to read and to give. Some other very minor points- some of the history and lore expressed in this book is very debateable, and why on earth Mr Yarvin had so much trouble finding oatcakes is quite beyond me. So please use the proverbial grain of salt whilst contemplating the origin of Hindle Wakes, and don't assume that his recipe for Welsh rarebit is any more authentic than Jamie Oliver's. But do buy the book, and do try out the recipes!
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As Brian Yarvin explains, British food, despite its reputation, can be good. This, however is the old-fashioned good food of Britain, that one might have grown up with, or if you were lucky enough in visits to England that you found out and about in authentic (good) pubs.
I must make the confession that when I lived in Britain. I loved pub food and especially ploughman's lunches and steak and kidney pies. This book has met my expectations; in fact looking through the recipes and pictures and explanations, such as those on an English breakfast could bring me to tears of enjoyable reminiscences. The pictures showing some of the countryside and pubs are well done and even though the pictures of food preparation are not quite ones that give directions, they give much help in the recipe preparation.

It might take a dyed in the wool Anglophile to long for Gentleman's Relish and scotch eggs, but to actually find decent recipes for them is amazing. There are about 100 recipes in this book, including; full breakfast, sandwiches, salads and small plates, soup, main course, curry, sides, savory pies and baked goods, sweets and recipes for what you might need such as, lemon curd and clotted cream. A measurement conversion chart is included (recipes are given in `American' measurements), there is a translation guide- a glossary that tells you what fish fingers, candy floss and baps are. The index can be a bit confusing. If you want to look up Steak and Kidney pie, it is not listed alphabetical but in with the pies.

This includes the best recipe and least confusing directions to make Yorkshire pudding I have seen; and of course we have enjoyed the steak and kidney pie, the scotch eggs, the pickled eggs, bubble and squeak and so many others in here.
This is a book for Anglophiles, cookbook collectors and those who would like to try some wholesome and different food, even if you haven't been lucky enough to find that pub that still makes these wonderful dishes.
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Delighted to find a self-declared collection of "authentic pub food" I greedily delved inside to find condescending and insulting representations of British opinion, history and the dishes it claims to portray.
The author, an American, makes arrogant claims of "rescuing" the traditional Scotch Egg and "I can do a lot better than that" of our time-honored and long-established baked beans. His chapter on the great British tradition of tea was created in consultation with an AMERICAN tea "expert". Overuse of the term "jargon", and "nothing more than", "just another word for" and "just" whilst comparing British fare to the lesser US version of the dishes litter the book.
His error in pronouncing GRILLED tomatoes as really being ROASTED exposes his level of understanding, or lack thereof, of the British culture... any British expat will tell you that BROILING is the US equivalent to GRILLING.
Arriving at page 33 I decided to search for the author's biography, curious as to his credentials to write such a book, and as expected found he really had none.
Comments such as "the British think of this dish as a classic rather than a relic" and his declaration that these dishes are "worth a try" and reference to the wonderful Beef Wellington as "today seems almost corny" sum up his attitude and beg the question WHY he wrote this book if he is so scornful of our cuisine!?
As for the recipes themselves... his claims of improving on tradition have discouraged me from actually trying any of them ... perhaps they are better than his presentation of them.
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