The Sunday roast dinner in early 20th century England
By the webmaster’s mother, 1906-2002
Why the Sunday roast was the meals feature of the week
On Sundays we always had a roast dinner at mid-day. Not only was it delicious in its own right, served with all the trimmings, but its left-overs set the framework of meals for the rest of the week.
The type of meat for the roast
The joint of meat had to be large enough to last the whole family for several days. It was almost always beef because everything else was expensive. We did have lamb sometimes, but it did not produce as pleasant tasting dripping, and bread and dripping was a staple meal for children after school during the week. Chicken was expensive for townspeople, as battery farming was years away.
Food preparations on Sunday mornings
Progress - if it is progress - has taken a lot out of the roast Sunday dinner of my childhood. In the summer, children would have to shell the peas and help with the other vegetables where they could. The knives were sharp, so we were limited in what we could do until our mothers thought we were old enough to handle sharp knives without hurting ourselves.
There were always lots of vegetables because it was important that enough would be left over for meals during the week. An unforgettable noise was the chopping of mint for mint sauce.
We children also had to top and tail the gooseberries and blackcurrants for the fruit pie. There was always a fruit pie with lashings of fruit to follow the roast. People seemed to eat more in those days.
As well as preparing the roast dinner, my mother always baked a cake for the week. It always seems strange to me, looking back, that people were so fanatical about not doing work on Sunday afternoons, when they worked so hard on Sunday mornings.
The trimmings with the roast meat
The Sunday roast was served with all the trimmings.
Yorkshire pudding was served with beef. It was always a large one made in a large pan, then cut into squares for serving. Suet dumplings were served with lamb.
There were roast potatoes and fresh green vegetables in season. Sometimes there were roast parsnips or roast baby beetroots, and the gravy was superb.
The formality of Sunday dinner
The belief that children should be seen and not heard was strictly adhered to at Sunday dinner. I know of men who kept a cane at the table and used it to whack any child who, in his terms, misbehaved. That did not happen in my family - a look from my mother or father was enough!