Food historian tracks the development of the Sunday roast—all the way back to 100 years

A food historian has tracked the evolution of the Sunday roast—from its humble beginnings of steamed beef, broad beans, and cabbage 100 years ago to the culinary tour de force of today.

Expert Serene Charrington-Hollins explains how the roast has become a centerpiece for the family table, and now includes anything from plant-based meats to chips, salmon, and even macaroni cheese.

Yorkshire Pudding, Beef and Roast Potatoes have been a constant part of English favorites since the 1920s – but a new video shows how things have evolved, with dining tables now filled with vegetarian and vegan options.

And a survey of 2,000 Brits, which was carried out alongside the creation of the animation, found that roast dinner is 40 percent of the week’s favorite food.

Yorkshire pudding has been the traditional trimming of Sunday roasts since the 1950s.
Yorkshire pudding has been the traditional trimming of Sunday roasts since the 1950s.

Serene Charrington-Hollins, working with Aunt Bessie, who conducted the research, said: “The roast has been an English tradition for hundreds of years and it is definitely here to stay.

“It is a British institution, and in fact it has long been considered the main backbone of the British diet.

“A hundred years ago a roast dinner was a simple affair – roast beef with seasonal vegetables – but it has grown in terms of portions and variety, and today the roast dinner is as diverse as the eaters. “

The video dates back to the 1920s where meat, such as beef, was classified as a luxury and for the wealthy, but boiled potatoes and seasonal vegetables were a staple of meals in every household.

The 1950s saw the introduction of Yorkshire puddings that became a favorite with the popular beef (beef) and pigs in blankets – which have since become Christmas staples – as portion sizes began to increase, so did the plates .

By the 1980s, Brits began to take short cuts when cooking because they had less time to prepare, and vegetarian versions of the roast became more mainstream in the ’90s.

The research found that 79 percent of respondents believe Sunday roast is a British tradition that is here to stay.

Chicken came out on top as the most common meat, taking center stage on every roast dinner affair.

Beef came in second, while pork is a regular fixture, followed by turkey.

And while trimmings such as roast potatoes and beef remain firm favorites, one in ten people will consider adding macaroni cheese, rice, or roasted peppers to the plate.

The study also shows that the data from OnePoll included increased consumption of baked beans, noodles, and even couscous in adults over 20.

The original Sunday roast consisted of boiled beef and seasonal vegetables, dating back to the 1920s.
The original Sunday roast consisted of boiled beef and seasonal vegetables, dating back to the 1920s.

Nowadays it seems that many believe that buying portions of Christmas dinner from frozen is the way forward (35 percent).

And more than half are considering buying frozen products this year, because of the shortage of Christmas food items we may be facing (58 percent).

Bisto, Aunt Bessie and Paxos were the most preferred brands when cooking the roast, while gravy, mint sauce and horseradish are the most preferred condiments.

Just over 15 percent make up a regular roast dinner that is either vegetarian or gluten-free.

But while on the clean, 42 percent admitted they find it difficult to make sure everything is cooked at the same time, and 37 percent struggle to get their potatoes crisp and puffed.

A spokesperson for Aunt Bessie commented: “While there have been many changes to roast dinners over the years, one thing that has remained consistent is Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes.

“It’s interesting to see how many years ago roast dinners were classified as a luxury for many people, but now we eat roast dinners like they’re going out of fashion.

“You really can’t beat a crispy but fluffy roasted potato, which is why our new recipe is the best yet and makes a quick but delicious dinner of roast.

“It will be interesting to see how the roast dinner might evolve over the next 100 years, and if meat-only will be swapped for the veggie option.

“One thing’s for sure – the delicious Yorkshire Pudding and Roast Potatoes are here to stay.”

Roast Dinner Trimmings Brits Refuse to Go Without:

  1. roasted potatoes
  2. Juice
  3. Yorkshire Pudding
  4. Stuffing
  5. mashed potato
  6. Carrot
  7. Germinated
  8. Parsnips
  9. Pea
  10. pig in bed

Roast Dinner – A Timeline:

  • 1920s – Meat was a luxury and so were boiled potatoes and veg, especially cabbage and broad beans.
  • 1930s – Tinned vegetables are still popular, boiled potatoes and cheap cuts of meat were more popular – offal such as suet pudding, lamb neck and heart, kidneys, heels and feet were the focal point of dinner plates.
  • 1940 – This decade was dominated by war and rationing. In the early war meat such as pork head, trotters, tail heart and liver were still available but vegetables were used to bulk up the meal. Yorkshire pudding and roasted vegetables were not possible due to the rationing of eggs, milk and fat.
  • 1950s – This is the end of rationing and beef was back as the most popular meat on menus, with Yorkshire pudding and potatoes roasted in drippings. This was also the year that pigs in blankets were introduced.
  • 1960 – Red meat prices were rising so this year chicken became a better choice for housewives. Homes now had fridges and the bulk of vegetables and gravy grew in popularity.
  • 1970s – Potato shortages meant that tinned potatoes were back in fashion as well as potato substitutes such as the leek gratin. Braised meats were also popular during this time.
  • 1980s – Roasted vegetables now tasted like steamed and plates were placed neatly on plates next to each other. Short-cut and prepared dishes are also popular.
  • 1990s – Vegetarianism is on the rise and white meat is more popular than ever. Portions are increasing with roasted vegetables, more potatoes and even more gravy. Broccoli and French beans are now a firm favorite.
  • 2000s – Meat portions are on the rise and there are more roasted vegetables and Yorkshire puddings than ever before. Seasonings and a variety of pickles are popular and also smashed potatoes and many meats on the plate.
  • 2010/2020 – Meat mixes from chicken to pork to beef and Yorkshire pudding are no longer served with beef alone. Vegetarian and vegetarian options are more popular than ever and include lots of sauces and gravy. This is now a great mix and match meal and anything goes!


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