There aren’t many more traditions as quintessentially British as the Sunday roast, save maybe for tutting impotently at things that irritate you or hogging the middle lane of a busy motorway on a bank holiday.
But according to research carried out last year by cooker-cleansing specialist Oven Pride, less than a third of British households settle down for a slap-up roast regularly.
It’s easy to see why. Preparing a successful roast dinner is an exercise in meticulous planning which isn’t for the faint-hearted. At what point should you put the carrots on? Has that meat had long enough yet? And won’t somebody think of the turnips?
And it certainly takes a lot of time. After all, who’s got the spare hours to be whipping up a roux for cauliflower cheese when they could be off frolicking in the park or watching Super Sunday with a pint of fortifying best bitter down the Moon and Parrot?
Then, of course, there’s the vast clean-up operation which a roast entails: mountains of pans and cookery vessels, stubborn burnt-on grease, not to mention the lingering smell of vegetables which seems to cling to your upholstery until Wednesday.
It’s little wonder that the roast is being usurped for quicker, easier and often more exotic Sunday fixes.
So, in today’s modern world, is there still room at the dining table for the Sunday roast?
Where did the Sunday roast come from?
To understand the Sunday roast, we need to get back to its beginnings.
In most European nations, it’s customary to have some sort of big dinner on Sundays.
The origins of the British roast are shrouded in the mists of time.
Some reckon it dates back to the medieval era, when peasants would serve the landowner for six days a week and be rewarded by a slap-up feast of roast ox on a spit on a Sunday afternoon.
Another school of thought believes that it originated in Yorkshire, during the early days of the industrial revolution, when families would leave a joint of meat in an oven - either their own or a baker’s - which would be ready by the time they returned from church.
There was also a practical element at play here - the hulking joints of meat that were prepared would typically last the duration of the week, and be used in stews, pies, sandwiches (invented in the 18th century by the Earl of Sandwich, food history fans) and so forth.
The roast in the 20th century
The Sunday roast made it through the lean days of rationing and survived the latter part of the 20th century intact.
New technology meant that a lot of the hassle could be taken out of the cooking process - enter Aunt Bessie’s Yorkshires, frozen veg and gravy granules.
There was also the explosion of the carvery trend, which saw branches of Toby and other assorted pretenders spring up across the country. And then there was the advent of the nut roast, ensuring that Britain’s burgeoning vegetarian community didn’t have to miss out on the fun.
However, by the 90s, it had begun to look a bit tired and fusty, especially with exotic interlopers like lasagne, chicken Caeser salad and stuffed peppers joshing for diners’ attention.
Had the roast finally had its chips - or perhaps, roasties?
The roast evolves
So while the figures don’t look particularly promising for the humble roast, maybe it has to adapt to survive.
Rather than a weekly centrepiece, the roast’s role is now more of a once-in-a-while treat, wheeled out on special occasions like Easter, Christmas and Harvest Festival - those rare times when families sit down together.
Bold home chefs are also finding new ways of proving that there’s life in the old bird yet - anyone for tandoori turkey?
And with smaller joints readily available at supermarkets coming in at far less than intimidatingly sized legs of lamb and the like, perhaps it’s time for the roast to enjoy a resurgence…