The history of the roast dinner

Food historian Seren Charrington-Hollins has tracked the evolution of the Sunday roast from its humble beginnings of boiled beef, broad beans and cabbage 100 years ago to today's culinary tour de force.

The expert explains how the roast has become something of a centre piece to the family table, now including anything from plant-based meat to chips, salmon and even macaroni cheese.

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Yorkshire puddings, beef and roast potatoes have been a constant part of the English favourite since the 1920s, but a new video shows how things have evolved, with dinner tables now filled with vegetarian and vegan options.

And a survey of 2,000 Brits that was carried out alongside the creation of the animation found a roast dinner is the favourite meal of the week for 40 per cent.

Seren Charrington-Hollins, who is working with Aunt Bessie’s, which 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 indeed it's long been considered the staple backbone of the British diet.

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“A roast dinner a hundred years ago was a simple affair - roast meat with seasonal vegetables, but it has swelled in terms of portion and variety and today the roast dinner is as diverse as the diners themselves.”

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The video goes back as far as the 1920’s where meat, such as beef, was classed as a luxury and for the rich, but boiled potatoes and seasonal vegetables were a staple part of the meal in every household.

The 1950s saw the introduction of Yorkshire puddings that was favoured with the popular meat - beef, and pigs in blankets - which have since become a Christmas staple - started hitting the plates as portions began growing in size.

By the 1980s, Brits began taking short cuts when cooking as they had less time to prepare and the 90s saw vegetarian versions of the roast becoming more mainstream.

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A tradition here to stay

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

Chicken came out on top as the most common meat to take centre stage at every roast dinner affair.

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

And while trimmings such as roast potatoes and meat remain firm favourites, as many as one in 10 people will consider adding macaroni cheese, rice, or roasted peppers to the plate.

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While the study shows baked beans, noodles and even cous cous are included by more than one in 20 adults in the OnePoll figures.

Frozen food is the way forward

Nowadays it seems that many believe buying parts of their Christmas dinner from frozen is the way forward (35 per cent).

And more thaswn half are considering buying frozen products this year because of the reported Christmas food goods shortage we may face (58 per cent).

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Bisto, Aunt Bessie’s and Paxo were the brands most favoured when cooking a roast, while gravy, mint sauce and horseradish are the condiments liked best.

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Just over 15 per cent regularly make a roast dinner that is either vegan friendly or gluten-free.

But coming clean, 42 per cent admitted they find it difficult to make sure everything is cooked at the same time and 37 per cent struggle to get their potatoes crispy as well as fluffy.

A spokesperson for Aunt Bessie’s commented: “While there have been many changes to the roast dinner over many years, one thing that has stayed a consistent is the Yorkshire Pudding and roast potato.

“It is interesting to see how years ago the roast dinner was classed as a luxury for many but now we eat roast dinners like they’re going out of fashion.

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

“It will be fascinating to see just how the roast dinner may evolve in the next 100 years and if meat will be swapped for the veggie option only.

“One thing is for sure, delicious Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes are here to stay.”


1.           Roast potatoes

2.           Gravy

3.           Yorkshire puddings

4.           Stuffing

5.           Mashed potato

6.           Carrots

7.           Sprouts

8.           Parsnips

9.           Peas

10.         Pigs in blankets


1920s – Meat was a luxury and boiled potatoes and veg were in, particularly cabbage and broad beans.

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1930s – Tinned vegetables are still popular, boiled potatoes and cheaper cuts of meat were more popular – suet puddings, neck of lamb and offal such as heart, kidneys, heel and feet was a focal point of the dinner plate.

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1940s – War and rationing dominated this decade. Meat such as pigs heads, trotters, tails hearts and livers were still available in the early war but vegetables were used to bulk out meals. Yorkshire puddings and roast vegetables were not possible due to the rationing of eggs, milk and fat.

1950s – This is the end of rationing and beef was back on the menu as the most popular meat along with Yorkshire puddings and potatoes roasted in dripping. This was also the year Pigs in blankets were introduced.

1960s – Red meat prices were rising so this year saw chicken become the better choice for housewives. Households now had fridges and bigger portion of vegetables and gravy grew in popularity.

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1970s – Potato shortages meant tinned potatoes were back in fashion as well as potato alternatives such as Leek Gratin. Braised meats were also popular during this time.

1980s – Roasted vegetables were now the taste preference over boiled and plates were piled high rather placed next to each other neatly on the plate. Short-cuts and prepared dishes are also popular.

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1990s – Vegetarianism is on the rise and white meat more popular than ever. Portions are growing with a larger variety of roasted vegetables, more potatoes and even more gravy. Broccoli and French beans are now a firm favourite.

2000s – Meat portions are on the rise and there are more roast vegetables and Yorkshire puddings than ever before. Seasoning and different marinades are popular and also smashed potatoes and multiple meats on the plate.

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2010/2020s – A mix of meats from chicken to pork to beef and Yorkshire puddings are no longer served with just beef. Vegetarian and vegan options are more popular than ever and there is lots of sauce and gravy involved. It is now an ultimate mix and match meal and anything goes!

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