Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sir Loin

When I arrived in America in 1978, I learned very quickly that everyday terms I used in England did not necessarily mean the same thing in the U.S. I recall that when I asked the butcher in the meat department of my local grocery store for “nice joint” for Sunday’s dinner, I realized I had asked for something unusual. It was obvious that although we spoke the same language, there were many things I needed to learn so that I could better convey my true wishes.

In actual fact, the term ‘joint’ or ‘roast’ has been used for centuries to describe a particular cut of meat, notably a sirloin. There are two variations as to which King of England gave the name of sirloin to a piece of beef but both King James I (1603-1625) or King Charles II (1660-1685) have been credited for the incident of ‘knighting’ the meat.

My favorite theory is set in a manor house called Friday Hill, in Essex, located close to Epping Forest a favorite place for kings (and queens) to hunt the royal deer. The king and his entourage had spent the day hunting and returned to his host tired and hungry. He was pleased to see that his host had ordered a magnificent meal be prepared in his honor. A huge loin of beef, roasted to perfection was placed on the table. Being of high spirits after a day of hunting, the king was delighted with the sight before him and suggested it should have a title. He immediately drew his sword in mock solemnity and knighted the meat ‘Sir Loin of Beef’ – hence the term “sirloin” of beef.

Evidently, the long table on which the meal was supposedly served was kept at the manor house for many years. A brass plaque with the inscription: “All lovers of roast beef will like to be informed that on this table a loin was knighted by King James I on his return from hunting in Epping Forest’.