Roast beef has long been the pride of English cuisine. As early as the 1600s, foreign visitors to England remarked on the high quality of the meat and the good animal husbandry practices. By the eighteenth century, roast beef had become so synonymous with the English that the French dubbed them les rosbifs. About seventy-five years later, with the Napoleonic Wars raging, roast beef in combination with plum pudding became emblematic of English food and English exceptionalism. To serve them at a dinner party was a display of patriotism during wartime. Nineteenth-century Christmas celebrations at Windsor Castle regularly included roast beef. An 1888 photograph shows a full baron of beef displayed alongside such other Christmas icons as boar’s head, turkey, game pies, and mince pies.
Of course, a baron of beef (the entire hind quarter of the animal) appeared on the menu only in noble houses. Sirloin and rib roasts were the more common holiday cuts. To celebrate Christmas as was done in the eighteenth century, serve this beef with Christmas Pudding. If you prefer to dine in the Edwardian era, pair the roast with Yorkshire Pudding.