Gravy: A Brief History of the Saucy Stuff

A roast dinner with gravy around the base of the plate
Good gravy!

Gravy. One word with so much meaning. This sauce is an excellent addition to many meals, such as the legendary roast dinner. But what even is it!?

What’s Gravy?

It’s a sauce, typically involving the juice from meats along with the likes of onions or mushrooms. Wheat flour can be added to create extra oomph.

These days you can just get a gravy cube, of course, making life a tad easier for yourself. But truly rustic, homemade gravy is a marvellous thing.

Or, you know, take the easy route and get ready-made stuff from stores. There are some nifty versions going around these days that are a step above the old Oxo cube. Reet proper.

But there are plenty of types of this sauce. Including:

  • Brown gravy
  • Cream gravy
  • Egg gravy
  • Onion gravy
  • Red-eye gravy
  • Vegetarian gravy

That’s a lot of sauce right there, for every possible whim. But, where did all of this stuff originate from?!

What’s the History of Gravy?

It appears gravy hung about in various forms during the Byzantine Empire, late antiquity up to the Middles Ages.

The term first turned up as gravé in Middle English, so likely came about from the French language. And indeed, the term is in use across many medieval French recipes.

It’s a traditional British sauce and many Brits think of it as what makes Britain the best planet in the world.

But gravy is also very popular in the US (especially with many Italian-American communities), across Asia, and in the Mediterranean.

In the 17th century, sauces took off a lot and the French began to perfect the recipe.

The Brits took it up as well and added tricks like boiling mint, calendula blossoms, or butter in the sauce mix. Which was then shifted over to colonial America.

Chef John Nott in 1726 seemed to have everything down to a tee. In his cookbook the Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary he laid out his recipe.

And by the Victorian era, all sorts of spices were adding new potency to the gravy mix. As seen in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery (1848).

That book was adapted for America, further indicating how gravy had taken ahold of the US conscience. Especially after the Civil War, when iron cookstoves became a part of the modern household.

The sauce was viewed as a fast food, providing extra flavour to potentially dry dishes.

And these days, as we mention above, the stuff is everywhere! And you can easily boil up some of it from a cube.

In fact, here in England the legendary Oxo cube became a sensation thanks to the Oxo family advertising campaign.

The adverts ran from 1983 to 1999 and starred the Oxo family, who became something of a hit with the nation.

Which is, in part, why many Brits look to gravy as part of their national makeup. It’s ours, you hear? You Americans keep your mitts off of it!

How Do You Make Gravy?

Dreamboat, gorgeous, hunky man bloke type Jamie Oliver is here to help you out.

Typically, the ingredients you’ll need are:

  • Some sort of meat leftovers
  • Dripping
  • Flour
  • Bouillon
  • Stock
  • Onion
  • Butter

So, yeah, there we have it. Follow Oliver’s video. Or just buy a bloody Oxo cube. Whatever takes your fancy.

Gravy is the shizzles, though, you can’t go wrong with the stuff.


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