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 Sunday roast dinner.

But gravy is much more complex than that. Sort of. In the hierarchical saucy struggle here in England, the stuff is arguably at the top of the pile.

Sure, Worcestershire sauce and brown sauce hold a special place in our hearts. But gravy… is just that extra little bit special. Let’s celebrate its history!

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

So, yes, as mentioned it often graces many a Sunday roast dinner across the country each week. But it’s also common on dishes such as bangers and mash.

Just to note, too, the gravy must always be hot! Never cold! If it’s cold, then you’d horrify hungry Brits and make them hate you. Thusly, keep it warm!

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 (more on that below).

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!

About the Oxo Family (and their gravy)

Right, in its infinite wisdom Unilever’s Oxo cubes (now owned by Premier Foods) went into a long running series of gravy adverts on UK television.

What became known as the Oxo Family ad campaign ran from 1983 through to 1999.

This standard 2.4 children style family consisted of the mother, father, three kids, and a pet rabbit called Mr. Jefferson.

Ads usually involved a mid-week meal that the mother (OF COURSE!) cooks for everyone to enjoy, with various eccentricities and quirks of family life rampaging throughout.

Along with selling a lot of Oxo cubes (i.e. gravy), the campaign helped to shape the eating habits of middle-class Brits for 16 years.

Lynda Bellingham (1948-2014) starred as the mother of the family. She was pretty much the centre of attention for most of the adverts.

After the actress sadly died at the age of 66, in November 2014 an advert from 1984 was run on Christmas Day to commemorate her.

That’s an indication of how deeply ingrained into society those adverts became. Plus, a further indication of how much everyone loves gravy here.

Whether it’s with Yorkshire puddings or fish & chips, the gravy stuff does its thing and we can all enjoy moist foodstuffs as a result.

How Do You Make Gravy?

Want to make gravy? Dreamboat, gorgeous, hunky man bloke type Jamie Oliver is here to help! Typically, the ingredients you’ll need are:

Some sort of meat leftovers

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

Because gravy is the shizzles! You can’t go wrong with the stuff.


Dispense with some gibberish!

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