I am not a big breakfast person, preferring to ease into the day sustained by black coffee and a glass of water. Even though I know breakfast is a very important part of nutrition, I find it hard to eat anything until at least 8am and even then only have a modest breakfast of a piece of toast or yoghurt, although weekend “brunch days” are a different matter in our home. I was curious how breakfast developed as one of our three square meals a day, so I decided to do a bit of reading on the subject.
The idea of having a meal first thing upon waking has existed since ancient times, known as ‘morgenmete’ in old English meaning ‘morning food’. In the Middle Ages in Europe, people were accustomed to just two meals in a day – the first around noon and the other in the evening. But in the 15th century, the word ‘breakfast’ began to appear because this somewhat unusual morning meal meant that people were ‘breaking their fast’. It was usually a simple affair of rye bread and cheese, with meat introduced later in the century. But by the 16th century hot water, coffee or tea had become part of the routine and what we recognize today as breakfast became commonplace.
I must admit that I do miss the cooked “Full English Breakfast” as an occasional treat at weekends or on vacation taken late in the morning. It is composed of similar items to a traditional American breakfast including cooked bacon, sausage, egg and toast but with some very specific differences. To start, British bacon is a lot different. American bacon is cut from the pork belly and is streaky with fat whereas the cut used for British bacon is taken from the tenderloin, and sliced and cured in a completely different way. British bacon, also known as rashers, is chewier and thicker, and served in round-ish slices. Americans would think it more like a slice of grilled deli meat than bacon. The British also serve delicious ‘bacon butties’, a sandwich of white bread or roll, spread with butter and stuffed full of hot cooked bacon. I like to add ketchup but many people prefer to add British ‘brown sauce’ (a condiment made from tomatoes and tamarind extract).
Then there are the sausages, which in the UK have a significant amount of rusk (a wheat-based filler) and water added to the meat. The extra water in them make them “pop” loudly in the frying pan, so the Brits call them ‘bangers’. Back in the USA, breakfast sausages come as links or patties and which surprisingly often contain sweet ingredients like cloves and brown sugar. An American breakfast usually includes a choice of fried, scrambled or poached eggs, but back in England the eggs are fried, fried or fried. Other uniquely British additions include baked beans, fried tomatoes, mushrooms and occasionally fried bread, which is – as the name implies – bread fried in grease (although this unhealthy option is being phased out by most people in the UK). The sweet options of pancakes, waffles and French toast are not common on the British breakfast menu, and exotic options like eggs benedict and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs generally began in the USA. It is also very unusual to find British ‘kippers’ on the American breakfast menu which is a big relief to me. Kippers are split herring fish which have been gutted, salted or pickled then smoked, and that is just a step too far for me any time of day, especially in the mornings!
Then of course there is the option of cereal – with the USA and the UK being among the top consumers in the world. German immigrant Ferdinand Schumacher began making oatmeal in the back room of his store in Akron, Ohio in 1854 and this eventually became the “Quaker Oats Company”.
The first cold breakfast cereal “Granula” was invented by James Caleb Jackson from New York in the mid-19th century and others followed. However, many of these early cereals where not too popular because they had to be soaked overnight to be edible in the morning. This is where John Harvey Kellogg from Battle Creek Michigan enters the arena. He was a doctor at the Western Health Reform Institute who experimented with granola to invent lighter and blander food for his patients. Like many great inventions, he invented cornflakes by mistake. But when these became popular with his patients, he patented them in 1891 and began mass-production in 1906 with the opening of the Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company. He stopped marketing them as a health food, added sugar and kicked off a nationwide advertising campaign. Soon to follow in this trend were grape-nuts, then puffed cereals in the 1930s which were designed and marketed to appeal to children, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I say goodbye this week with a quote from Adelle Davis, considered by many to be the leading nutritionist of the early 20th century: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper!”
God Bless America!
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