by Mary Jo
I was doing some research reading and came across a sentence saying that in days long gone, the typical breakfast for most people was was cooked grain mixtures. I looked at that and thought, "Hello, oatmeal! And its cousin, corn flakes!" Which led me into reflecting on how some things travel down through the centuries, maybe with variations but the underlying food is the same. (Picture below is a German breakfast buffet from Wikipedia by Torsten Seiler from Cologne, Germany)
Breakfast means literally to "break our fast"–eating after the hours of sleep. In places where people do hard physical labor, breakfasts tend to be hearty. In modern times, some people are breakfast people, some are not, and we tend to figure which sort we are fairly early in life. Some folks can't face food until the body kicks into gear, others need the food in order to get those gears moving in the first place.
I am solidly in the pro-breakfast camp, which may be related to the fact that I am not a morning person so I need to a solid breakfast to get moving. When I was a kid, my mother would cook hot cereal for us, usually oatmeal or Cream of Wheat. Amply garnished with milk and sugar, often I'd be gulping down the last of the my bowl as the school bus rumbled toward our house. (As noted above, I'm not a morning person. <G>)
When I moved to England years ago, I went into a little shop to buy some oatmeal and was proud of myself for asking with that fine English term, porridge. The shopkeeper looked puzzled. Discussion ensued. The light dawned when she said, "Oh, Quaker Oats!" and she whipped out a box that looked just like the kind I bought at home. <G>
The best oatmeal I've ever had was at a B&B in Ireland. Sadly, it was the Mayhem Consultant who ordered it–I almost mugged him after I got a taste. Smooth Irish oats, interesting things added, and a milk so rich that it was halfway to being cream. Delicious!
I still have oatmeal for breakfast sometimes, using one of the faster cooking versions of Irish steel cut oats, topped with milk augmented with some half and half, a handful of raisins, maybe chopped walnuts or granola for texture, and honey for sweetness.
But my basic breakfast for decades has been a poached egg on whole grain toast with orange juice (fresh squeezed if I can get it) and a cup of coffee to follow. This is because I like the protein and can poach an egg more or less in my sleep, see "not a morning person," above. <G>
I've had fun discovering different breakfasts 'round the world. My first trip to Europe when I was in college and hitchhiking around with my roommate introduced me to the wonder that was the full English breakfast: There would always be cold cereal on offer (which I ignored.) Fried eggs, fried bread, several forms of pig meat (English bacon is cured differently from American and doesn't get crisp, is more ham-like, plus sausage was usually on offer), grilled tomato, fried mushrooms, tea, toast, and marmalade. And, baked beans, which was not something I wanted to eat for breakfast. At that time tea was universal, but now coffee shares equal breakfast honors.
English toast is a class unto itself. It's served in a toast rack that carefully separates each piece from its fellows, guaranteeing they'll all be cold. I'm told that's because English homes are often chilly and stacking hot toast would cause condensation and sogginess which makes sense, but I missed hot toast.
As a corollary, years ago the Mayhem Consultant and I were traveling in the English West Country and stopped at a country inn for the night. The room we were given was damply chilly, but the landlord turned on an oil heater and assured us that soon the room would be "warm as toast." When we returned after a nice dinner downstairs, the room was still shiveringly cold, at which point I remember that English toast was NEVER warm!
Also on that first visit to Europe, in Paris I discovered the joy of a warm, flaky croissant and café au lait–strong coffee with hot milk. My roommate and I were staying in a five story walk up student hotel, but we descended in the mornings to bliss. The picture here is a more recent Continental breakfast in Venice, complete with a fruit filled pastry and a heart drawn by the barista on the cappuccino.
In Northern Europe, I learned that the Dutch and Germans like sliced meats and cheeses and Scandinavians favored open faced sandwiches. These days, a good European hotel breakfast buffet will have some of everything, including fresh fruits and lots of breads and pastries. In Hawaii and Down Under, there will be Asian rice based dishes and noodles and seaweed. People eat the foods around them–in Jamaica, ackee (a kind of fruit) and saltfish are common. Looks like scrambled eggs, but it isn't. Tasty, though. (Picture on the left.)
Given the scope of the British Empire, it's not surprising that variations of the full British breakfast are found around the world–the classic American breakfast of eggs and bacon and toast is a direct descendant, though I think we may have led the charge to add hash browns or home fries. Here's a picture of a recent South African breakfast, with eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, bacon, and a choice of lamb, beef, or pork sausage. Robust!
As you might have gathered, I love breakfast in its many variations, though maybe not the seaweed. And I haven't even touched on waffles and pancakes and other cooked grain cakes, or the Mexican magnificence of huevos rancheros. (Eggs with tomato chili sauce, tortillas, and maybe refried beans and/or guacamole.)
Are you a breakfast eater, or does the thought of so much food in the morning make you shudder? What are your favorite breakfast dishes? And what interesting ones have you met along the way?
Mary Jo, adding a picture of a fine B&B breakfast in Virginia with egg, ham, and a very fine crepe with orange slices.