How many of us had grandmothers who told us breakfast was the most important part of the day, a way to fuel your body and get ready for whatever work or adventure lay in store for us? That philosophy easily dates from the 18th century, and is as true now as ever. For people like me who desire nothing more in the mornings than some strong coffee, it is advice that should be better adhered to, however, Europeans often had the idea that breakfast could be as simple as good bread and butter, and that is a philosophy I wholeheartedly approve.
In 1890, Isaac Yeo said, “Breakfast is the first meal of the day and it is an important one. In the case of active persons leading wholesome, regular lives, it should be taken as close on rising as is possible…Of course for those who desire to take a substantial meal at noon or a little earlier as is the custom on the Continent, a cup of cafe-au-lait with a little bread and butter or dry toast or biscuit taken immediately on rising is sufficiently stimulating and supporting to carry one over the interval between rising and the mid-day breakfast or dejeuner a la fourchette.”
Yeo went on to describe an English breakfast in more detail. Those who ate substantial noon day meals were advised they needed less at breakfast, perhaps coffee, tea, or cocoa with a little bread adn butter or toast and butter, a poached egg and a rasher of bacon. For those who preferred a more substantial breakfast and less at noon he suggested oatmeal porridge to begin with, then fish such as sole, whiting, or kippered herring, a poached or lightly boiled egg, with a little broiled ham or bacon, bread and butter or dry toast and marmalade or some fruit compote, and coffee, tea, or cocoa.
One of the pleasures of a stay in Scotland, England, or Ireland is a well prepared breakfast. The bacon and sausage and farm raised eggs are worth rising a little earlier and working up an appetite, then the variety of home-made breads and marmalades are a true bread lover’s dream come true. They may say man cannot live on bread alone, but I’m pretty sure I could come close, ask my friend Anne who traveled through Scotland and Ireland with me eating my portion and hers too!
I never developed a desire for beans at breakfast which are a staple on many tables, and I can take or leave the broiled tomatoes. Being one prone to eating my first meal of the day around 11 a.m. I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to try fish for breakfast, though it has been offered at many of the fine establishments where I’ve lodged. On my next trip over, I plan to change that and try it at least once, because after all, it is a long established custom that has endured for centuries and one to be experienced by any self-respecting foodie. – Yeo, Isaac Burney. Food in Health and Disease. 1890. London.
James Boswell, companion of Dr. Samuel Johnson on his tour through Scotland and the Hebrides in 1773, was quite amused that the good doctor adamently refused cold sheeps head for breakfast. Sheep and calf heads were commonly prepared dishes through the 18th century though most references to them are in being boiled for table, or made into soup. The footnote said the dish had been indulged in on some of the best Scottish tables ever sat at. Boswell’s Life of Johnson. 1774. NY.
At another table the men were served toasted oat cakes and cheese, which Boswell seemed less impressed with than the previously mentioned offering, however, I confess I find a much more palatable breakfast. Ramsay memorialized the ever-popular breakfast of oatcakes, “and a shave of cheese”, in a poem, The Gentle Shepherd, published in London in 1799.
Dimsdale’s idea of breakfast in 1768 was dry toast or ordinary cake rice-milk, milk-gruel, skimmed milk, and honey and bread. Since he was a medical doctor his menu may well have been for the infirm, but it differed little from that of homes of lesser means. – Dimsdale, Thomas. The Present Method of Innoculating for the Smallpox. 1768. London.
Douglas strengthened that theory by saying the Scots breakfasted on pottage made of boiling water thickened with oatmeal and eaten with milk or ale; or brose made from shorn kale or cole-worts left over from the night before. Either dish was accompanied with oatcakes and milk. – Douglas, Francis. A General Description of the East Coast of Scotland. 1782. Paisley.
A breakfast eaten in Persia during the late 18th century consisted of grapes and other fruit in season, cheese, and goat’s milk followed by strong coffee. – Kitto, John, American Sunday School Union. The People of Persia. 1799. London.
Tobias Smallett wrote, in the 1760’s, that while touring France and Italy they always found bread, butter, and milk for breakfast. Tours of France and Italy. 1766.
In addition to the foods described in the preceding passages, a common breakfast of cold meat was documented by various travelers, and many others mentioned the tea, coffee, or chocolate that were to be found on every table. Bacon and cabbage were listed as breakfast meals enough times to establish them as ordinary, at least on tables of the average household.
Blissful Meals, yall,
The Historic Foodie,