The full English breakfast is a centuries old British tradition which dates back to the early 1800's, when the Victorians first perfected the art of eating breakfast and elevated the most important meal of the day into an art form.
When the Victorians combined tradition with the most important meal of the day, they created a national dish, one that is widely loved to this day and regularly enjoyed by millions of English breakfast lovers all over the planet.
The story of the English breakfast begins in the country houses of the English gentry and their tradition of hospitality.
The idea of the English breakfast as a unique national dish, stretches back to the thirteenth century and an English institution called the gentry, who could be considered to be the guardians of the traditional English country lifestyle and a group of people who saw themselves as the cultural heirs of the Anglo-Saxons.
The gentry were considered to be a distinct social class, made up of the 'high born and people of noble and distinguished blood', its members were the senior members of the clergy, those with social connections to landed estates, relatives of titled families with no title of their own, landowners and 'genteel' families of long descent.
The gentry saw it as their duty to keep alive the traditional practices, values, cuisine and the English country lifestyle. The great country houses of England, owned by members of the gentry and the centre of huge country estates, were important hubs of local society, where breakfast was considered to be an important social event.
The breakfast table was an opportunity to display the wealth of the estate and the quality of the meats, vegetables and ingredients produced on the surrounding land and a chance to show off the skills of the cooks who prepared a vast selection of typical English breakfast dishes every morning, for the residents and guests of the house.
The gentry used to love their breakfast feasts and in the old Anglo-Saxon tradition of hospitality, used to provide hearty full breakfasts for their visiting friends, relatives and neighbors. The gentry used to enjoy a full breakfast before they went out to hunt, before a long journey, the morning after their parties and when reading the mail and periodicals of the day.
Breakfast was always a leisurely affair and considered to be a splendid way to start the day, if you wanted to get an idea of what members of the gentry were like, take a look at Mr Algernon Moncrieff and his best friend, Mr John Worthing.
Breakfast served in these country houses was made up of ingredients sourced from farmers based on the estate, the meats were cured and cooked using regional recipes and methods. Their breakfasts were made up of traditional English dishes, cooked in a typical English way and it was here that the idea of the traditional English breakfast began.
By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne, the gentry class was in decline and a wealthy middle class was emerging.
The Industrial Revolution and the British Empire at its height were fantastic creators of wealth and the newly rich middle classes saw the idea of the gentry as a social model to aspire towards. Those seeking to advance themselves socially, studied the habits of the gentry, the traditions of their country houses and their fondness for the English breakfast.
For the aspiring Victorian middle classes, breakfast became a chance to demonstrate your wealth and social upbringing.
Like all great Victorian traditions, the eating of full English breakfast can be a refined and elegant experience, it is easy to understand why the more affluent middle and upper class Victorians thought of the traditional full English breakfast as the most civilised way to begin their day and regularly indulged in the tradition.
But the full English breakfast was not just a meal for the wealthy, during the industrial revolution, the working classes began to eat a full English breakfast on a regular basis, it was sensible to eat a hearty breakfast before starting the day, providing them with the energy they needed, to work a full days worth of grinding manual labour.
The English breakfast tradition spread until its peak in the early 1950's, when roughly half of the British population started their day with a full English breakfast, turning what was once a meal for the nobility into a national breakfast dish.
For more than two centuries, the tradition of the full English breakfast has been enjoyed across the full spectrum of British society and it for this reason that the full English breakfast is still being served in family kitchens, hotels, bed & breakfast's and pubs throughout Great Britain and in countless British (English, Irish or Scottish) pubs internationally.
The traditional full English breakfast was so popular, that the Scottish and the Irish developed their own versions and in doing so, changed what was a predominantly English tradition into a much loved British tradition and it is for this reason that the full English breakfast must be considered to be a British cultural institution.
Known colloquially as a fry up, the traditional English breakfast is called a full breakfast for good reason, although you do not absolutely have to eat two sausages, three slices of bacon and two fried eggs in order for it to still be traditional.
But whichever way you look at it, he full English breakfast is a substantial meal consisting of back bacon, eggs, British sausage, beans, tomato, mushrooms, black pudding and toast. These ingredients may vary depending on the specific region of the British isles you happen to be in and a subject that is still open to (sometimes quite fierce) debate.
For example, the Southern English generally would argue that black pudding is something that the English breakfast inherited from the Scottish, but in the North of the country, black pudding is widely consumed and viewed as an essential part of the traditional full breakfast. We side with the Northerners here, there is nothing wrong with black pudding and it has been produced in the North of England for longer than we have been eating traditional English breakfasts.
Hash browns however is a controversial ingredient that many believe does not belong in a traditional English breakfast and we agree, hash browns are for Americans and if we want potato in our breakfast, we will have chips (quite common).
Then there exist the regional variants like the Scottish/Irish full breakfast, usually exactly the same dish, but with slight changes in the ingredients depending on the region and preference of the locals.
The full Irish breakfast usually contains Irish bacon and sausage, but also traditional regional ingredients such as white pudding, Irish soda bread and Irish potato cake, whereas the full Scottish breakfast usually contains local ingredients as black pudding or a slice of haggis.
The meat ingredients were traditionally sourced from local farmers and if you were to travel all over the country and eat a full English everyday, you had a breakfast which tasted completely differently each and every time, giving you the opportunity to explore the rich diversity of the British sausage, black pudding and bacon from across the land.
Each region of Great Britain had a full breakfast that contained pork which had usually been raised in that region, and some regions are famed for their bacon and sausage, famous British sausage producing regions of note are Lincolnshire & Cumberland, but many other parts of the country have also produced their own sausages and bacon for centuries.
For the connoisseur of the traditional English breakfast, the regional differences in the pork ingredients present an opportunity to add variety into the tradition, but if you wanted to add even more variety and extravagance, do what the wealthy Victorians did and add baked halibut steaks, fried whiting, stewed figs, pheasant legs, collared tongue, kidneys on toast, sausages with fried bread, pig’s cheek and Melton pork pie.
The traditional full English breakfast can either be formally served on white linen in a fine dining establishment and contain a veritable feast of breakfast dishes, or informally served on a plastic tablecloth, in a greasy-spoon cafe, with much less decorum and french fries or chips.
In Great Britain, you can find greasy-spoon cafe's on industrial estates serving the most amazing (if a little greasy) English breakfasts and exactly the same dish served as a fine dining experience in the nicest hotels and restaurants around the country and a lot of the time, the best English breakfasts are not always found in the nicest places to eat.
Do not be fooled by mention of the word 'breakfast' in all of this, its presence does not necessarily mean that the traditional full English breakfast has to be eaten at breakfast time, indeed, it is such a substantial a meal that it can be enjoyed at any time of the day. If you are anything like the members of this society, you sometimes eat your English breakfast around lunchtime, but have also been known to eat one for dinner too.
Even though the traditional English breakfast is served at family and social gatherings, it is culturally acceptable to ignore the other occupants of your table whilst you eat your English breakfast and read your newspaper, do not be offended if the person you are eating your English breakfast with ignores you, other than to comment on what he or she is reading.
It is traditionally during the eating of the English breakfast that the British would acquaint themselves with the current affairs of the day and contents of their periodicals, this is an important part of the tradition and Society feels that our favourite places to eat should always contain a selection of the most popular periodicals of the day.
To British expatriates living overseas, the traditional full English breakfast will always taste like a little piece of England and in some parts they will kidnap you for a packet of Lincolnshire sausages, black pudding and five slices of back bacon.
British pubs in foreign countries everywhere have long offered a taste of home and a full breakfast to their customers, providing an environment that nostalgically and culturally resonates with the more expatriate amongst us.
The traditional English breakfast is truly a national dish, it is not for nothing that we call it a British institution and usually the very best English breakfasts are served by our mothers and made with love.
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Author : Guise Bule