Traditional English Breakfast


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The full English breakfast is a British tradition that began in the 14th Century as wealthy, landowners built large country houses or stately homes, who had a considerable number of guests to feed, including poets, writers, painters, tutors for their children, the local Church leaders as well as friends.

The Custom developed from Roman times, when Julius Caesar conquered Britain in AD54. The Romans ate a breakfast of bread or a wheat pancake eaten with dates and honey. The Romans, indeed, invented marmalade, then made with honey. Jams of quince and lemon appeared in Roman Britain too — along with rose, apple, plum and pear.

The Jutes, Saxons, and Angles (later lumped together under the generic heading of “Anglo-Saxons”) then invaded and mixed with the local Britons, removing the egg, fishes and sweet toasts of the Roman Empire in favour of pottage, the ultimate Anglo-Saxon food. Basically a one-dish meal that was cooked in a cauldron over the fire, pottage served as a catch-all for odds and ends of food. A variety of “potherbs” (the old word for vegetable) would form the base of the pottage, and various cereal grains added bulk, the basis of Cereal today.

The Vikings brought in food that could be carried, including cured herring and cheese, but the long cold winter night led to the need for a hot meal at the start of the day.

In 1305, Edward I (then aged 65), employed a cook just to prepare breakfasts, which had become jantaculumfor those that rose early to work, such as monks, consisting of wine, bread, cheese and ale, all easy to transport. Henry V held a jantaculum for the nobles in Westminster as a working breakfast to discuss the forthcoming Agincourt campaign.

The word “sausage” was first used in English in the mid-15th century, spelled “sawsyge” which had become a popular dish for those who could afford it.

By 1501 the Duke of Buckingham had full cooked breakfasts for his many guests. On fish days (Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays), when eating meat was forbidden, his breakfast consisted of pike, plaice, roach, butter and eggs.

More Dairy products appeared and Thomas Cogan remarked in The Haven of Health (1584) that “bread and butter” was a countryman’s breakfast.

In the 16th century men increasingly started working for other people, employed for a prescribed set of hours each day. The Statute of 1515declared that, between mid-March and mid-September, the working day of craftsmen and labourers should begin at 5am and continue to 7 or 8pm, so breakfast became a necessity.

The East India Company brought in tea and coffee by the 16th Century.

Marmalade itself came into the English language in the 17th Century as a jam made of citrus fruits, on the back of a plentiful supply of these fruits, and a need to preserve them.

By Georgian and Victorian times, the Traditional English Breakfast had been brought to the table. As well as eggs and bacon, which was first cured in the early 18th century, the breakfast feast might also include offal such as black pudding, kidneys, cold meats such as tongue and fish dishes such as kippers and kedgeree, a lightly spiced dish from colonial India of rice, smoked fish and boiled eggs. Victorian times also saw the introduction of mushrooms, an “exotic” ingredient that added a bit of extra flair and Tomatoes were added too, becoming popular b Edwardian times. The earliest official piece of toasting equipment was the toasting fork, which was manufactured in the 1800s, when hot buttered toast became part of the English Breakfast.

Baked Beans were originally sold in the UK by Fortnum and Mason in 1901 as a luxury item and became an additional English Breakfast ingredient in 1928 when Heinz Beanz started manufacturing in the UK.

Traditional English Breakfast
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