Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thoughts on Breakfast.

When we have breakfast we are literally breaking the (overnight) fast. We all agree that it is the first meal of the day, although we may follow it with lunch and dinner or dinner and tea or lunch and supper. The word has been used in this context since at least the mid-fifteenth century. I have no idea what it was called before then. Perhaps there was no word, which suggests there was no “meal” as such. This makes sense as what happened until very recent times seems to be that everyone individually grabbed whatever was available – usually leftovers from the night before. They did not sit down first thing in the morning in a sociable fashion. Cereals for breakfast are an American phenomenon of the second half of the nineteenth century, and the “traditional” English breakfast is a phenomenon of the second half of the twentieth century. One thing is certain – however adventurous we may be with our food the rest of the day, we are creatures of habit when it comes to breakfast.

Hobbits and Bavarians and Poles have an official Second Breakfast, which seems to me to be a wonderful idea. Hobbits apparently have seven meals a day - breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper – an idea we should perhaps all aspire too. I am going to explore these meals over the next few days and maybe even add a few more.

This theme will allow me to plumb the depths of a book called Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, viewed Classically, Poetically, and Practically, which seems to me a fine way to view every meal as well as being an inspirational guide to titling books. It contains three hundred modern receipts, and was published in New York in 1860. The author starts off with some random thoughts on the meal, including this:

“Southey alludes to the different preferences of various nations in regard to food when he describes a man of universal taste, as one who would have eaten "sausages for breakfast at Norwich, sally lunns at Bath, sweet butter in Cumberland, orange marmalade at Edinburgh, Findon haddocks at Aberdeen, and drunk punch with beef-steaks to oblige the French if they insisted upon obliging him with a dejeuner a l’Anglaise. He would have eaten squab-pie in Devonshire, sheep's-head with the hair on in Scotland, and potatoes roasted on the hearth in Ireland ; frogs with the French, pickled herrings with the Dutch, sour-krout with the Germans ; maccaroni with the Italians, aniseed with the Spaniards, garlic with anybody; horse-flesh with the Tartars ; ass-flesh with the Persians; dogs with the North-Western Indians, curry with the Asiatic East Indians, birds' nests with the Chinese, mutton roasted with honey with the Turks, pismire cakes on the Orinoco, and turtle and venison with the Lord Mayor ; and the turtle and venison he would have preferred to all the other dishes, because his taste, though catholic, was not indiscriminating."

I don’t know what pismire cakes are, but they sound alarming. I will endeavour to find out and let you know. In the meanwhile, I give you this breakfast dish from the book, because everyone aught to be bewitched at breakfast once in their lives.

Veal Bewitched.
Take the hind-quarter of veal, three slices of salt pork, three slices of bread, three eggs, salt and pepper to your taste. Chop the meat, pork, and bread fine, add the beaten eggs,
and wet the whole quite soft with milk. Put it into a baking dish, and bake two hours. When done, it will turn out in the form of the dish. To be sliced and eaten cold.

Quotation for the Day …

When dressed, I to the yard repair,
And breakfast on the pure, fresh air;
But though this choice Castilian cheer
Keep both the head and stomach clear,
For reasons strong enough for me,
I mend the meal with toast and tea.
From Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, viewed Classically, Poetically, and Practically.


yanub said...

Pismire, I believe, is another word for ants. I've mostly heard it used as a derogatory term for an irritating person of no social significance. That said, I think the natives of the Orinoco must have been eating ants rather than someone whose personality they'd had enough of.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello yanub - yes, you must be right. We say "piss ant" here for someone like that. I will investigate the edible varieties of ants (and see if anyone makes them into "cakes") and get back.
Thanks for the comment.

Ferdzy said...

No, they're little tiny fishes surely - like minnows, maybe. Do you remember the line from the riddle/nonsense verse "I saw a pismire swallow up a whale"? (It's all about the punctuation.)