Monday, March 08, 2010

Only Seven Meals a Day?

Hobbits, as we all know from the movie, enjoy seven meals a day - breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper. Some non-hobbits have also managed to establish the same habit, according to at least one historical source:

“In Dorset, the agricultural labourers were accustomed some years since to say that in harvest time they required seven meals in the day – dewbit, breakfast, nuncheon, cruncheon, nammet, crammet, and supper.”
[Nall’s Glossary of the East Anglian Dialect, 1866]

Does this seven-meals-a-day stand up to examination? Another nineteenth century commentator opines:

“… this seems to have been rather a quaint jingle than an enumeration of meals, as some of them, nuncheon and nammet for example, clearly indicate the same.”

The story weakens further when you find that cruncheon and crammet appear to have been made up for their poetic value, for there is no mention of either in the Oxford English Dictionary. The idea remains tantalising however, does it not?

It is true that some of us (Bavarians, Poles, and Englishmen who hunt) are familiar with the delights of Second Breakfast, but most of the rest of us are satisfied with three choices of meals every twenty-four hours. Could we do better? Should we do better?

My aim this week is to introduce you to some ‘forgotten meals’, in the hope that, as a race, we can lift our game. In fact, I think it very nearly possible that, if we work at it, we can find a meal for every hour of the day.

We will start Dorsetshire harvestman-style with a ‘dewbit’, or ‘a small meal or portion of food taken in the early morning, before the regular breakfast’. This dewbit – so called, obviously because it is taken while the dew is on the grass - is ‘not so substantial as a regular breakfast’ (regular First Breakfast that is.) It is a habit I have had myself for many years, but I take mine in liquid form only – a cup of tea while the dew is still wet (sometimes while it is still falling, even, being the lark that I am.)

For those of you who prefer some small food portion as your dewbit, yet are concerned about damaging your appetite for first breakfast, may I suggest these light-as-air breakfast cakes?

East-Wind Gems.
It is not known whether these hygienic breakfast cakes are of the days of unleavened bread, or a
modern invention. You need not fear the east wind they may have imbibed, for the hot oven
counteracts its mischievous influence, and they are not only hygienic, but taste good. Their fibre is like nut meats, and you will enjoy giving the teeth just the exercise they need when you are eating them.
You are supposed to have baking-irons for these gems, else you had better not attempt them.
Take very cold milk and water, half and half. Stir in Graham and white flour, half and half, little by little, until you have a batter that will drop from the spoon and not run. It must be stirred rapidly, lightly, and thoroughly, the more the better, to incorporate a large amount of air and insure lightness. It needs a strong arm to carry this into effect.
Have the gem-pans ready hot in a hot oven. This you must be sure about to secure light gems.
Drop the batter into the hot irons while in the oven, or if you are very quick take the irons out for convenience. They require a quick oven to bake them, else you lose the air they have taken in, which is a nice point to determine, for the oven should bake as fast as it can without burning.
If you don't succeed this time try again, - keep trying and don't give it up. Make your batter a little thinner or thicker, your oven a little slower or quicker. There is a way, you may feel sure, and if you keep trying you will find it out, and will be likely to repeat your success often. When these culinary curiosities are in perfection they are light and pufiy, and you have pure unleavened bread, with no taste of "emptyings" or soda.
[What to get for Breakfast; M. Tarbox Colbrath, 1882]

Quotation for the Day.

Oh, my friends, be warned by me,
That breakfast, dinner, lunch and tea,
Are all human frame requires.
Hilaire Belloc.


Liz + Louka said...

I think my parents have six "meals" a day. They start with a cup of tea and buttered wheatmeal biscuit, then not much later have regular breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner. It wouldn't be hard to add supper if you stay up late.

The Old Foodie said...

They are to be commended, Liz. I havent had a buttered wheatmeal biscuit for years! Thank them for reminding me, please.

Fay said...

My husband comes from a dairy farming background in New Zealand. It is very common in this industry for the farmer and family helping do the milking to have a quick something at 5ish, to sustain them while they go out to milk and feed the cattle. Meanwhile someone, usually Mum, is in the farmhouse kitchen making a more substantial hot breakfast.

Kristen F said...

My German grandfather (born 1893) used to boast of having 7 meals a day, but I can only remember six of them. First Breakfast, Second Breakfast (which was alive and well in German schools in the 80s when I lived there -- kids would pull out a roll with cheese or meat for it), Mittagessen, Kaffe, Abendbrot, and a late night snack( I don't know the name). But that's only six (and plenty). Thanks for writing about this topic -- very interesting.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello Fay and Kristen. It seems the habit is more widespread than I thought!