Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Great American Breakfast.

The ‘Great British Breakfast’ is a relatively new ‘tradition,’ and it seems that in the past, America had the lead in grand breakfasts - at least in hotels. From an article entitled Hotel Life in New York, from The Times of December 27, 1860, an English reporter tells it all:

How great was the contrast between the American hotel life into which we were now thrown and the quiet domestic life at home? The ladies were certainly relieved almost entirely from household cares. There was no marketing, no anxiety about providing for dinner, no troubles about servants, no “washing day.” Our meals were served to suit our own convenience. Breakfast might be obtained from half-past 6 till 11, and on a scale of which even our neighbours north of the Tweed [i.e. in Scotland] have no conception. I was totally unable to do justice to the good things which surrounded me, and my waiter consequently manifested a great deal of anxiety on my account. After I had partaken of a steak, potatoes, and fried oysters, he would gently remonstrate – “Sure you want something else? A little broiled fowl, or an omelet? Well, you will have some hot cakes?  Hot cakes are an American institution (every custom, I should remark, is termed an “institution” in America).These hot cakes resemble crumpets, and are generally served in a pyramidal form, a large cake forming the base, and the small one the apex of the pile. A little butter is placed between each cake, and syrup (refined molasses) poured over the whole. An Englishman is filled with astonishment when he beholds an American taking breakfast at an ordinary hotel. Before him is placed an array of different dishes according to the season. He will first dispatch half a melon; this is merely to prepare the appetite for what is to follow. Next he will take a little shad; then a steak, with a few “fixings” in the shape of potatoes, roast, boiled, or stewed; followed by a dish of toast immersed in milk; some oyster fritters, and lastly, by hot cakes.

And they talk about the Great British Breakfast! This American breakfast of course is far inferior to the genuine, but really not very old-traditional British Breakfast on account of it not including genuine marmalade. And as for soggy milky toast – I fail to be convinced of its deliciousness.

‘Hotcakes’ today usually refers to thick wheat-flour pancakes leavened with baking powder, served in a stack with maple syrup, but the term was used more broadly in the past to indicate a wide range bread-type items such as rolls, buckwheat cakes, and muffins. The following is an example:

Hot Cakes
Scald a quart of Indian meal with just water enough to make thick batter. Stir in a little salt, and two tablespoonfuls of butter Pour it into a buttered pan, and bake it half an hour

Mrs. Bradley's Housekeeper's Guide; Or, A New, Plain, and Economical Cook-book (1860)


Gvixis said...

What is shad?

Gary Gillman said...

I wonder if the toast in milk could be French Toast.

All very interesting. Certainly nothing like this breakfast is eaten in America today. Even the pyramid shape to what seems clearly pancakes is certainly of the past.


korenni said...

Um, let's see, melon, fish, steak, potatoes, milk toast, oyster fritters, and hotcakes -- what would you put the marmalade on? The hotcakes? Actually, that would probably be pretty tasty, if you like marmalade (and hotcakes).

Sooooo glad we don't eat like they did in 1860 anymore! I much prefer the standard 2013 American breakfast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, biscuits, sausage gravy, and pancakes (and if you get this at Denny's or IHOP, you can get ham and link sausages with it as well). And ketchup. Can't forget the ketchup.

And I'm with you when it comes to milk toast. Having seen its praises sung in early-century children's books when I was a child, I asked my mother to make me some. She was no cook, and what I got was toast in skim milk -- no sugar, no cinnamon, none of the extras that make it possible to eat the stuff at all. I have never touched it since.