Last week I had three excellent breakfasts. I don’t normally take breakfast (although I sometimes cook a breakfast-style lunch) except when I’m on holiday. A good breakfast will set you up for a day’s bell ringing or vigorous sight-seeing and keep you going until dinner time. And the first of the three aforementioned breakfasts in Sennybridge – a glorious plateful, perfectly cooked and presented – provided the sustenance needed for the arduous trek to the top of Pen y Fan and Corn Du.
A fourth breakfast – at a different establishment – proved to be adequate but, compared with the preceding three, sadly lacking in both quality and quantity. Which set me thinking, not for the first time: what exactly makes a good breakfast?
I’m talking proper English (or Welsh) breakfasts here of course. Whilst the continental variety may be appropriate and even interesting when holidaying in foreign parts*, it doesn’t cut the mustard when you have some serious activity ahead of you. Only the “full Monty” will do the trick. [Incidentally, I’m sure you’re aware that that expression originally had nothing to do with nudity but refers to Field Marshall Montgomery’s insistence on a full English breakfast wherever in the world he might be.]
To my mind, there are only two absolutely essential components to an English breakfast – bacon and eggs. Everything else is optional but I would feel short-changed if a “Full English” had fewer than six to eight ingredients.
The eggs may of course be scrambled or poached but they really ought to be fried, “sunny side up” or – ideally in my opinion – with a little fat splashed over them so you don’t get the snotty bit but the yolk is still runny. Obviously, I expect my eggs to be free range. I deplore factory-farming, both for the cruelty involved and the poor quality of eggs produced thereby. Unfortunately, true free-range eggs, from hens which have the run of the farmyard, are a rare treat.
Bacon has many attributes and, whilst the bland water-injected stuff is less common than it once was, there are still enormous variations in quality. My perfect rasher would be outdoor-reared, dry-cured, middle cut, thickly sliced, rind-on and preferably (for breakfast, though not necessarily at other times) unsmoked. Most bacon nowadays ticks some of those boxes but not all of them. Middle cut (i.e. a long rasher combining back and streaky) is virtually unknown and rind a rarity (although I did buy some rind-on streaky at a farm shop on the way home from my recent trip). Grilling bacon is fine although I usually fry mine.
Sausages are often the biggest disappointment (as was the case with the fourth breakfast above). Flavoursome meaty sausages are easy to come by from local butchers and even supermarkets, so why do some hoteliers consider it acceptable to serve those flaccid pink plasticky things at breakfast?
Mushrooms are a desirable component, preferably flat field mushrooms fried in butter. Tomatoes are good too, ideally fried in a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and butter with freshly-ground black pepper. I find grilled tomatoes tend to be hard and relatively tasteless. Tinned tomatoes are absolutely beyond the pale!
Black pudding of the right sort (e.g. from Bury) is good. I realise it’s not to everyone’s taste, although it does seem to have become more commonplace in recent years. I also enjoy a grilled lamb’s kidney but sadly it’s been many decades since they were considered standard breakfast fare.
I suppose I should mention baked beans, which have become ubiquitous. Looking at another blog about British food a while ago I was surprised to read that breakfast includes “beans – there must be beans”. Why must there be beans? I suspect the author was somewhat younger than I am (he or she also seemed to think that meat is an optional component of a Sunday Roast).
Those excellent breakfasts included, in addition to all the above, beautifully crisp slices of fried bread. Now that is becoming a rarity, except perhaps in transport cafes, which is a shame. No doubt too many people are worried about calories and cholesterol but I’m sure it does one no undue harm once in a while.
One item which has become common but for which I can’t muster much enthusiasm is hash browns, those industrial triangles† of potatoey stuff. Now, fried left-over potatoes or bubble-and-squeak, that’s a different proposition entirely, but I guess, food hygiene regulations being what they are, hotels and guest houses have to be a bit careful about using left-overs. Seriously though, that’s something that ought to change, given the enormous problem we have with food wastage.
There are a few regional things like white pudding (mainly on the Celtic fringes) but I think that more or less covers the mainstream breakfast ingredients.
Then of course there should be toast and marmalade to follow – not jam, which seems to be the only preserve offered in some places (see #4 above); jam is for teatime. Nor namby-pamby corn syrup marmalade with microscopic bits of orange in it but proper English marmalade, dark and dense with thick pithy chunks of peel. And tea or coffee – I will concede there may be an argument that tea is more correct but for me it’s got to be strong black coffee.
* I should make it clear that I’m never averse to trying local specialities – when in Costa Rica, for example, I was happy to start the day with gallo pinto con huevos.
† OK, home-made hash browns might be wonderful, but I’ve yet to encounter any.