I suppose most of my faithful readers have never been ‘down to the farm’ for a weekend at a classic British country house. But the Full English Breakfast, made famous by so many accounts (factual and fictional) of such visits is nothing less than a legend. The trouble is, it’s a massive, greasy, almost inedible thing…
I’ve never been closer to a British country house than an Agatha Christie murder mystery. But I feel I know the lifestyle and the atmosphere well – thanks to dozens of Christie mysteries, Daphne DuMaurier romances, and who knows how many other literary adventures in the genre. But one thing that ties them all together for me, aside from Fox hunting and grand galas in which hero and heroine dance the night away, is the Classic English Breakfast.
I’ve heard it said that the big, protein-heavy repast is intended to bolster one for a day in the open air riding to hounds. But I know, from contemporary first-hand accounts I’ve heard and read, that Fox hunting has all but vanished from the Gentry’s curriculum, replaced by simple, less frenzied pleasure riding or a round of golf. Nevertheless, folks still line up at the sterling silver buffet for that boat anchor of a breakfast!
What is it, exactly?
The Full English Breakfast consists, traditionally, of Eggs, Bacon, Sausages, Ham, Baked Beans, Fried Mushrooms, Grilled Tomatoes, Black Budding, Cheese and Buttered Toast. There will also be Coffee and Tea along with Fruit Juice and Milk. It’s usually served buffet Style so folks can choose what they prefer from the overall ‘menu’. That’s a good thing. But if I’m trying to approximate an English Breakfast for a small group of family and friends at home, where the closest thing we have to a horse is our dear old Lab-Rottweiler cross, Reilly, I’m not going to go all out.
What I do to slim it down
First of all, I cross Blood Pudding off the list right away. Only a few of my guests will know what it is, and nobody will eat it, thanks mainly to its disgusting appearance. Harsh? Maybe. But I calls ’em as I sees ’em.
Next, I’ll choose the more popular, if not healthier, selections from the meat section of the traditional spread. Bacon and Sausages usually suffice. These can be baked in the oven on a wire rack, allowing excess Fat to drip off.
Baked Beans are a must. I like to use my own, which I make several times a year in the instant pot and freeze in meal-sized portions. But you can use whatever store-bought brand you prefer.
Grilled Tomatoes are also a must. They offer a nice, light tartness that counteracts the heavy, greasiness of other menu items. Some folks don’t touch them, but others take more than their share, which means there are never any leftovers. My Dad, whose mother was a straight-laced, proper English woman, taught me how enjoy and prepare Grilled Tomatoes the right way – with a little brown Sugar and Butter. You can also use Bacon/Sausage Fat if you prefer!
I can take or leave Fried Mushrooms. I like them, but I’ve found that the majority of diners at my English Breakfasts pass them over. I’ve asked, and folks tell me, ‘they don’t appeal’ in company with the other stuff on offer. Hmm…
Cheese? I’ll insist on it in an Omelet but, like Fried Mushrooms, Cheese seems somehow out of place served by itself as part of the English Breakfast.
I’ve left the most crucial component of the English Breakfast to last: The Eggs. It used to be – so I’m told, and have read – that the Eggs were originally three-minute Soft Boiled or Poached. But now, Fried and even scrambled Eggs are considered acceptable. I go straight for the Scrambled Eggs, myself, because folks can spoon up as much or as little as they want. No agonizing over whether they should or shouldn’t take a second Boiled or Poached Egg. No more surreptitious counting of heads and eggs, to see if any extras have been allowed for.
Occasionally, I’ll do Egg Clouds (see photo, top of page) if my guests are very special and/or the fancy takes me.
Bread for me comes in three types. I Like to toast up some slices of Erin’s home-made Country White Bread, some Light Rye and some English Muffins or Crumpets (which I’ll confess I usually buy from the Bakery).
I offer a selection of Spreads for the Bread, including at least one thick Berry Jam, an Orange Marmalade and some Honey. And be sure to have lots of Butter out on a plate, softened to room temperature.
Unlike the traditional English Breakfast, I also offer a bowl of Fresh Fruit: Apples, Oranges, Seedless Grapes and sometimes a Plum or two. Make sure you wash them all thoroughly before arranging in the bowl.
Coffee, Tea, Juice and so on are up to you.
And there you have it…
That’s what I call a proper, contemporary English Breakfast!
~ Maggie J.