Sunday, February 28, 2021

Kitchen Prep

In my kitchen in February we are still mostly in isolation, so I’ve been doing lots of food preparation and cooking. Some of the recipes are new, some old favorites, some improvised.  I’ve chosen some quotes from recent reading along with photos of my various food prep steps — reading and cooking are my two main isolation activities, along with an occasional walk around the neighborhood. Next month may be different!

This is simple food, mostly. Take a look — 

Cauliflower cheese in progress: steamed cauliflower,
cheese sauce, cheese and crumbs for topping.

In the oven.

From The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, 1961: “Yes, I cook very conventionally — careful not to invade food with many flavors, even wine.” (Marianne Moore, p. 278)

A big bowl of vegetarian pasta just about ready to serve —
it lasted for three dinners! Note the fried mushrooms & cheese on top.
Slicing mushrooms and other vegetables for a different pasta dish — one without tomato sauce.

“Mushrooms are an indispensable part of hundreds of the world’s greatest dishes, prized for the delicious flavor, color, and bouquet they impart.” — Beard on Food by James Beard, p. 87.

Ingredients for a Mexican-flavored omelet: eggs, corn, scallions, 
red peppers, butter, and torn-up tortillas. Lime for garnish.

Quote from Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson: “The versatility of eggs is a constant source of amazement, and it upsets me sometimes when they are just taken for granted. The number of dishes that can be made from eggs, plus their many supporting acts, is, quite simply, magical.” (p. 110)

Clam chowder made from scratch with potatoes and canned clams.

A quote from The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, 2014: “Don’t forget potatoes. They got you thorough the forest, through the sea voyage, through the tent on the dock. Now they can be used to make a soup that is surprisingly delicious. Call it what every you like. Call it the Recipe for Life.” (Alice Hoffman, p. 43)

Getting started on a pot of chili: black beans, corn, onion, herbs, peppers, tomatoes, and spices.

Quote from Roast Chicken and Other Stories:  “How many savory recipes are there that do not use onions? Their harmonious flavor pulls together good stews, rich and satisfying soups; roasted around a joint of meat, they lend their essential flavor to a fine gravy.” (p. 173)

Adding smoked salmon to a pizza with Len’s homemade crust.

From The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, 2014: “Like most impoverished twentysomethings we treated pizza as a food group unto itself.” (by Nicky Beer, p. 70) — Len and I are far from being impoverished twentysomethings, but I think this is still a good definition of pizza.

Pancake batter.

On the griddle.
A quote from The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, 1961: “You don’t cook pancakes. You make them. ... Don’t serve pancakes in any fancy way like putting ice cream on them or fruit, or brandy, or whipped cream. Just put a generous lump of butter on top of each pancake in the stack and then liberally pour either syrup or molasses over them.” (Evan Hunter, p. 263)

Making Broccoli-Egg salad with a dressing containing olives and peppers.

Prep for tuna salad  to go with broccoli slaw.
I cooked one head of broccoli and used it two different ways. 

Tuna salad ingredients ready for mixing with mayo.
Ingredients: celery, cilantro, water chestnuts.
The Wild Planet brand tuna that I use is pole-and-line
caught to protect dolphins and other by-catch.

"The tuna salads of yore bear a lot of resemblance to those today, made with assorted elements of crunch, piquancy, and moisture: celery, various herbs, pickle relish, grated onion, mustard, and mayonnaise, as well as some ingredients, like beet juice and whipping cream, that have since fallen to the wayside." (from Taste: "A Second Look at the Tuna Sandwich’s All-American History")

About to make sardine butter for lunch sandwiches.

Feeding the sourdough starters, wheat and rye.
The old microwave fried itself. We bought this new one from amazon, to use for 
oatmeal and many other things. When shopping and installations become safer, we will replace 
our over-the-stove hood/microwave/lighting appliance, but this one is fine for now.

According to "A Mere Man" writing the preface to The Perfect Breakfast, an "accessory dish" for breakfast is "Porridge and its allies, Quaker Oats and other farinaceous foods. These may be eaten at the beginning of breakfast, as a foundation, or at the end, to fill up the cracks." (Cited in The English Breakfast, by Kaori O'Connor, p. 68) 

This kitchen blog post to be shared with Sherry and her blog event “In My Kitchen.” All photos were taken in my kitchen, and are copyright, © 2021 mae sander.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Desert Nature

The Nature of Desert Nature,
published 2020.
The Nature of Desert Nature by Gary Paul Nabhan is a collection of essays and other writings about the plant and animal life, the geology, the beauty, the religious inspiration, and the poetry of deserts. The subtitle, "A Deep History of Everything that Sticks, Stinks, Stings, Sings, Swings, Springs, or Clings in Arid Landscapes" indicates the variety of information included in the many writings. Understanding the nature of deserts is important, Nabhan writes, because:
"The ongoing discussion about deserts... has generated and refined a certain set of questions that may be more pertinent to our own survival today more than ever before. That is because of the degree to which global climate change is already forcing an ever-larger proportion of the world’s human inhabitants to deal with ever more hot, dry, and sparsely vegetated landscapes. These recently desertified, or biologically impoverished landscapes—which often lack the integrity and diversity found in ancient deserts—are becoming all too common on every one of the major continents." (p. 9). 
In order to clarify the nature of deserts, Nabhan has selected a wide variety of viewpoints and specialties. Some authors present the overwhelming impressions, both mental and spiritual, of experiencing life in the desert, whether they are describing a camping trip or a life lived in a monastery in a desert climate. Several authors are particularly aware of the cruel deaths that have taken place as migrants trying to enter the US are destroyed by the harsh desert heat, cold, and lack of water. The book includes scientific discussions by researchers who have spent their entire careers in the study of desert plants and animals, especially in understanding how all the various forms of life in the desert work together to survive extreme conditions. Each author has a unique view of deserts.

Most of the experiences presented in The Nature of Desert Nature took place in the Sonora Desert, which extends on both sides of the US-Mexican border. Tucson, Arizona, is in the most northern part of the Sonora Desert, including Saguaro National Park and other nature preservation areas. I've been to this desert, and I would love to return, so I especially enjoyed learning about the flowers, cactus, symbiotic insects and animals, and water resources of this desert. In fact, I liked all the chapters, but I can't go into detail about them.

I will just concentrate on the last chapter by Paul Mirocha titled "Staring at the Walls: Views of the Desert in Southern Arizona Public Art." The text is illustrated with a collection of photos of murals from Tucson and in Ajo, Arizona. These impressive paintings reflect many different views of the desert and the people who live there. "Humans all over the world have been making petroglyphs and pictographs for at least thirty thousand years (probably longer)," Mirocha writes, and "Public art is free and visible to everyone. It’s democratic and gains its creative power from being multicultural. By its existence and widespread acclaim, public art, in a sense, has been voted on." (p. 176-177)

Here are a few of the illustrations. If you love murals, you will love this chapter, which makes many connections between the artists, the cities, and the desert scenes and myths that they have painted.

Rock Martinez and Cristina Perez, Goddess of Agave, Tucson, Arizona (p. 159).

About this mural Mirocha says: "The agave woman on the walls of Tucson’s Benjamin Supply building is the Mexican agave goddess, Mayahuel, well-known even in these northern parts. She is one of several mother and fertility goddesses in Aztec spirituality, a personification of beauty, nourishment, and fruitfulness. She is also the artist’s girlfriend. The image is riveting, hot and spicy as heck."(p. 183). 

Michael Chiago, Untitled mural, Ajo, Arizona (p. 170).
This mural seems to me to capture an entirely different view of the desert. I like the turtle and many plants growing at the foot of the saguaro cactuses, the people doing something (I don't know what), and the birds in the sky. I do not understand the maze at the right, and would love to know what it means. The author writes:
"O’odham artist Michael Chiago’s work, hidden behind the Curley School in Ajo. The landscape is painted carefully, like a portrait of a well-known friend. O’odham people are shown in a landscape carefully observed, with everything in its place. There are the little bursage bushes, palo verdes, and saguaros. The vast emptiness of the landscape is saturated with both knowledge and love. The sense of being at home, safe, in a familiar place is palpable." (p. 182) 

Joe Pagac, Roadrunner Cycling, Tucson, Arizona (p. 167). 
Finally -- my favorite of all the murals: a roadrunner on a bicycle, with a snake too. I love the birds that live in the Sonora Desert, and the roadrunner is my favorite of all! I also like what Mirocha says about the desert creatures in these murals:
"Such mural art could be an urban scene anywhere, couldn’t it? Not likely—there’s only one place where people recognize a Gila monster, a jackalope, or a javelina. And where else do they know how to pronounce saguaro, ocotillo, or Gila? That place is the Sonoran Desert. There’s a desert on the edge of town, and it wants to seep quietly into your mind, to remind you where you are" (p. 175). 

A roadrunner that I saw in Arizona a few years ago.

Petroglyphs by the Hohokum Indians, Saguaro National Park, Tucson, Arizona, 2009. 

 It's hard to capture the charm and fascination that I find in this very diverse collection of writings. It really makes me want to return to the desert for birdwatching, enjoying the scenery, and more. 

This review © 2021 by mae sander.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Ypsilanti, Michigan

© 2021 mae sander


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Breakfast or Brunch?

"The bounteous and leisurely English Breakfast, survives in brunch... Effectively a country house breakfast without the game and with desserts and champagne, Bucks Fizz, or Bloody Mary cocktails added, it is usually served on a Sunday morning from eleven o'clock onwards." (The English Breakfast, p. 54)

"The Best Full English Breakfast Is the One You'll Make at Home" by Alex Delaney in Bon Appétit.

The iconic English Breakfast that I've been writing about recently seems to be a huge meal -- one that still fascinates some modern American food writers as in the article in Bon Appétit magazine a few years ago. You could make it at home, as suggested, but in modern culinary terms, you would probably serve it for brunch -- that is, a morning meal that begins rather late and stretches out over quite a bit of one's day -- usually reserved for a Sunday or holiday. The big buffet option of either brunch or the English country house breakfast is generally not viewed as a meal to precede a day's work in an office, in the fields, on the assembly line, or wherever one works. Maybe not even a meal you would want before a day's work at your home computer on Zoom!

In fact, at the English country houses where the English breakfast began, the meal was served rather late. Breakfast took place after the lord of the manor and his male guests had been out shooting or some such activity -- and after the servants had taken time to prepare and lay out the varieties of porridge, casseroles, eggs, fish, meat, game, pies, beverages, and so on that were expected. Sherlock Holmes' landlady Mrs. Hudson, as I mentioned in a previous post, had prepared a breakfast of curried chicken in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty," which Holmes appreciated after spending hours in Surry looking for a lost paper. At the country house, the hostess and women guests would have taken a dainty cup of tea in their bedrooms before entering the breakfast room, if they chose to do so at all. 

In Kaori O'Connor's The English Breakfast, the collected nineteenth-century breakfast cookbooks often encourage working people to eat at least some of the substantial foods of an English breakfast. However, it's these early working person's breakfasts that have most turned to the use of instant foods, especially packaged cereal. By the 1970s, the English Breakfast survived mostly in "independent country inns and small hotels." (p. 361) 

According to O'Connor, a number of British marketing boards in the mid-twentieth century promoted products such as eggs and bacon that were going out of style for breakfast. The egg marketing board, in particular, offered "Anytime, any day egg recipes," extending the times when people might eat their product. This set the stage for what happened to breakfast next: 

"'Brunch'-- a combination of 'breakfast' and 'lunch' -- is an English invention, being neither more nor less than the elaborate late breakfasts of the Victorian era.... Having fallen out of fashion in Britain, it survived in America where it was first developed into a lavish meal offered at the weekend by hotels, private social clubs and society hostesses, then imitated more widely. For Americans, the great appeal of brunch was conviviality in a more informal setting, with guests able to serve themselves from a wide variety of foods. In the 1970s -- with great irony -- brunch was imported back to Britain as an American invention." (p. 387)

Does it sound as if we are going in circles? That seems to be the case with brunch, which is now a very luxurious and indulgent meal. Huge buffets from international hotels, especially, compete for the honor of being the world's best brunch -- or did before the current restrictions on public dining. For example, Condé Nast Traveler in 2016 published a list of "The Best Hotel Brunches in the World." They listed hotels in Hong Kong, Morocco, Madrid; San Diego and Long Beach, California; Berlin, London, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Las Vegas, Nevada; Singapore, New York, and Paris.

Brunch at the Intercontinental Hotel, London: "This restaurant specializes in sweets and made-from-scratch pastries paired with a healthier version of the beloved Sunday roast." (Condé Nast Traveler)

What will be the next fashion in breakfasts and brunches? When restaurant dining and travel are able to resume, who knows which of the many trends in English Breakfasts and morning meals around the world will take? This blog post concludes my discussion centered around O'Connor's book. I've enjoyed sharing all this reading on a wonderful meal.

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Suggested by Jay Rayner

“Cookbook titles tend towards the functional. It’s the food of this, or the book of that. And then there’s the best cookbook title of all time: Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson, with Lindsey Bareham. The second half of that sentence is perfect, for all recipes are indeed a story. The ingredients are the beginning. The method is the middle. We all know the ending. The best of those stories promise a better life. And then there is roast chicken, one of those tales that people like me love being told time and again.” 

When I read Jay Rayner’s recent discussion of trying recipes from Simon Hopkinson’s book, “How we all fell for Simon Hopkinson's lovely tale of roast chicken” (published in the Guardian on Feb. 14 and quoted above), I had to take a look at it — fortunately, a Kindle version is very, very inexpensive! Although the book was published in 1994, this was the first time I heard of it: not surprising! The number of cookbooks in this world, even very good ones, is astronomical.

Although many critics are very enthusiastic, I find this book only fairly interesting. It’s an alphabetical list of foods, not very comprehensive, starting with anchovies, eventually talking about kidneys, liver, and lamb, and ending with veal. A little essay about each food, and sometimes a memory about the author's relationship with other well-known cooks, precedes a few recipes for each item. I’ve now read through the book, though I haven’t tried the recipes, which look good but maybe not too adventurous. Note that this reading is a distraction from my great English Breakfast project, to which I shall return!

As an example, here is what Hopkinson says about smoked haddock: “I look upon smoked haddock as being essentially British. There is something about its distinctive smoky, fishy odor when being cooked that is familiar and comforting. It’s fireside stuff, soft and buttery. Sunday evening food.” (p. 240) He gives three recipes for smoked haddock with potatoes, in an omelet, and in soup.

Another quote: “ I used to think that Italian cooking was just veal, pasta, and tomatoes. I thought spaghetti boring, veal a tasteless meat (usually pan-fried in soggy breadcrumbs), and all that was ever done to tomatoes was to turn them into insipid sauces.”  Then he tasted the peppers at a particular London restaurant and all was different. (p. 189) Honestly, I tried to find more exciting quotes, but I just couldn't.

For one more example, here’s what he says about Elizabeth David: “ Elizabeth David has inspired me, and countless others, more than any other cookery writer. She had a style of prose that is a joy to read and, at times, the description of a dish or a situation experienced is so evocative that it transports the reader from page to place.” (p. 103)

Jay Rayner
While I’m not very inspired by Hopkinson’s highly recommended cookbook (though maybe the recipes are better than they look), I have been enjoying Jay Rayner’s recent food articles in the Guardian. He usually reviews restaurants in London and the vicinity, but as they are all shut down, he’s been cooking from his favorite cookbooks. So far, besides Roast Chicken -- from which Rayner made the title dish, roast chicken with a HUGE quantity of butter, the selected authors include some of my favorites: Yotam Ottolenghi, Fuchsia Dunlop, and Claudia Roden. I highly recommend Jay Rayner’s recent articles! (link)

Review © 2021 mae sander.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Breakfast and Tea Time in British Classics

Holmes and Watson at breakfast: from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,
"The Naval Treaty," illustrated by Sidney Paget (1860-1908).
Holmes is about to eat a dish of curried chicken, and Watson will have ham and eggs. 
Mrs Hudson with breakfast, from the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie.
She is played by Geraldine James.

Hercule Poirot at breakfast, played by David Suchet.

Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey.
From "The Nine Tailors," originally broadcast on the BBC in 1974.

Tea time on Downton Abbey for the Dowager Countess, and Isobel Crawley
played by Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton.

Serving tea on Upstairs, Downstairs.
Jean Marsh acted the part of Rose the maid.

Continuing my exploration of breakfast and tea time in popular culture, I've put together a few scenes of these meals from various sources. This post is to be shared with Elizabeth's blog event celebrating drinks. Put together by mae sander at mae food dot blog spot dot com. If you read this elsewhere, it's been pirated.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Eggs on the Wall

-- link

-- link

-- link

-- link

-- link

Thinking about the English Breakfast, sometimes called a fry-up, I wondered if I could find any examples depicting such a breakfast in a mural posted on some street somewhere in the world, though most likely in England. My goal: to share with Sami and her "Monday Murals," which actually takes place on Sunday because she's in Oz.

The almost-appropriate images that I found were all of eggs -- eggs on walls, eggs on sidewalks, eggs frying on manhole covers, and the like. I googled everything I could think of: I just don't think the mural artists and taggers are into the great English Breakfast. These are ephemeral graffiti as well as possibly ephemeral links, so any of these may have disappeared from the sidewalks and from the internet.

Saturday, February 20, 2021


Several Victorian books and articles with recipes, menus, and advice for serving breakfast in genteel British homes are reproduced in Kaori O'Connor's book The English Breakfast: The Biography of a National Meal with Recipes. These are "a feast of lost dishes that richly deserve rediscovery," a collection that she includes to encourage her readers to try the foods of the past. In her view, "When  reading or writing about food, one should also be able to taste it." (p. 54-55)

Despite O'Connor's exhortation that I, the reader, should try the recipes, I can't honestly say I see any of them that make me curious to eat them -- especially not for breakfast! All those strange fish preparations, all those meat pies, all those game dishes for which I couldn't legally obtain the main ingredient... snipe on toast, anyone? Cooked with its head tucked underneath its wing? Uh-uh.

In reviewing the book, however, I would like to give you at least some information about the recipes and menus, of which there are an overwhelming number. I have decided to focus on one dish that is often mentioned in literary breakfasts, like country house detective stories. That would be kedgeree, a dish of rice, hardboiled eggs, and smoked fish. In modern recipes the dish usually includes curry powder and other Indian spices, but not so much in the Victorian cookbooks included in O'Connors selection.

Kedgeree from a modern recipe on the BBC website.

A recipe for kedgeree, as well as recommendations for inclusion in menus, appears in almost every one of cookbooks and menu books that O'Connor reproduced (I have used O'Connor's page numbers below, rather than the original pagination from the reproduced books). 

Menu XIV from the book Fifty Breakfasts by Colonel Arthur Robert Kenney Herbert specified a breakfast suitable for days of abstinence, such as Lent. Every breakfast in the Colonel's book has different items on the menu; this one lists:

Kitchri (Indian).
Macaroni à la Livornaise.
Eggs in white sauce.
Sally Lunns.

The text below the menu explains: "This dish, from which the so-called 'kedgeree' of English cookery books was doubtless taken, was originally a dish of rice cooked with butter and an Indian pea called dál, but now it may either be composed of cold cooked fresh fish, or of salt fish that has been soaked and either boiled or fried." He continues with a detailed recipe using hardboiled eggs, shallots, and turmeric, used to color the dish "a nice light yellow color." (p. 265)

Another book included by O'Connor is Breakfast Dishes for Every Morning of Three Months by Miss Allen. This includes kedgeree on the menu for "January 4, Wednesday." (p. 209) It consists of

Savoury omelette.
Potted pheasant.
Cold ham
Marmalade (orange).

Miss Allen's kedgeree recipe uses dried haddock, and it begins by boiling some rice, melting butter with flour and milk, adding anchovy sauce and chopped egg whites, and finally the fish. The hardboiled egg yolks are grated over the top of the dish, which is also garnished with parsley. (p. 170)

Only the introduction from The Dictionary of Dainty Breakfasts by Phyllis Browne appears in O'Connor's book. This introduction is written by "A Mere Man," and consists of a list of various categories of dishes. Category 3 (d) appears thus on page 67:

(d) Products of fish, etc.
Cod's roe: excellent.
Herring's roe, on toast: an admirable accessory.
Kedgeree, from the remains of yesterday's fish (not very good).

Would I try kedgeree if faced with a country house or hotel buffet that included it? Maybe. Depends what else they had on offer. Being an American, I'm partial to sweet breakfasts. I might choose some of the various breads and rolls and marmalades that appear on most of the menus. However, I find it fascinating to learn about all these things. 

As a final indication of what you can find if you check out the hundreds of menus and recipes in O'Connor's book, here's one of the most unfamiliar menus, from The Breakfast Book: A Cookery Book for the Morning Meal or Breakfast Table by Georgiana Hill. This menu, which appears on p. 154, also indicates how the various dishes should be arranged on the breakfast table: 

Autumn Quarter.
Middle of the Table.
Collared Sucking Pig
4 By-dishes, Cold.
Anchovy canapés.                 Pressed Caviare.
  Potted Cheese.                      Pickled Mussels. 
2 By-Dishes, Hot.
        Brain Cakes.                         Dried Sprats, tossed.
2 Entrées.
                         Salmi of Partridges.              Pork Cutlets and Poached eggs.
          Compotes of Fruit, Cheese, Breakfast cakes, etc.
I hope that when I'm free to go to hotel buffets for breakfast again, I don't encounter a sucking pig or brain cakes.

This review © 2021 mae sander.

Friday, February 19, 2021

What did English detectives eat for breakfast?

Continuing with my exploration of the English Breakfast, I checked my bookshelves for cookbooks that tell what English detectives ate and how it was prepared. The most famous fictional English detectives often visited traditional country houses where their rich clients lived. These clients sometimes became murder victims and sometimes turned out to be the murderers -- but they still ate breakfast! Each of the cookbooks I found has rather extensive discussions of such breakfasts, including recipes. And these breakfasts were frequently just the type of English Breakfast that's described in Kaori O'Connor's book The English Breakfast (which I discussed here yesterday). While I've written posts about these three books before, I want to concentrate on their treatment of the detectives' breakfasts.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie's childhood home Torquay, and her favorite country residence Greenway House both served breakfast in the traditional country house manner, always in the special-purpose breakfast room.  Christie loved these homes, and others where she lived as well, according to Crèmes & châtiments: Recettes délicieuses et criminelles (Creams and Punishments: Recipes both delicious and Criminal from Agatha Christie) by Anne Martinetti and François Rivère. My diligent searches have not turned up an Agatha Christie cookbook in English: I fear this is the only one that's been published.

The only Agatha Christie cookbook I can find. Published 2005.

From her first detective novel onward (published 1920), Agatha Christie often featured English country house breakfasts, as well as breakfasts eaten in other venues by her detectives and her other characters. The recipes and descriptions in Crèmes & châtiments begin with a detailed explanation of tea: its history, its many types and origins, and how English people enjoy it. Coffee lovers are also accommodated at a classic country house breakfast. As for Hercule Poirot, his beloved hot chocolate at breakfast is distinctly non-English. He requires it to be served on a very symmetrically arranged tray with a croissant or roll for dipping. 

In her chapter on breakfast, Martinetti also includes recipes for tomatoes with white beans, grilled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms in which you might just include one or two poisonous ones if you are an aspiring murderer; several types of eggs including omelet curry and eggs Benedict; kidneys with bacon, many fish dishes suitable for breakfast, and a couple of home-made marmalades. For every recipe there's an appropriate quotation from one of Agatha Christie's numerous stories, and many beautiful pictures.

In short: this book offers a very good selection for the classic English Breakfast!

Arthur Conan Doyle

"A good roast beef, plum pudding, or English trifle" are quintessential dishes named at the beginning of Dining with Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook by Julia Carlson Rosenblatt and Frederic H. Sonnenschmidt (published 1976 and 1990). Breakfast, however, is "by far the most prominent meal in the Sherlockian Canon." One expert they cite "Has counted 73 specific mentions of breakfast, as opposed to 30 references to lunch, 3 to high tea, and 58 to dinner or supper." (p. 19) 

Not the only Sherlock Holmes Cookbook.

While Rosenblatt and Sonnenschmidt's details about the foods provided by Holmes and Watson's landlady Mrs. Hudson are speculative, they reflect the fact that Mrs. Hudson was working in the 19th century tradition of an English Breakfast. (The first Sherlock Holmes publication was in 1887.) Mrs. Hudson's repertory specifically included eggs, bacon, ham, a cold joint of beef, and other classics. Although Arthur Conan Doyle rarely listed the full menu, the cookbook authors speculatively provided complete menus that might have been eaten before or during the hectic investigations in the stories.

Dorothy Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey was a member of the aristocracy, the English class that lived in country houses and thrived on breakfasts of eggs, fish, game, organ meats, and many other savory dishes, served at a buffet in a special breakfast room. Indeed, from Dorothy Sayers' first detective story (published 1923) Lord Peter often enjoys such a meal, and many are documented in quite a whimsical way in The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook by Elizabeth Bond Ryan and William J. Eakins. 

"Ah, I have never regretted  Paradise Lost since I discovered that it contained no eggs and bacon," observed Lord Peter (quoted on p. 14). The authors add quite a number of the detective's other observations about classic English Breakfast foods as well. For example, he wished he could tell off his charlady for her "tiresome habit of boiling his breakfast kippers till they resembled heavily pickled loofahs." (p. 15)

The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook, published 1981.

The chapter on breakfast provides a number of helpful menus with suggestions for re-enactments of the scenes in Lord Peter's breakfast room, such as assigning your guests to pose as characters from the novels. Here is one of the menus, which the authors recommend that you serve in "bilibeastly" weather:


There follows a very helpful explanation of bloaters:
"Bloaters are herrings which have been lightly salted and smoked. They do not keep for long periods of time so they should be eaten right away like fresh fish... They are the famous 'red herrings' of literature. 
"Allow one bloater per person. Not everyone at the breakfast table will want one. Trim each bloater of head and tail. Make incisions in the skin at approximately one-inch intervals across each side of the fish. Place the fish in a lightly buttered, shallow ovenproof dish. Dot each fish with butter and bake for about 30 minutes in a preheated 350º oven. ... 
"An even more distinguished bloater dish is suggested by Mrs. Sayers's husband, Atherton Fleming, in his cookbook. Major Fleming recommends putting two bloaters in a soup plate, poring on whiskey to cover, setting the dish afire, and letting it flame until done." (p. 9-10)
The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook is highly entertaining, even if you are not a Dorothy Sayers fan. It's a lot more fun to read than the Victorian breakfast cookbooks and household manuals reproduced in Kaori O'Connor's The English Breakfast. I will return to this topic!

Blog post © 2021 mae sander.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

What is an English Breakfast?

What I'm reading: a definitive treatise on the English Breakfast.

The English Breakfast today is a popular choice for discriminating lovers of all things British. In London and other English destinations there are B&Bs, country inns, urban hotels, pretentious and unpretentious dining establishments, Harry Potter theme park restaurants (representing the Hogwarts dining room), and probably a few surviving country houses that still offer a menu that fits the description of this classic meal. You can even get an English Breakfast at some places in New York; cruise ship menus often have English Breakfast options, as do trains and car ferry restaurants -- providing they aren't stopped by pandemic closures 

If you order an English Breakfast, the expectation is that you will find a set choice of foods. The usual offerings would be tea or coffee, toast drowned in butter, two kinds of bacon, variously cooked eggs, a grilled tomato, a few mushrooms, several types of English-style sausage such as chipolatas; a dish of kedgeree; fish such as bloaters, smoked salmon, haddock, or kippers; black or white pudding, Heinz baked beans, marmalade, and possibly something or other in a white sauce. 

If you find a croissant, a blueberry muffin, or a Danish pastry in an "English Breakfast" your host has probably overstepped the traditional definition of this very English meal. An egg-white omelet would also be suspect. The English Breakfast flavors are traditionally mostly savory not sweet, and the choices are mostly fattening, not abstemious. 

Two items that were blamed for the demise of the English Breakfast in the 1920s were grapefruit and packaged cold cereal, which were more convenient and faster, and less dependent on domestic servants. The Americans were held responsible for these innovations, but that's not fair. After all, it was the American Heinz corporation that developed the canned baked beans that became a luxury item for country house breakfasts  before canned food was a cheap and easy choice and a required item on the English Breakfast list. In any case, the English Breakfast did not die, but was resurrected after the World War II rationing almost brought it to extinction.

"The English Breakfast is the national dish of a mythic and indivisible England, a repast that, despite differences in execution, binds its people together as one." (The English Breakfast, Kaori O'Connor, p 46). There are Welsh, Irish, and Scottish versions but there is one English Breakfast to rule them all.

The English Breakfast as many people imagine it now may take inspiration from literary versions of the meal. A century ago, detective fiction by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, A.A.Milne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others often set their imagined murders in a country house. The resident servants got up early to produce a lavish buffet with every item on this list and maybe more, to be consumed by hosts, guests, and possibly murderers and detectives. Versions of the English Breakfast still show up in current detective fiction by authors like Tana French, sometimes called a fry-up or a Full English. Such a breakfast in more recent detective fiction is rarely presented by a staff of servants in a serious country house, but still -- it survives in fiction as it does in real life.

While twentieth and twenty-first century versions are more familiar, the origin of the English Breakfast was actually during the Victorian era, when gentry living in country houses were a model of English propriety — and culinary correctness. The increasing wealth of the non-gentry created a new class: one that aspired to act genteel, but that had not been born into gentility nor inherited an estate. A real gentleman's estate would ideally stretch as far as the eye could see from the manor house. From these lands would come all the food served in the dining rooms and breakfast rooms of the stately home at the center of the property. The dishes that showed up on the table were the products of "one's own soil, rivers, forests and moorlands. The upper class fondness for venison, game and salmon springs from the fact that these are all specific products of country estates, once largely available only to those who possessed them." (p. 23)

For aspiring non-aristocrats, the Victorian era produced a large literature on how to act genteel even if you weren't born to it. Some of the challenges included training your domestic staff to cook and serve as they should, and setting tables worthy of the class to which you wanted to belong. O'Connor's book includes facsimile versions of three Victorian manuals on the ideal high-class breakfast -- that is, instructions on how to emulate the gentry in their country houses no matter how humble were your actual circumstances. To serve a proper breakfast required proper recipes for the foods, but also demanded the use of damask tablecloths, china place settings and serving dishes, silver tableware, utensils like a purpose-made scissors for cutting the top off a boiled egg, various types of toast racks, or coffee and tea sets with ewers, creamers, and so on. You needed a special diagram to know how to arrange all this on the table. Not to mention a big table. It wasn't easy!

From O’Connor’s book: an illustration of how to set a breakfast buffet for twelve.

In a future post I'll describe more of the fascinating story of the English Breakfast as told in O'Connor's wonderfully detailed book.

Review © 2021 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

"The Future Eaters"

"It makes an enormous amount of sense... to see the lack of agriculture by Australian Aborigines as a fine-tuned adaptation to a unique set of environmental problems, rather than as a sign of 'primitiveness.'" -- The Future Eaters, p. 282

My previous review is here:
The Future Eaters
Imagine a human society that became stable tens of thousands of years ago in an environment that differs widely from that of the European or North American temperate climate zones. Members of this society own no fertile fields where grain grows, no large domestic animals raised for food like pigs or cows, and no great forests. Small bands of these humans hunt exotic game such as large lizards or marsupials -- the limited resources of the Australian continent. Until European settlers arrived, several years after the 1770 visit of James Cook and his ship Endeavor, these bands of highly adapted people managed the continent. They utilized the available resources in an efficient but unexpected way that's hard for us to grasp. 

Rereading the 1994 book The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australian Lands and People by Tim Flannery made me think about how totally this unfamiliar reality differs from ours  -- a whole way of life that seems more like fiction than like history.

Members of the small bands of people throughout Australia during the 60,000 years or so of their history lived by gathering bush foods from a variety of sparse woodlands and scrublands in the large territories that belonged to them. They managed the game and the growth of the woodlands by "firestick" -- that is, controlled burns of the forest, which over thousands of years had evolved to ensure the continuity of plant and animal species that they depended on. These were not plentiful, so as my initial quote mentions, agriculture, with its intensive use of localized resources, would not have been practical as an extension of their culture.

Although these bands of people lived in widely dispersed areas, they would gather from time to time to celebrate, to socialize, and to finalize marriages between couples who had long ago (even before they were born) been destined for each other. Individuals in one area might know the family tree of another group living a thousand miles away. This activity, like most of the things they did, contributed to the survival of their way of life, adding to the genetic diversity and collective wisdom of each separated group.

The lifecycles of animals and plants used by these groups were partly dependent on the seasons, as they are in the Northern Hemisphere. However, there were other cycles, often less predictable. Because the vegetation in the extremely dry territories grew very slowly, some plants produced edible fruits only every several years. Animal lifecycles could also vary; for example, one breed of sea lions -- a possible prey species for seacoast dwellers -- had their young every 15 months; that is, at varying times of the seasonal year. The most critical non-seasonal variation in Australia was the periodic drought caused by changes in Pacific Ocean currents: the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which to this day affects the Australian continent drastically. 

Living in this environment for such an eternity (compared to our few thousand years of settled agriculture and what we call civilization) the Australians were very much in tune with the resources that they needed, and they manipulated many things. They used controlled fires, and they paid careful attention to the life cycles of the species that they depended on. They had religious prohibitions on hunting in certain sacred places, for example, which gave some prey animals a chance to breed undisturbed, and thus prevented over-hunting. 

In 1845, the explorer Edward John Eyre made a prediction which Flannery finds very accurate. He wrote that Aboriginal culture was:
"so varied in detail, though so similar in general outline and character, that it will require the lapse of years, and the labours of many individuals, to detect and exhibit the links which form the chain of connection in the habits and history of tribes so remotely separated; and it will be long before any one can attempt to give to the world a complete and well-drawn outline of the whole." -- The Future Eaters, p. 271.

Explaining the extraordinary extent of the Aboriginals' coexistence with their natural environment is the central, eye-opening subject of Flannery's book, which also includes much more information. He covered the pre-human evolution of Australia. He documented the early era of humans in Australia, during which the newly arriving Aboriginals disrupted the prior status quo, and in fact drove a number of native species to extinction. Further, he provided a general history of the human settlement of the lands of the South Pacific. Finally, Flannery described the tragic destruction that occurred when the English took over the continent.

Some of the scientific basis for this book has probably changed since it was written in 1994. I'm sure that the much more accurate methods of gene sequencing that have been developed since then will have added much, and perhaps changed interpretations of natural and human history. The chapters about the way that present-day Australians cope with the special features of their environment have no doubt also been made somewhat obsolete by the drastic nature of climate change as we have experienced it since publication; also by the greater impact on Australia of our warming world. Despite these doubts about the continued accuracy of the book, I think it is most fascinating. I'm glad I have reread it, as I have often thought about it in the years since I first became acquainted with it.

I dedicate this blog post to my Australian blog friends, including Sherry, Francesca, Johanna, and all the others. I very much hope I can again visit Australia and see some of the landscapes and animals that are described in the book.

Review © 2021 mae sander. 

Monday, February 15, 2021


Breakfast every day: orange juice and coffee.

Lunch: a glass of ice water — and apricot  pancakes.
Valentine lunch: another drink of water with rye bread,
smoked salmon, potato salad, and tomato.

Afternoon: a cup of tea.

Dinner: wine and a glass of water. On the plate: cauliflower cheese.

Another Dinner: Wine with spaghetti. And a glass of water.


Blog post shared with Elizabeth’s weekly blog event. 
© 2021, mae sander