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.


Kitchen Riffs said...

When I was younger, I could devour this type of breakfast quite easily first thing in the morning. No way is that happening these days! So when we eat a breakfast like this, it's for dinner. :-) Really interesting post -- thanks.

DVArtist said...

Wow that is a huge meal.

Laurie said...

We have brunch on the weekend, well we did, precovid days and our children would come, that’s when we did the British style full breakfast, it’s a favourite in our home, I didn’t know all this about it though, thank you for enlightening us!

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

A late breakfast certainly makes sense if you've been out shooting in the morning. But I can't wait till mid morning to eat, so brunch is not my choice of the first meal of the day.

Iris Flavia said...

Wow, I could never eat so much at one time, that´s enough for a whole day!

Pam said...

Interesting post, Mae! English breakfast sounds and looks fantastic to me, my fave meal of the day, at any time. The English do it up right! I refuse to go dine where a buffet is offered since a young boy in line ahead of me sneezed all over the food years ago, that did it! Probably worse happens in the kitchen, but at least I don't see it. I will be checking out O'Connor's book.

Jeanie said...

Rick and I went to Sunday Brunch at the Whitney in Detroit a few years ago and I've never seen so much food served so beautifully in such a lovely place! (We really should do that again sometime!) I tend to eat late in the morning (which helps me not have to have proper lunch at lunch time and just a snack till dinner). On weekends we might have our version of the English--but definitely not so full as all you've shared here!

Eva Taylor said...

Can't wait for the days we can get back into Brunching with friends. We have been in lockdown since November so it seems a lifetime ago. My husband and I usually share a good English breakfast, he could probably finish the entire thing on his own but he shouldn't, so I make him share.