A FEW months ago, photographer Henry Hargreaves unveiled a set of images capturing the last meal of condemned men about to face execution. The death-row dinners are, no doubt, intended to be a final treat.
In reality, the dried-up food on prison trays looks as poignant as the occasion itself. Their contents vary little from plate to plate. Presumably, it’s a time when comfort food is needed most.
My favourite is the meal chosen by Victor Feguer, who was executed in Iowa 50 years ago. He asked for a single olive, with the stone left in. I suspect he was man who appreciated the finer things in life. But among the long list of burgers, pizzas and fried chicken, something was missing for me. Where was breakfast ?
If you are reading this at the breakfast table, that’s a good start. Clearly, the first meal of the day has a place in your life. However, you are in a minority. Surveys suggest that less than half the population now bothers with breakfast and that figure is falling every year.
Cereal manufacturers are responding with more and more products to eat on the move. That misses the point: breakfast isn’t just fuel, but something to be savoured and appreciated. In Scotland, we do it well. From porridge to rowies, we understand the importance of the first meal of the day.
Breakfast really took off during the industrial revolution, when the growing workforce needed proper sustenance before a day of hard manual labour. It has evolved since into a meal with something for everyone. A great breakfast can be as simple as good bread toasted, with proper marmalade, or as fancy as eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and a silky glaze of hollandaise.
For me, there is no greater treat than breakfast eaten out. More than any other meal, it is a time to experiment. In my experience, hotel breakfasts are always a disappointment. They have to satisfy too many different tastes and among the fruit for the health conscious and cheese and ham for the continentals, something gets lost in translation.
What you need is somewhere with a passion for breakfast. That could be Simpsons In the Strand with its “Ten Deadly Sins” breakfast featuring liver and fried bread, or it could just be a local café with a great bacon roll.
I was in Bristol at breakfast time a couple of weeks ago and happened upon a little café that made its own baked beans and black pudding. That breakfast proved to be one of the best ever. But it’s not just about taste. Scientists have shown that people who eat breakfast are likely to be thinner and to perform better during the day.
So, this weekend, enjoy a great Scottish breakfast. With haggis, potato scones, black pudding, bacon, egg and sausage, it would be my choice for a fitting final meal – and I am sure I’m not alone in thinking that.