Perhaps 2015 could finally be the year breakfast stops being overlooked and starts being indulged in, writes Lori Anderson
Were I to be sentenced to a sizzling end in the electric chair there is one thing of which I’m certain: my last meal would be breakfast. It would be three courses, starting with porridge made in the traditional manner with water and salt, stirred slowly into fruition with a spurtle, followed by a Porthault-linen-wrapped basket of farinaceous delights – warm brioche and thick hunks of white farmhouse bread toasted to the perfect shade of caramel, lightly smeared with unsalted French butter, and for my final course on earth, a richly unctuous strawberry fool washed down with a pot of decadent Italian hot chocolate.
I adore the first meal of the day. In the morning I bounce out of bed like Zebedee at the prospect of breaking the night’s fast. When I check into a hotel the first thing I do is rake through the drawers for the breakfast form to whet my appetite into an anticipatory frenzy.
Some people neglect breakfast. It is the “Cinderella” of daily meals and while it would be churlish to describe lunch and dinner in a cosy bistro or fine restaurant as “ugly sisters” no-one can deny that breakfast is usually left at home among the morning chores and rarely gets to dine out.
Yet this is now changing, as a number of restaurants such as Hutcheson’s, which launched last year in Glasgow’s Ingram Street housed in an 18th-century building, is opening early to add breakfast to its traditional menus of lunch and dinner.
While the principal target customer will be businessmen and women seeking to slot in an early meeting, I don’t see why, in 2015, breakfast shouldn’t be the new lunch. Why shouldn’t we meet our friends and family for an early-morning plate of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, bowl of granola or plate of kedgeree?
The answer to this question is provided by Oscar Wilde who said “only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”. And it is a truth that many people, sometimes couples, are not at their best early in the morning. Winston Churchill was one and once said: “My wife and I tried two or three times in the last 40 years to have breakfast together, but it was so disagreeable we had to stop.”
Yet the argument for reviving breakfast as a social occasion is that it extends the day and leaves you feeling both energised and organised. Lunch may no longer be for wimps but breakfast is most definitely for we larks. In London it is also for deep thinkers, as The School of Life has taken to serving up philosophical discussions along with coffee and warm croissants at its Philosophy Breakfasts where like-minded individuals come together to wrestle with knotty problems, such as “truth, lies and business”.
Another person who will be helping to elevate the humble breakfast throughout 2015 is Michael Zee, who works at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and who daily posts a photograph on Instagram entitled “symmetry breakfast” in which two identical breakfasts are displayed in such perfect symmetry as to convert them from a meal into a bona fide work of art. Each morning a mouth-watering, eye-widening, beautiful breakfast is served up online to the delight of his followers who now number more than 100,000. The images are as much a cultural tour as a culinary one, as his recent travels to China introduced readers to how the Far East eats.
Over the millennia we’ve had a complicated relationship with breakfast. The ancient Egyptians dined on beer, bread and onions, while in the 16th book of the Odyssey, Homer referred to a meal prepared in the morning before one’s chores as “ariston” which evolved to “akratisma” and consisted of barley bread and wine. It is often said that the Romans didn’t usually eat breakfast, preferring instead to have one main meal at noon, however the Latin poet Martial makes reference to a Roman meal of bread, cheese, olives and cold meat called “jentaculum”, which was usually left out the night before and eaten by early risers between 3-4am.
In Britain our meals were shaped by medieval religious observance with fasting prior to morning mass hence the term “break fast”. The full English breakfast, as it is known today, is thought to have evolved from Collop Monday, which is the day before Shrove Tuesday when people were required to use up all their remaining meat prior to Lent and as this meat usually consisted of pork and bacon, it was frequently accompanied by eggs.
Yet according to the late Clarissa Dickson Wright who once made a documentary for the BBC on breakfast, the morning meal truly evolved in Britain during the 17th century after the restoration of Charles II when coffee, tea and scrambled eggs became a popular dish for the affluent. By the 1740s “breakfast rooms” were appearing in the homes of the wealthy and in the 19th century the hunting set were laying on lavish breakfast banquets with as many as 24 courses.
It was Adele Davis, the American nutritionist who said we should all “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” and in 2015 we should certainly give our morning meal the regal respect it deserves. Just be careful what you order, for as the comedian Steven Wright said: “I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time’. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.”