Breakfast for most English people, most of the time, is an array of cereals or toast. Traditionally, toast was eaten with marmalade, although this appears to be declining amongst younger people who prefer spreads like Nutella. But toast and marmalade is a very English breakfast and we pray for its revival!
Another classic spread for toast is Marmite. Some say you either love it or hate it. It is made from yeast extract, a by-product of the beer brewing industry and is quite salty – hence its addictive nature. Some smear it on thickly and others, like me, more thinly as it really does have a strong flavour. Aussies and Kiwis have their own version and we all argue like billyho as to which is the best!
Pikelets or Crumpets
These are as English as they come, dating back to Anglo Saxon times. They are a type of pancake, made from flour and milk, but with the addition of yeast which causes them to rise and gives them their distinctive texture. You can just eat them on their own with a bit of butter or with some cheese on top. They make a good lunch as well.
There are many variations on the theme, amongst them being the Derbyshire or Staffordshire Oatcake (picture on the right) which is made with oatmeal as well as wheat flour.
These also date back a long way, although the modern version was actually invented by an English immigrant in the USA where they are known as ‘English Muffins’ to distinguish them from the very different American version. They can be eaten plain with a little butter or with a topping of whatever you want – typically cheese, ham or poached/scrambled eggs.
There is an array of other traditional breakfasts, most of which are proving quite resilient. Many of the cooked breakfasts are also commonly eaten as lunches or as light teas or supper.
The Full English or Fry Up
Usually considered a filling but not very healthy treat, you can just do elements of it to go with cereal and toast. More recently, it has been found to be healthier than once thought and a great source of vitamins and fibre! Best eaten with a hot cup of tea rather than coffee.
The Full English typically includes fried/poached or scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans, maybe black pudding depending on the region, fried bread and/or toast and marmalade. You can include sautéed potatoes, but hash browns are not part of the traditional English breakfast!
Banned from healthy households across the land, fried bread was an important part of the diet of poorer people in days gone by. It kept you warm in the days before central heating. It should be made by frying sliced white bread in either lard or beef dripping. It really isn’t the same when fried in vegetable oil!
Usually served as an accompaniment to a Full English breakfast, it is particularly nice with a poached egg or baked beans on the top.
The Sarnie (butty or sandwich)
Sliced white or brown bread, buttered or unbuttered, traditionally filled with one or a combination of fried egg, bacon, sausage or mushroom. Not usually all together! Nice with a bit of tomato or brown sauce. My favourite is a runny egg and bacon on fresh white bread, not buttered and with a bit of red sauce.
Chucky Egg with Soldiers
We all love boiled eggs, whether hard or soft. This is a favourite of children of all ages – but the egg needs to be runny. Soldiers are simply lengths of fresh bread or toast – sometimes with marmite on them.
Poached eggs on toast
Sometimes the simplest of things are the best and this is certainly the case with this dish. Eaten either as a breakfast, lunch or light tea this is a real treat. You can add a little Worcester sauce to it or put the egg over some smoked salmon or trout. Use top quality fresh, organic eggs where possible as the flavour is so much better.
Scrambled Eggs on Toast
Another simple breakfast with eggs. Eggs with milk and seasoned with white or black pepper and a little salt.
A traditional English omelette tends to be plain and thin following the French version. It can have a little filling of cheese or mushroom, but is traditionally not fancy. Made with eggs and a little milk, seasoned with white or black pepper and a little salt.
Eggy bread or Panperdy (French Toast)
Sliced bread smothered in beaten egg and then fried, ideally in butter. Popular since Elizabethan times when it was known as Panperdy – from the French “pain perdu – lost 9or smothered) bread. In England, it is not usual to add sugar or syrup to this, although sweet spices such as nutmeg or mace can be used.
Smoked Haddock with Poached Egg
Another classic breakfast that can also be eaten at lunch or as a light tea/supper. It’s important to get a nice fairly thick piece of fresh, properly smoked haddock (white) rather than the commercial stuff (yellow). Not sure about the lemon or green stuff in the picture! It would be better to put on a bed of lightly cooked spinach.
There is a tendency these days for restaurants to add cream sauces to these old fashioned dishes. I don’t like this as it distracts from the main flavour and always feels a bit sickly to me.
Kippers are smoked Herrings and usually served with toast and maybe scrambled egg. They are quite salty but very nice. They are also very bony and there is a real skill to eating them without getting a mouthful of bones every time!
Given their bodily function, kidneys can have rather a strong flavour. This is probably why the tradition grew up of cooking them in a strong sauce – hence the name. The sauce is usually made with paprika, Worcester sauce and a little jam. They’re actually rather good!
Oats have been an important part of the English diet since about as far back as you can get. In the warmer months they were eaten with a little hot or cold milk, maybe with fruit or berries. Nowadays, we would call this Muesli or Granola!
When it comes to porridge, the English are known wimps. We eat it typically cooked in milk and with a dab of honey or treacle on it. You can also add fruits on top.
As a result of Oliver twist, this traditional dish has a rather sinister feel about it. But it is just an oat porridge made with oatmeal and milk.
Frumenty or Fromerty
This is an old fashioned porridge made from boiled cracked wheat rather than oats. It could include milk, eggs, almonds, currants, fruits and berries, honey, sugar or orange water. It was often served with a slug of rum to help warm you up on a cold winter’s day. It could also be served as a pottage with added meat, such as venison.