Well, I survived my Burns Night supper and I’ve headed south again, I’m back in “blighty”. And what better way than to start another day of fun-packed adventures with a full English breakfast. And I also want to share something with you I ate before I left Edinburgh. You wouldn’t believe it! Really!
I’m in the Cotswolds. You might have heard of it, that part of the country with these beautiful villages nestling in rolling hills and lovely stone houses. The weather is absolutely appalling. But I’m comfortably installed in the breakfast room of a rather charming B&B and rather looking forward to my “fry up”.
Now, to rob you of any illusions right at the beginning, it is something of a myth that the English have this type of breakfast EVERY morning. No, I’m afraid you’ll find your average family trying to cope with everyday routines just like the rest of us. School runs, commutes to the office, perhaps skipping breakfast altogether, or grabbing a coffee on the go at one of these franchise coffee shops that seem to stand on every corner. Just a note on the side here, did you know, the Brits now drink more coffee than tea?
Anyway, this breakfast thing, if you dig a little deeper in the archives, is actually quite historical. The full English breakfast is something rather posh. At first, it was reserved more for posh people in their posh houses who liked to invite other posh people to a social event called breakfast, before they decided to do a spot of hunting. I speak, of course, of the gentry, who had lots of time and bags of money on their side.
When the gentry went downhill and met the up-and-coming industrialists and merchants, they passed on the notion of showing off how posh their breakfasts were. Eventually, the full English breakfast was enjoyed by the working class. They would go to what was called a “greasy spoon”, rather small places, reeking of fat, for their breakfast. The whole development did take about 700 years, from the 13th century to the 20th century. Such is progress.
I do like tradition, and I am feeling rather posh this morning, with heaps of time at my disposal and a pleasant day of leisurely activity stretched ahead of me. And, my surroundings are warm, cosy and comforting.
The B&B owner kindly takes my order. So, I want some eggs. What kind would I like? Now, let me see, I could have fried eggs, hmm, the most traditional, but no, scrambled, ugh, boiled…only do those myself, so, yes, I’d like two poached eggs, please. But do save on the vinegar!
Would I like some sausages? I would, but I’m not that enthusiastic about the traditional pork sausage. Do you have Cumberland sausages? Oh, splendid! Then some sausages, a few rashers of bacon, a grilled tomato, some mushrooms. And baked beans? Why not…toast, yes, brown bread, please. Oh, and definitely black pudding, can’t have breakfast without black pudding, just wouldn’t be right!
Interestingly enough, when I was in Edinburgh, I had a full Scottish breakfast. And would I be in Ireland, they’d serve me a full Irish… I always found them to be much the same. Except, the Irish might do a soda bread, the Scots their scones, or something from their local regions, Scottish salmon perhaps. So much so is the rivalry that English breakfast…let’s just call it breakfast, shall we, well, it really is a bit of a free for all and almost anything goes. Which probably explains why it’s called a full breakfast. It is quite the gigantic meal, guaranteed to keep your stomach full for quite some time. Unless you indulge in some hunting…of the bargain hunting kind, I mean. The other is now illegal.
I sip on my orange juice, (freshly pressed) and settle down and wait. I stare out of the window, watching the raindrops gently roll down the windowpane. I can hear the sound of the radio in the background, some local host doing a phone-in show about what is happening here. I take a sip of my tea.
Eventually, my plate arrives. On it are my two poached eggs (a “touche” too vinegary for my liking). The bacon is exactly as I like it, just on the crispy side. The Cumberlands are tasty. The B&B must have a good supplier because the sausages are packed with herbs. Hmmm. The grilled tomato tastes fresh, the baked beans are pure comfort food and the black pudding – just right. I don’t know what it is about a full English – but if done really well, and this one was, it sets the tone for the day. You leave the table a happy person. I do sometimes wonder about the Continental breakfasts we have back at home….
But I did want to tell you about my other Scottish experience. It was a rather strange thing I had back up in Edinburgh. Again, it was something I had often heard about. I knew it had to be tried even if the thought did make me shudder a little. I am talking of none other than the deep-fried Mars bar. Yes, that mass-produced chocolate bar, ultra-sweet, dunked in batter and then deep-fried, like fish and chips.
You wonder about food in the UK, don’t you? I mean, it does have a reputation, but I do find that one can eat exceedingly well here. If you can deep fry a Mars bar, then it shows a willingness to try out new things. And I like that.
I was really surprised. Yes, it was sweet. Really, really sweet. But the combination of a crunchy batter and a gooey, warm soft chocolate caramel Mars bar was unusual – something you should give a go. I’m afraid of putting myself on the scales, the calories have certainly come at me with full force these last few days. I think I need to do a spot of hunting….bargain hunting, that is.
If you want to do an English breakfast at home, here are all the goodies. Oh, and yes, it will be on my menu when I get back. I don’t quite know how, but don’t worry, where there is a will, there’s a way.
Full English Breakfast
What you need.
Per person, allow:
- 2 sausages
- 2-3 rashers of bacon
- 2 flat mushrooms
- 1-2 ripe tomatoes
- 1 thick slice of black pudding
- 1 large egg
- 1 slice of bread
What you do.
- Heat the flat grill plate over a low heat, on top of 2 rings/flames if it fits, and brush sparingly with light olive oil.
- Cook the sausages first. Add the sausages to the hot grill plate/the coolest part if there is one and allow to cook slowly for about 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden. After the first 10 minutes, increase the heat to medium before beginning to cook the other ingredients. If you are struggling for space, completely cook the sausages and keep hot on a plate in the oven.
- Snip a few small cuts into the fatty edge of the bacon. Place the bacon straight on to the grill plate and fry for 2-4 minutes each side, or until your preferred crispiness is reached. Like the sausages, the cooked bacon can be kept hot on a plate in the oven.
- For the mushrooms, brush away any dirt using a pastry brush and trim the stalk level with the mushroom top. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle over a little olive oil. Place stalk-side up on the grill plate and cook for 1-2 minutes before turning and cooking for a further 3-4 minutes. Avoid moving the mushrooms too much while cooking, as this releases the natural juices, making them soggy.
- For the tomatoes, cut the tomatoes across the centre/or in half lengthways if using plum tomatoes, and with a small, sharp knife remove the green ‘eye’. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with a little olive oil. Place cut-side down on the grill plate and cook without moving for 2 minutes. Gently turn over and season again. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes until tender but still holding their shape.
- For the black pudding, cut the black pudding into 3-4 slices and remove the skin. Place on the grill plate and cook for 1½-2 minutes each side until slightly crispy.
- For ‘proper’ fried bread, it’s best to cook it in a separate pan. Ideally, use bread that is a couple of days old. Heat a frying pan to a medium heat and cover the base with oil. Add the bread and cook for 2-3 minutes each side until crispy and golden. If the pan becomes too dry, add a little more oil. For a richer flavour, add a knob of butter after you turn the slice.
- For the fried eggs, break the egg straight into the pan with the fried bread and leave for 30 seconds. Add a good knob of butter and lightly splash/baste the egg with the butter when melted. Cook to your preferred stage, season and gently remove with a fish slice.
- Once all the ingredients are cooked, serve on warm plates and enjoy straight away with a good squeeze of tomato ketchup or brown sauce.