Sunday, 5 December 2010
The full English
When I went shopping the other day while we still had almost a foot of snow, I offered to pick up some bits and pieces for a neighbour who would struggle to get to the shops. She didn't want much and top of the list was bacon and a dozen eggs.
It's probably just coincidence, but we have quite frequently eaten bacon in one form or another during the past couple of weeks or so. Not for breakfast, you understand, although bacon is an essential ingredient in the traditional cooked English breakfast. Just what does go to make up a traditional full English depends on where you eat it. Not whereabouts in the country so much as at which hotel, restaurant or café. A couple of rashers are essential, as is a fried egg or two (although sometimes one is offered the choice of scrambled). There could be a sausage and a tomato (fried or grilled - never raw) and maybe mushrooms. Baked beans are frequently included, although to my mind that is hardly a traditional English vegetable. Nor are hash browns traditionally English, although they are now frequently served as part of the full English. I'm happy enough to eat them but my preference would be for chopped boiled potatoes allowed to go cold and then fried - a bit like bubble and squeak without the greens. Fried bread should be included - even if one is going to follow up with toast and marmalade - but all to often (in my opinion) toast or even bread and butter is considered part of the meal. I think the bread and butter is a northern or Midlands idea; people from those parts seem to eat bread and butter with every meal.
I have no experience of life in a stately home, or even a country house for that matter, but I understand that it was normal for the servants to place chafing dishes on the sideboard in which the various ingredients would keep warm and the house party could serve themselves as and when they came down to breakfast. As well as the standard ingredients of the full English, there would be kedgeree and kippers, possibly even devilled kidneys. I have never eaten kedgeree or kidneys for breakfast and the last time I had a kipper was at a hotel in Scarborough where I was staying on business.
My normal breakfast consists simply of a bowl of cereal and a mug of coffee, except when we are in France when it is toast and marmalade with coffee. I think the last time I had a full English was August last year when the Old Bat and I stayed at the hotel where my nephew's wedding reception was held. It's only when staying at hotels that I get a cooked breakfast.
It wasn't always so. Way, way back - getting on for sixty years ago now - my brother and I were at boarding school for a few months. There we always had a hot breakfast. There was sometimes porridge, something I had disliked intensely up till then but have enjoyed ever since, but the best was baked beans served on fried bread. The cooks managed to make the bread crispy on the outside while the inside remained soft and the tomato-flavoured juice from the beans soaked through into the soft centre of the bread while the outside stayed crisp. Neither I nor anyone else I know has aver managed that trick.
After I joined Lions, there was one day each year when several of gathered for a cooked breakfast. That was the day before our annual carnival when we worked until late in the evening setting everything up. We met at the house of the carnival chairman where he and his wife served breakfast before we started work. For some reason we stopped doing this and met at a breakfast bar where each of us was able to order exactly what we wanted from the very extensive menu.
One of the best breakfasts I can remember was in a hotel, although, perhaps strangely, it was not in England: it was in France. The Old Bat had persuaded me we should spend a few days in Lille, an industrial city in northern France. Quite why she wanted to visit Lille I never did discover, but visit Lille we did. Breakfast was, as in so many hotels these days, a ‘serve yourself' affair. On the side were masses of fluffy scrambled eggs and lashings on small rashers of streaky bacon cooked to perfection. I really couldn't say how many times I filled my plate, but I every time remember that breakfast, my mouth starts drooling.