History of the Traditional (Full) English Breakfast
We can thank the Victorians for inventing the tradition of the full English breakfast, it was in the 1800′s when the Victorians first began to perfect the art of eating breakfast and the history/tradition of the English breakfast was born.
The deeply satisfying Victorian ritual of sitting down to a traditional full English breakfast and pouring over the days newspapers went on to become one of the Victorians finest and most enduring traditions, one that we have practised continuously for hundreds of years and one that we continue to practice to this day.
It was the affluent Victorian middle and upper classes during the days of the Empire who first perfected the art of taking breakfast, in the early 1800′s they were accustomed to sitting down to the first meal of the day and dining upon a wide selection of different breakfast dishes whilst drinking tea or coffee taken with sugar, historically ingredients sourced from around the British empire.
Magnificent breakfasts consisting of smoked and honey cured back bacon, pink ham, fried tomato, fried mushrooms, little crisp rolls of bacon, dishes of scrambled and fried eggs, fried bread, sausages from four counties of England, black pudding, hot toast in white napkins, fresh rolls, sweet butter, marmalades of all cuts and colours, jams, jellies and pyramids of fruit.
Shakespeare knew what a good breakfast of the age meant when he said “And then to breakfast, with what appetite you have.”
History informs us that, for the wealthy at least, the traditional English breakfast contained a few more dishes than just those described above and in the house of a wealthy aristocrat you would typically find dishes of baked halibut steaks, fried whiting, stewed figs, pheasant legs, collared tongue, kidneys on toast, sausages with fried bread, pig’s cheek and Melton pork pie.
Breakfasting on this scale was not historically confined to the wealthier classes, the idea of sitting down to a full and hearty breakfast was one the middle classes enjoyed just as much, in 1859 a lady called Isabella Beeton wrote a book called “Book of Household Management” that promoted the idea of a full breakfast as a way of preparing yourself for a busy day of work.
Mrs Beeton was the first celebrity cook, albeit a 19th Century version, but from her recipes on the English breakfast it is clear that a full breakfast for the more affluent families consisted many more ingredients than those contained in what we would now consider to be a traditional full English breakfast, but it was the simpler version that eventually caught on.
The working and middle class versions of the full English breakfast before the industrial revolution and English food in general was historically characterised by the simplicity of its approach and its reliance on high quality locally sourced produce.
Typically the ingredients used at breakfast were always fresh from the local farmers market, including bacon cured locally and freshly prepared sausage and black pudding mixed with herbs specific to the region, for the working and middle classes the breakfast extravagance enjoyed by their wealthier neighbours would not have been possible.
What was the typical English breakfast of the time ?
For these less affluent families, their full English breakfast typically consisted of pork, eggs, bread and sometimes potato, ingredients that were widely available and relatively inexpensive, it is their version of the full English breakfast that became known as the traditional English breakfast in the households of Britain and greasy-spoon cafes across the land.
It was only in the 19th century that foreign imports like coffee, tea and sugar became affordable and widely available to most residents of the United Kingdom, it was around this time, as consumption of tea and coffee skyrocketed nationally, that these hot beverages started to become an essential ingredient of the full English breakfast.
The full English breakfast we came to know as traditional and are most likely to find served today really emerged and its ingredients standardised during the Industrial revolution of the 19th Century, lifestyles began to change as workers involved in industry became either very hard working manual labourers or commuters that travelled to a regional City to work in an office.
It was after World War One and leading up to World War Two that the traditional English breakfast became a staple in hotels, cafe’s, greasy spoon’s, bed & breakfast’s and restaurants across the country, it was during this time that eating an English breakfast became a very British thing to do and that the British became known for the English Breakfast.
Egg & Bacon becomes a saying !
Bacon had been consumed in the United Kingdom since the 18th Century, but in the early 1930′s a man called Edward Bernays, who was arguably the first real public relations expert, started to popularise the term ‘eggs and bacon’ and the term caught on just as much as ‘rock and roll’ did.
Bernays conducted some research by surveying 5000 doctors and promoting their recommendation that people eat heavy breakfasts along with literature promoting bacon and eggs. We now know that a traditional full English breakfast is something that you should eat everyday if you expect to lead a healthy lifestyle, but back in the 1950′s more than half of the population did eat one every day.
The British clearly loved a full English breakfast and from the industrial revolution onwards the consumption of the traditional English breakfast soared to a peak in the 1950′s when more than 50% of the population were starting their day with a full English breakfast, the idea was one that appealed to anyone who had a hard days work to do or a long commute to and from work to make.
A tradition in decline…
Sadly the consumption of the English breakfast has fallen to the point where just one percent of the population eat a traditional full English breakfast everyday, we have no time to prepare one or sit down and eat one anymore and the vast majority of us tend to eat a full English only on Saturday or Sunday afternoons when we have the time.
The number of establishments that serve a good quality English breakfast has declined in line with falling consumption and it is now incredibly difficult to find a place that serves any kind of cooked breakfast, let alone a traditional English one containing all of the right ingredients.
It is possible to find some excellent examples of a full English breakfast in some exceptional establishments that take pride in their serving of a tradition, but sadly these establishments are becoming harder to find and even the traditional greasy-spoon owned and operated by the English working classes who knew what a proper English breakfast was is in decline.
But despite this recent decline, the traditional English breakfast lives on in the hearts and minds of the English and continues to be a national favourite, the traditional English breakfast is widely eaten and widely sought after.
We still cook traditional English breakfasts for ourselves and our family, they continue to be served in bed & breakfast hotels and cafes across the land and when we wake up on a Sunday morning, there is only ever one thing we really want.
Wherever there are large British communities, you will find the English breakfast and they are widely available for example in the British coastal colonies of Torremolinos, Magaluf and Playa Los Americas in Tenerife to name a few, but British expatriates everywhere hanker for the taste of bacon & sausage, never forgetting that little piece of England that is the traditional full English breakfast.
English Breakfast Society Founded
It is against this backdrop that the English Breakfast Society was founded in 2012 with one purpose in mind; to restore the traditional English breakfast to its former glory and encourage the spread of establishments serving a high quality traditional English breakfast throughout the land.
The English Breakfast Society profoundly hopes that the proud tradition and history of the national icon that is the English breakfast does not end on this note and we work towards the revival of time honoured cultural tradition.
To this end we have launched a political campaign into the history of the traditional English breakfast and we invited the great British public to take part in all of this and help us shape the next stage of English breakfast history.
In September 2012 the English Breakfast Society launched its first campaign to attain TSG status for the traditional English Breakfast. TSG stands for Traditional Speciality Guaranteed and is an EU approved geographical indications and traditional specialities certification governed by EU law, the purpose of the law being to protect the reputation of the regional foods, promote rural and agricultural activity.
The English Breakfast Society believes that the traditional English breakfast in its entirety, including each of its individual ingredients falls within the remit of TSG certification and we believe that attaining TSG status for our national dish would help improve the quality of the traditional English breakfast served nationally and the overall health of our entire British farming community.
Moving forward into the next chapter of the history of the traditional English breakfast, we hope to preserve and protect the tradition that is the English breakfast and we feel that working towards achieving traditional speciality guaranteed status for the English breakfast is a way of achieving this goal.
The history of the English breakfast is not yet complete, please return to this page for regular updates !