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A Brief History of the Traditional English Breakfast

Gordon is a British Internet writer and content producer. He writes principally on the subjects of food and drink, sea fishing and travel.

One of the many combinations which can constitute a cooked English breakfast today

One of the many combinations which can constitute a cooked English breakfast today

What image does the term "full English" conjure up in your mind, in relation to breakfast? The likelihood is it will be one similar to that featured above, the cooking instructions for which this page will soon go on to provide. In the first instance, however, it is more than worth pointing out that delicious as it is this specific breakfast recipe is far from being traditional.

A traditional English breakfast can only truly and accurately be described as a hearty and substantial breakfast, so diverse are the ingredients from which it has widely been prepared, ever since it was popularised by legendary English cook Mrs. Beeton, in early Victorian times.

Mrs Beeton and the Full English Breakfast

It was in the mid-19th century that Mrs. Beeton began writing for her husband's publishing company on the subject of household management. Food and cooking obviously played a huge part in this subject and one of the points strongly advocated by Mrs. Beeton was the importance of eating a hearty breakfast to set you up for the day.

Prior to this time, an English breakfast would be likely to consist more often than not of simple bread and meat, frequently washed down with beer. The lengthy list of items Mrs. Beeton suggested for breakfast, however, included everything from cod roe, to game birds, to stuffed fish, to offal and more. Crucially, most of the foodstuffs which Mrs. Beeton suggested be eaten for breakfast would be fairly unlikely to grace an English breakfast table in modern times. It is therefore only for her promotion of the concept of a hearty breakfast for which she is renowned and not any particular breakfast recipe or menu.

Surprisingly, this grand "old lady" of English cooking—as Mrs. Beeton is often perceived to be—actually died at the ripe old age of 28. . .

Edward Bernays and Bacon and Eggs in Detail

Bacon and Eggs and Edward Bernays

Although bacon has been prepared in England since the 18th century and has no doubt been eaten with eggs since its earliest appearance, if we are to look at precisely when the specific combination became widely popular when the words started to trip off the tongue like salt and pepper - or burger and fries, in a more modern sense - we have to look to the USA, as recently as the 1920s.

Edward Bernays was an immigrant to the USA from Austria and the nephew of the legendary psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud. When bacon sales in the USA were struggling to take off, Bernays was charged with reversing this trend. He approached the task by surveying 5,000 physicians and having them largely agree on the importance of a hearty breakfast. When he then re-contacted these same physicians with the cumulative results, he was sure to suggest bacon and eggs as a preferred option, with the result being that bacon sales soared.

The Modern Full English Breakfast

A full English breakfast in modern times is likely to be comprised principally of the cooked element described in detail below. Cereal of some type is also likely to be on offer, while toast, marmalade (or jam) and tea will provide the third principal course.

English bacon, pork sausages and black pudding form the meat element of the full English breakfast

English bacon, pork sausages and black pudding form the meat element of the full English breakfast

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The sausages are put on to fry first

The sausages are put on to fry first

The sausages, bacon and black pudding are transferred to a heated plate and covered with foil to keep warm

The sausages, bacon and black pudding are transferred to a heated plate and covered with foil to keep warm

The Meat Components of a Full English Cooked Breakfast

Sausages and bacon are what may be deemed to be the ever-present and essential meat components of the full English breakfast. Black pudding is, however, an extremely popular addition, particularly in the North of England.

The sausages and black pudding in this instance are shallow fried in vegetable oil and the bacon is grilled. All too often, when shallow frying sausages, people will prick them first with a fork, ostensibly to prevent them bursting. Unfortunately, this also has the effect of allowing the juices and much of the flavour to escape into the frying pan, potentially leaving the sausages dry and largely tasteless. Instead, try frying them for longer - around twenty minutes - on the lowest possible heat, turning them occasionally. The black pudding should be added to the same pan to fry for five minutes each side, when the sausages are half cooked.

The bacon should only take a couple of minutes on each side to cook under a pre-heated overhead grill. Start cooking it when the black pudding has been turned. Transfer the sausages, black pudding and bacon to a pre-heated plate and cover with foil to keep them warm while the remainder of the breakfast is cooked.

The egg is fried in a hot pan with only a minimal amount of oil

The egg is fried in a hot pan with only a minimal amount of oil

Tomato, Mushrooms, Fried Bread and Egg

The same pan that was used to fry the sausages and black pudding should be used to fry the tomatoes and mushrooms. Half a medium tomato and lay the halves flesh side down into the pan. The head only of a large breakfast mushroom is a popular option but in this instance, a few small, closed cup mushrooms have been used instead and are added to the pan whole.

It is important when frying an egg that the egg is at room temperature and never straight from the refrigerator. Break the egg firstly into a small cup or bowl. Add a very small amount of vegetable oil to a non-stick pan and wipe it over the base of the pan with some kitchen towel. There should be no liquid oil in the pan at all. Bring the pan up to fairly high heat and pour the egg carefully into the centre. Reduce the heat and leave it alone to cook for three to four minutes.

Tomato ketchup and HP Sauce are very popular condiments with a full English cooked breakfast

Tomato ketchup and HP Sauce are very popular condiments with a full English cooked breakfast

Add the bread to the pan with the tomatoes and mushrooms and fry for a couple of minutes each side. The baked beans should be added to a small saucepan and gently heated over a medium setting.

The full English cooked breakfast is now ready to be plated and taken to the table. Salt and pepper will usually be added but tomato ketchup and HP Sauce are equally very popular additions to a cooked English breakfast.

Thank you for your visit to this site. Hopefully, you have found it informative and are of a mood to prepare a full English breakfast at home. Alternatively, you may prefer to try a similar full Scottish breakfast, or if you are very hungry, the substantial feast that is the Ulster fry. Any feedback or comments which you have may be left in the space immediately below.

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