The Pheasant Philosopher’s Christmas Diaries: The Big Festive Breakfast

I have always been a great supporter of the ‘Full English Breakfast’. It is one of the few meals that can be almost entirely locally sourced, at any time of the year. A legacy of the great Country House breakfasts which were at their height in the 19th and early 20th century, these were full meals, sustaining enough to take family and guests though a full days hunting with only a picnic type luncheon. The emphasis on breakfast was hearty English food, whilst dinner followed the more fashionable French style of cuisine.

Breakfast was a buffet style meal, buffets laden with everything from Devilled Kidneys, Kippers and Kedgeree through to game, meat and of course breads and cheeses. It was served between 9 am and 11 am, sound familiar? The American Brunch follows this pattern quite neatly, more substantial food than mere toast and cereal, and served later in the morning. So, could you say that the Victorians invented Brunch? Perhaps, but with a little controversy.

The festive period is a great time to go all-out for Breakfast, many of us are out and about during the day, nibbling a mince pie or sausage roll here and there, not really having time for a sit-down lunch so a decent breakfast hits the spot perfectly, also there is a wonderful ritual to Breakfast, a time to chat, sit around the table, light some candles and enjoy the present. Many people are off work between Christmas and New Year and these precious holidays, unlike others in the year, are almost always spent at home, surrounded by friends and family –  and with time on your hands.

Breakfast is also a good meal to get the children to help with, laying the table, easy recipes…perhaps Christmas muffins or homemade bread. Aside from the usual ‘Bacon and Eggs’ there are thousands of recipes suitable for a substantial breakfast, how about waffles with lots of different toppings, pancakes or Spanish Tortilla, baked ham and egg cups, roasted avocado with a little chilli on toasted sourdough, Turkish Shakshouka (spicy baked eggs often served with Merguez sausages) or Mexican Huervos Rancheros  (ranch style eggs) served with soft tortillas?  Or what about designating a different country to each breakfast and tour the world?

I have written about the classic British breakfast before, I have extolled the virtues of locally produced bacon and sausages, decent bread and free-range eggs, personally this combination never bores me, but with a little baking and a few festive touches any breakfast can be made an extra special and memorable experience.


In search of breakfast…

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Allegedly the most important meal of the day; and I am inclined to agree. Until I eat breakfast I just can’t concentrate properly – I have read a great deal on breakfast, researched ‘breakfast’ throughout the world, looked in to history it it – and became rather fascinated about it’s changing role in our society.

Breakfast literally means ‘breaking the fast’ – and was only placed at the beginning of the day, as a specific meal, when the fashion for dining changed from one main meal of the day (and a lighter supper) to three meals a day in the 16th century. It is said that the Tudors invented breakfast. Although their breakfast, and indeed breakfasts up until the mid twentieth century were far more robust than today’s muesli and Nutella toast.

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I think the Edwardian breakfast is probably the King; several courses, served buffet style in large houses, comprising porridge, kippers, ‘the full English’ and the odd kidney (of which I am not very fond). The arrival of cereals in the later 19th century brought about the quicker almost ‘grab and go’ breakfast, which is sadly where we generally are today.

Recently, there has been so much contrasting information relating to the healthiness of the ‘Full English’ –  currently, saturated fats are good for us, twenty years ago they were bad….what is the truth? There are now the paleo devotees who preach about piles bacon of runny eggs, the health brigade with their chia, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free choices and the more usual toast and marmalade lovers who just want ‘something light’.

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At home, we enjoy rather varied breakfasts – dependant of course on time and current food ‘fad’. Usually it will involve eggs and wholemeal bread, sometimes bacon and occasionally something exotic like sweet potato rosti and avocado. If we’re feeling indulgent the croissants come out.

One of the easiest Autumn breakfasts is without a doubt, Porridge, made with oatmeal and served with a good glug of double cream and either maple syrup or fruit compote (blackberry being a particular favourite). On the weekend a ‘Full English’ is non-negotiable; buckets of tea both days complete the line-up.

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I am one of those strange people of actively look forward to the breakfast at hotels, I’ll often sneak a look at their menu and pre-plan; hotel breakfasts can take you right

through the day without need for lunch of carefully planned – I devote hours searching the local farm shops for the ‘ultimate’ bacon and am totally repulsed by the supermarket offerings with their seepage of white gunk. Eggs have to be free-range, preferably organic (from our chickens if we can find where they lay them) and toasted sourdough or heavy stone-ground wholemeal has to be smothered in salted butter and a little marmalade. Beans, I can leave but mushrooms are usually lurking somewhere on the plate, as is black pudding. In Cornwall we enjoyed hog’s pudding which is a white sausage and often far more palatable than than the red. In Scotland, Lorne sausage squares and a slice of Haggis is included. The Irish breakfast with its potato cakes and soft soda bread is totally yum. Of course, in Wales we have our own full breakfast addition – Lavabread. This seaweed is well cooked, and either served as is or made into little cakes and fried to bacon fat; do not be put off by it’s shoreline credentials – just try it and you will be surprised.

Apparently the healthiest breakfast in the world is from Iceland and comprises Oatmeal, Skyr (a delicious Icelandic yoghurt which gives the Greeks a run for their money), dark rye breads, cheeses and meals. I’d be quite happy to indulge! So this Autumn why not experiment a little – whether adding a twist to the usual pre-school offering or going all out on the weekend, breakfasts is well worth the effort.

 

 


A romance of Exmoor

  

Yesterday I returned from a foodie weekend break to beautiful Exmoor. From its bleak moors to its rugged coastline via its winding roads it is a stunning place to visit, even with the howling winds and driving rain of a British November day. It is also a foodie paradise, close to the border with Devon, this part of Somerset is very proud of its local produce, there is excellent beef, lamb, honey, cider and a plethora of chocolatiers. 
On our way across to the coast we couldn’t resist stopping at a cider farm. Torre cider provided a well needed break from the arduous journey – delicious mulled apple juice held back the chill and we stocked up on some Somerset scrumpy, cider vinegar and apple juice. There was a delightful farm shop selling cheeses, jams and churneys as well as a little cafe offering a delicious cider cake alongside more traditional fayre.

  

Saturday lunchtime found us in the picturesque village of Dunster, just inland, and with a commanding castle and famous round maketplace. We dined at an old coaching inn, The Luttrell Arms, a vast ancient building with great log fires, antlers adorning the walls and splendid mullion windows. I chose a minute steak ciabatta with rocket and Parmesan, a side of chunky chips dunked in Stoke’s tomato ketchup and a glass of excellent local ale.

   
 

 A quick stop in Porlock Weir as darkness fell forced us  into another sampling of the local brew and a brief walk along the seashore ensured we were thoroughly damp as we made for our destination, The Notley Arms, in Monksilver.

  
Nestled on the edge of Exmoor in a chocolate box village full of thatched cottages and ancient looking houses, Monksilver is an excellent place to pass the night. The Notley Arms is a 2 AA rosetted gastropub with prerequisite wood burner, leather sofas, quirky decor and a modern British menu. 

Once settled into our 4* room (with a thoughtfully provided thermos of cold milk and a cafetière of coffee) we unpacked and were very impressed with the facilities but having booked a table for seven thirty, and already feeling tired from the days exertions, we headed into the Pub. 

We were made to feel very welcome and were offered a cosy table for two tucked into the corner. The menu, which changes daily, was well composed and based around local produce. 

  

It was, of course, difficult to choose but eventually I decided upon the Sea Trout, Duck Faggot and Rhubarb.

We ordered bread and olives to begin.

  

The bread was almost brioche-like and complimented the balsamic olive oil beautifully, the olives were meaty and delicious.

My first course, hot smoked sea trout with picked cucumber, yoghurt and horseradish cream was absolutely perfect, presented in an outsize bowl it was fresh and zingy, the hit of dill from the pickling liquor was complimented admirably by the horseradish cream. 

  

The main course, rich duck faggot was extremely rich indeed. Served with a smooth and creamy truffle infused mash and a flavoursome jus, the faggot itself was as light as a feather but extremely filling. It took faggots (of which I am extremely fond) to a totally different level and is something I will be trying to replicate at home. 

  

For pudding I chose ‘Tastes of Rhubarb, Vanilla and White Chocolate’. Presented on a large charger it comprised various preparations of rhubarb, a concentrated Apple syrup, a rich mousse speckled with vanilla seeds, flavoured with white chocolate and topped with a black sesame seed brittle.

  
A couple of glasses of Pinot Noir Grenache, which worked surprisingly well with all courses, was followed with coffee and an excellent evening came to a close.

Breakfast the following morning was equally delicious with flavoursome butchers sausages and toast made from the excellent bread we had enjoyed the previous evening – the bacon was a bit of a let down but the yummy chive-speckled scrambled eggs partially made up for it. A good selection of Bonne Maman jams and Coopers marmalade was offered. All in all The Notley Arms is a place I will defiantly revisit, even as the wind howled about throughout the night it was warm and cosy and welcoming. 

www.luttrellarms.co.uk
www.torrecider.com
www.notleyarmsinn.co.uk


Breaking the fast….

  
So, during the last couple of weeks we’ve seen many articles about the consumption of processed meat and its relationship to cancer. My father is currently winning in the battle against colon cancer, so over the past year I have read through an extremely long list of articles, books, blogs and posts regarding the subject and thought I’d share a few thoughts. Beginning with breakfast.

Britain has started the day with the traditional fry-up for generations. Once the idea of breaking the fast (Breakfast) was conceived, becoming a third meal in the day, it was to the savoury items that people first turned. 

Processed meat has always been a stalwart on the breakfast plate whether it be bacon, sausages, black pudding, hogs pudding or white pudding. I believe that one of the reasons why processed meats are causing increases in cancer is the universal change in the techniques of preserving over the past fifty or so years. 

Proper, dry cured bacon, smoked in the chimney of a cottage or farmhouse is a traditional method which has no nitrates, no additives and no dubious leaking white liquid upon cooking. Black pudding has always been happily consumed, often being the first thing made and eaten after the household pig was slaughtered in Autumn. It works exceptionally well with Apple, blackberries and other hedgerow fruits. Sausages would be made, although in Britian we tend not to dry them as on the continent. Proper sausages without false fillers are splendid, who doesn’t find comfort in bangers and mash on a cold winter night. Hog’s pudding,  often forgotten, but found in the south west is absolutely delicious and perfect for those a little squeamish about eating blood pudding, it has a very ‘English spiced’ flavour and is of a similar texture to spam, but do not let that put you off! 

The traditional breakfast is high in protein and will sustain for hours, so what do we do? Listen to ‘expert’ advice and give it up, or continue as your forebears and tuck into a full English of a morning? We can shop locally, seeking out those artisan producers who’s products are true to tradition, we can choose to listen to those who believe that saturated fat is good for us, we could fry in coconut oil and add sweet potato rosti – ditching the toast.

  
Perhaps it’s not the meat casing the cancers but the rise in the consumption of sugar and simple starches, wheat composition has changed so radically in the past 50 years that it has very little in common with the swaying wheat of legend, and sugar is now consumed in ridiculous quantities. Maybe this is the true cause of cancer, obesity, brain malfunction and diabetes?

Maybe science has been the true culprit in the downturn of the nation’s health…besides, scientists also create the drugs needed to treat such conditions…definitely one to think about.