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Episode
18

British Food Part 3: The English Breakfast

Jan 17, 2020
History
-
17
minutes
Food & drink
Life in the UK
British class system

The English Breakfast is a truly British institution, and its history goes back 700 years.

In today's episode we go into the story behind the meal, and reveal how it went from favourite of lords and ladies to the way the working classes started the day.

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Transcript

[00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:09] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:11] Today we are on to part three of our mini series about British food, the penultimate part. 

[00:00:19] In part one, we heard about how London used to be fueled by cheap oysters and how a dodgy batch of them caused the entire industry to collapse almost overnight.

[00:00:34] Then in part two, we talked about fish and chips, the true story behind them and why people think they helped Britain win the first and second world war. 

[00:00:47] And today it's part three, so we'll be talking about the English breakfast. 

[00:00:54] If you don't know much about the English breakfast, it's quite heavy, it's quite a large meal, so this podcast might be one to listen to on a relatively empty stomach.

[00:01:07] Before we get right into the podcast though, this is just a quick reminder that you can find the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast on the website, which is www.leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:22] The transcript is really helpful if you want to follow along, and the key vocabulary is great for picking up new words and meaning you don't have to stop and look things up in the dictionary. 

[00:01:32] Okay then, let's get cracking. 

[00:01:35] The English breakfast is truly a British institution

[00:01:40] You might have heard it being called a full English or a fry-up. 

[00:01:45] I should point out that there are also slight deviations on the 'English' part.

[00:01:52] You can have a full Irish, a full Scottish, a full Welsh, a full Cornish and an Ulster fry, which is popular in parts of Ireland and Scotland. 

[00:02:05] When you think of a full English breakfast, perhaps you imagine a huge plate bursting at the seams with sausages, bacon, beans, toast, all manner of fried, greasy, fatty things.

[00:02:20] If you come from a country where breakfast is a bit less important or where people eat less for breakfast, and actually that's pretty much every country then this might seem mad to you. 

[00:02:34] My wife for example, is Italian, and in case you don't know, Italians eat pretty small breakfasts. 

[00:02:42] When she first came to the UK she was mortified when she saw the size of what was served on her plate for breakfast.

[00:02:52] So where does the fry-up come from? 

[00:02:55] Where does the English breakfast come from? 

[00:02:57] Why are people in Britain stuffing their faces with sausages and bacon when a lot of Europe seems to make do with some sort of pastry and a little coffee?

[00:03:10] Well, the full English breakfast actually dates back as far as the thirteen hundreds making it one of the longest standing traditional dishes in English history. 

[00:03:22] It's changed quite a bit since then, as we'll discover. 

[00:03:27] Back in the thirteen hundreds a breakfast of this sort was a luxury and therefore was reserved for only the richest in society, the gentry, the nobles who owned the land. Nobody else could afford it. 

[00:03:43] The gentry considered breakfast the most important meal of the day, a message which is still prevalent now. 

[00:03:52] You might have heard the phrase “breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dine like a pauper”.

[00:03:58] There may even be variants in your language. 

[00:04:01] Remember, gentry here means nobles, lords, ladies, landowners, people who are rich because of blood and social status, not through success in business or enterprise. 

[00:04:15] So more like Game of Thrones than Wolf of Wall Street, if you follow that. 

[00:04:22] While the gentry were busy enjoying lavish breakfasts, for the rest of the population, life wasn't quite so interesting.

[00:04:31] For the most part, breakfast consisted of a thick porridge or ale or bread. Those who were slightly better off might stretch to adding cheese or cold meat or dripping, so dripping is the fat that has fallen off roasted meat, they would add that to their ale and bread  

[00:04:55] For most people, this would be all that they might eat until the evening as they would be out toiling, working, in the fields. 

[00:05:03] Lunch generally wasn't really an option and besides, they would have what we are calling breakfast typically around mid-morning, so they'd only really have two meals. 

[00:05:13] By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1819 the gentry as a social class were in decline and there was a new wealthy class emerging made up of merchants, industrialists, and businessmen. People who had become rich through success in business rather than just inheriting titles from their parents.

[00:05:40] The industrial revolution and the British empire at its height were huge creators of wealth in Britain and the newly rich saw the idea of the gentry as the social model to aspire to. 

[00:05:55] Those seeking to advance themselves socially studied the habits of the gentry, the traditions of their country houses, and they enthusiastically adopted this notion of the English breakfast as an important social event. 

[00:06:12] It might sound strange to you or me, but hosting a huge breakfast for your guests was one of the main ways in which Victorians would show off their riches, show off their wealth. 

[00:06:27] The breakfast table became an opportunity to flaunt your wealth and they would go to huge lengths to secure impressive ingredients and have them prepared in the right way. 

[00:06:43] As well as eggs and bacon, which was first cured in the early 18th century, the breakfast feast might also include offal, which is the insides of animals, things like kidneys. 

[00:06:57] They would also serve cold meats, things like tongue as well as fish dishes, so things like kippers, which are cured or smoked fish. 

[00:07:07] And there's more, a typical lavish Victorian breakfast table would also include something called kedgeree, which is a lightly spiced dish from colonial India of rice, smoked fish and boiled eggs.

[00:07:23] Quite a sumptuous breakfast, right? 

[00:07:26] These breakfast banquets could go on for hours, and the amazing thing was that they were just the first of several large meals that wealthy Victorians would eat during the day. 

[00:07:37] These wealthy Victorians often had precious little to do and they would flaunt their wealth just through serving and eating copious amounts, starting with breakfast.

[00:07:51] Guests would be invited to spend the evening, and then this huge lavish breakfast would be served in the mid-morning. 

[00:07:59] Newspapers would also be provided, allowing guests to catch up on the latest developments across the empire. 

[00:08:08] Although it might seem rude today, it was socially acceptable to read a newspaper at the breakfast table.

[00:08:17] Only at breakfast though, reading it at any other meal was certainly not acceptable to Victorians.

[00:08:23] This kind of breakfast was still expensive, though, as you might have guessed, and only accessible by the wealthiest in society. 

[00:08:31] The thing that many people forget, or just don't know is quite how expensive food used to be as a percentage of income. Now we take for granted in the Western world that food is comparatively cheap, at least as a percentage of income.

[00:08:54] A hundred years ago, this really wasn't the case, and even tinned beans would have been too expensive for most working people. 

[00:09:04] Leading up to the First World War, things started to change and it was during this period that we first saw what we would recognise now as an English breakfast starting to emerge and being served as a standard breakfast in hotels, bed and breakfasts, on trains and at business meetings across the country.

[00:09:28] Standard ingredients made it easier and cheaper to prepare, and so the common English breakfast rapidly spread across the country. 

[00:09:40] By this time, its ingredients had standardised to a certain extent, so you would recognise a lot of what they were eating then, today. 

[00:09:51] So that's bacon, eggs, sausage, black pudding, baked beans, grilled tomato, fried bread, toast served with jams, marmalades, tea, coffee, and orange juice if you were lucky. 

[00:10:06] The English breakfast was not just a meal for the wealthy at this point. The middle-classes began to eat a full English breakfast on a regular basis and began seeing it as a traditional family meal. 

[00:10:21] They also thought it sensible to eat a full breakfast before starting the day, one that provided people with the energy that they needed to see them through a full day's work. 

[00:10:34] The English breakfast tradition spread from the middle to the working classes and reached its peak in the early 1950s when as much as half of the British population began their day by eating the same English breakfast we would eat today, collectively turning what was once a meal for the wealthy upper and aspiring middle classes into a truly national breakfast dish and a working class staple

[00:11:03] The English breakfast was famously served in what's called greasy spoon cafes located on industrial estates and close to ports, commercial, manufacturing and industrial centres where all the workers were. 

[00:11:19] For a long time, these were the best places to get a real English breakfast, one cooked and served by real English working class people, but over the last few decades, they have fallen into decline, along with British industry and real greasy spoon cafes are now quite rare.

[00:11:39] Without the workers who needed a big meal to start the day, these greasy spoon cafes started to go out of business. 

[00:11:48] Although even now, there are still quite a few around, and if you want to find a real authentic greasy spoon, then you should go somewhere like near a port or near a manufacturing or industrial area to find the most authentic kind of greasy spoon.

[00:12:04] A full English breakfast, even now, pretty much wherever you go is a pretty affordable meal, a cheap way to start the day. 

[00:12:14] Depending on where you are in the UK, you can probably still get a full English for under five pounds, so that's under seven US dollars. However, if you're going to a fancy hipster place in somewhere like London, you could easily pay three times this.

[00:12:32] For those of you thinking that every person in Britain is still waking up every day and having a full English for breakfast , I'm sorry to disappoint you. 

[00:12:42] A survey was done a few years back and it came out that only 5% of people have a full English every day. That might seem like a lot to you, maybe it seems like not a lot. It's certainly a lot less than it used to be. 

[00:12:57] You might say that this is also a natural selection thing. If you eat a full English breakfast every morning, it's not going to be great for your longevity. A full English breakfast can easily be 1,500 calories, which is 60% of a man's recommended daily intake, or 75% of a woman's.

[00:13:20] So if you eat that every day, well, your doctor probably won't be very happy with you. 

[00:13:26] It's now mainly something that's popular with tourists as a treat and definitely as an age-old hangover cure. And of course the 5% of the population that refuses to give up and continues to start every day with an English breakfast.

[00:13:45] I just want to finish on two final points about the English breakfast. 

[00:13:50] Firstly, even though, yes, it is called a breakfast, and you do normally eat it at the start of the day, you don't necessarily need to eat it right at the start of the day. It can be eaten mid-morning, for lunch or even late evening if you're feeling really crazy.

[00:14:11] Secondly, and this is something that always confuses people, if you're invited to British wedding, you might see an invitation for the wedding breakfast. 

[00:14:23] Don't worry, you won't be served a full English, although that could be quite fun. This is the traditional term for the wedding meal. 

[00:14:32] The term comes from the pre-Reformation times when the bride and groom wouldn't have been able to eat before their wedding, as they would have fasted to take communion,hence the first meal being called breakfast. 

[00:14:49] Okay. I hope you have learned something interesting today. 

[00:14:54] The English breakfast is full of fascinating history. 

[00:14:57] And so the next time you are sitting down at a greasy spoon or deciding whether you can really stomach that third sausage, you'll know a little bit more about the history behind the meal.

[00:15:10] Today's episode is our penultimate episode of our mini series about British food , and in the next one, the final one, we'll be talking about one of my favourite subjects and also one of my favourite comfort foods

[00:15:24] The sandwich. Simple, delicious, sometimes nutritious and with a weird and wonderful story behind it. That's all to come in the next episode.

[00:15:37] As always, if you have enjoyed this podcast, then I would really appreciate it if you could spread the word in any way, you can. Maybe that's telling a friend or family member, or maybe it's taking 20 seconds out of your day and leaving a review in the app store, or if you're feeling particularly kind, it could be both.

[00:15:56] In case you're wondering where the transcript and key vocabulary are, you can find them on leonardoenglish.com. It's really worth checking these out as they can be a very helpful resource for following along. I'll also put the links in the show notes. Thanks again for listening and I hope you enjoyed the show.

[00:16:15] You've been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:09] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:11] Today we are on to part three of our mini series about British food, the penultimate part. 

[00:00:19] In part one, we heard about how London used to be fueled by cheap oysters and how a dodgy batch of them caused the entire industry to collapse almost overnight.

[00:00:34] Then in part two, we talked about fish and chips, the true story behind them and why people think they helped Britain win the first and second world war. 

[00:00:47] And today it's part three, so we'll be talking about the English breakfast. 

[00:00:54] If you don't know much about the English breakfast, it's quite heavy, it's quite a large meal, so this podcast might be one to listen to on a relatively empty stomach.

[00:01:07] Before we get right into the podcast though, this is just a quick reminder that you can find the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast on the website, which is www.leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:22] The transcript is really helpful if you want to follow along, and the key vocabulary is great for picking up new words and meaning you don't have to stop and look things up in the dictionary. 

[00:01:32] Okay then, let's get cracking. 

[00:01:35] The English breakfast is truly a British institution

[00:01:40] You might have heard it being called a full English or a fry-up. 

[00:01:45] I should point out that there are also slight deviations on the 'English' part.

[00:01:52] You can have a full Irish, a full Scottish, a full Welsh, a full Cornish and an Ulster fry, which is popular in parts of Ireland and Scotland. 

[00:02:05] When you think of a full English breakfast, perhaps you imagine a huge plate bursting at the seams with sausages, bacon, beans, toast, all manner of fried, greasy, fatty things.

[00:02:20] If you come from a country where breakfast is a bit less important or where people eat less for breakfast, and actually that's pretty much every country then this might seem mad to you. 

[00:02:34] My wife for example, is Italian, and in case you don't know, Italians eat pretty small breakfasts. 

[00:02:42] When she first came to the UK she was mortified when she saw the size of what was served on her plate for breakfast.

[00:02:52] So where does the fry-up come from? 

[00:02:55] Where does the English breakfast come from? 

[00:02:57] Why are people in Britain stuffing their faces with sausages and bacon when a lot of Europe seems to make do with some sort of pastry and a little coffee?

[00:03:10] Well, the full English breakfast actually dates back as far as the thirteen hundreds making it one of the longest standing traditional dishes in English history. 

[00:03:22] It's changed quite a bit since then, as we'll discover. 

[00:03:27] Back in the thirteen hundreds a breakfast of this sort was a luxury and therefore was reserved for only the richest in society, the gentry, the nobles who owned the land. Nobody else could afford it. 

[00:03:43] The gentry considered breakfast the most important meal of the day, a message which is still prevalent now. 

[00:03:52] You might have heard the phrase “breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dine like a pauper”.

[00:03:58] There may even be variants in your language. 

[00:04:01] Remember, gentry here means nobles, lords, ladies, landowners, people who are rich because of blood and social status, not through success in business or enterprise. 

[00:04:15] So more like Game of Thrones than Wolf of Wall Street, if you follow that. 

[00:04:22] While the gentry were busy enjoying lavish breakfasts, for the rest of the population, life wasn't quite so interesting.

[00:04:31] For the most part, breakfast consisted of a thick porridge or ale or bread. Those who were slightly better off might stretch to adding cheese or cold meat or dripping, so dripping is the fat that has fallen off roasted meat, they would add that to their ale and bread  

[00:04:55] For most people, this would be all that they might eat until the evening as they would be out toiling, working, in the fields. 

[00:05:03] Lunch generally wasn't really an option and besides, they would have what we are calling breakfast typically around mid-morning, so they'd only really have two meals. 

[00:05:13] By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1819 the gentry as a social class were in decline and there was a new wealthy class emerging made up of merchants, industrialists, and businessmen. People who had become rich through success in business rather than just inheriting titles from their parents.

[00:05:40] The industrial revolution and the British empire at its height were huge creators of wealth in Britain and the newly rich saw the idea of the gentry as the social model to aspire to. 

[00:05:55] Those seeking to advance themselves socially studied the habits of the gentry, the traditions of their country houses, and they enthusiastically adopted this notion of the English breakfast as an important social event. 

[00:06:12] It might sound strange to you or me, but hosting a huge breakfast for your guests was one of the main ways in which Victorians would show off their riches, show off their wealth. 

[00:06:27] The breakfast table became an opportunity to flaunt your wealth and they would go to huge lengths to secure impressive ingredients and have them prepared in the right way. 

[00:06:43] As well as eggs and bacon, which was first cured in the early 18th century, the breakfast feast might also include offal, which is the insides of animals, things like kidneys. 

[00:06:57] They would also serve cold meats, things like tongue as well as fish dishes, so things like kippers, which are cured or smoked fish. 

[00:07:07] And there's more, a typical lavish Victorian breakfast table would also include something called kedgeree, which is a lightly spiced dish from colonial India of rice, smoked fish and boiled eggs.

[00:07:23] Quite a sumptuous breakfast, right? 

[00:07:26] These breakfast banquets could go on for hours, and the amazing thing was that they were just the first of several large meals that wealthy Victorians would eat during the day. 

[00:07:37] These wealthy Victorians often had precious little to do and they would flaunt their wealth just through serving and eating copious amounts, starting with breakfast.

[00:07:51] Guests would be invited to spend the evening, and then this huge lavish breakfast would be served in the mid-morning. 

[00:07:59] Newspapers would also be provided, allowing guests to catch up on the latest developments across the empire. 

[00:08:08] Although it might seem rude today, it was socially acceptable to read a newspaper at the breakfast table.

[00:08:17] Only at breakfast though, reading it at any other meal was certainly not acceptable to Victorians.

[00:08:23] This kind of breakfast was still expensive, though, as you might have guessed, and only accessible by the wealthiest in society. 

[00:08:31] The thing that many people forget, or just don't know is quite how expensive food used to be as a percentage of income. Now we take for granted in the Western world that food is comparatively cheap, at least as a percentage of income.

[00:08:54] A hundred years ago, this really wasn't the case, and even tinned beans would have been too expensive for most working people. 

[00:09:04] Leading up to the First World War, things started to change and it was during this period that we first saw what we would recognise now as an English breakfast starting to emerge and being served as a standard breakfast in hotels, bed and breakfasts, on trains and at business meetings across the country.

[00:09:28] Standard ingredients made it easier and cheaper to prepare, and so the common English breakfast rapidly spread across the country. 

[00:09:40] By this time, its ingredients had standardised to a certain extent, so you would recognise a lot of what they were eating then, today. 

[00:09:51] So that's bacon, eggs, sausage, black pudding, baked beans, grilled tomato, fried bread, toast served with jams, marmalades, tea, coffee, and orange juice if you were lucky. 

[00:10:06] The English breakfast was not just a meal for the wealthy at this point. The middle-classes began to eat a full English breakfast on a regular basis and began seeing it as a traditional family meal. 

[00:10:21] They also thought it sensible to eat a full breakfast before starting the day, one that provided people with the energy that they needed to see them through a full day's work. 

[00:10:34] The English breakfast tradition spread from the middle to the working classes and reached its peak in the early 1950s when as much as half of the British population began their day by eating the same English breakfast we would eat today, collectively turning what was once a meal for the wealthy upper and aspiring middle classes into a truly national breakfast dish and a working class staple

[00:11:03] The English breakfast was famously served in what's called greasy spoon cafes located on industrial estates and close to ports, commercial, manufacturing and industrial centres where all the workers were. 

[00:11:19] For a long time, these were the best places to get a real English breakfast, one cooked and served by real English working class people, but over the last few decades, they have fallen into decline, along with British industry and real greasy spoon cafes are now quite rare.

[00:11:39] Without the workers who needed a big meal to start the day, these greasy spoon cafes started to go out of business. 

[00:11:48] Although even now, there are still quite a few around, and if you want to find a real authentic greasy spoon, then you should go somewhere like near a port or near a manufacturing or industrial area to find the most authentic kind of greasy spoon.

[00:12:04] A full English breakfast, even now, pretty much wherever you go is a pretty affordable meal, a cheap way to start the day. 

[00:12:14] Depending on where you are in the UK, you can probably still get a full English for under five pounds, so that's under seven US dollars. However, if you're going to a fancy hipster place in somewhere like London, you could easily pay three times this.

[00:12:32] For those of you thinking that every person in Britain is still waking up every day and having a full English for breakfast , I'm sorry to disappoint you. 

[00:12:42] A survey was done a few years back and it came out that only 5% of people have a full English every day. That might seem like a lot to you, maybe it seems like not a lot. It's certainly a lot less than it used to be. 

[00:12:57] You might say that this is also a natural selection thing. If you eat a full English breakfast every morning, it's not going to be great for your longevity. A full English breakfast can easily be 1,500 calories, which is 60% of a man's recommended daily intake, or 75% of a woman's.

[00:13:20] So if you eat that every day, well, your doctor probably won't be very happy with you. 

[00:13:26] It's now mainly something that's popular with tourists as a treat and definitely as an age-old hangover cure. And of course the 5% of the population that refuses to give up and continues to start every day with an English breakfast.

[00:13:45] I just want to finish on two final points about the English breakfast. 

[00:13:50] Firstly, even though, yes, it is called a breakfast, and you do normally eat it at the start of the day, you don't necessarily need to eat it right at the start of the day. It can be eaten mid-morning, for lunch or even late evening if you're feeling really crazy.

[00:14:11] Secondly, and this is something that always confuses people, if you're invited to British wedding, you might see an invitation for the wedding breakfast. 

[00:14:23] Don't worry, you won't be served a full English, although that could be quite fun. This is the traditional term for the wedding meal. 

[00:14:32] The term comes from the pre-Reformation times when the bride and groom wouldn't have been able to eat before their wedding, as they would have fasted to take communion,hence the first meal being called breakfast. 

[00:14:49] Okay. I hope you have learned something interesting today. 

[00:14:54] The English breakfast is full of fascinating history. 

[00:14:57] And so the next time you are sitting down at a greasy spoon or deciding whether you can really stomach that third sausage, you'll know a little bit more about the history behind the meal.

[00:15:10] Today's episode is our penultimate episode of our mini series about British food , and in the next one, the final one, we'll be talking about one of my favourite subjects and also one of my favourite comfort foods

[00:15:24] The sandwich. Simple, delicious, sometimes nutritious and with a weird and wonderful story behind it. That's all to come in the next episode.

[00:15:37] As always, if you have enjoyed this podcast, then I would really appreciate it if you could spread the word in any way, you can. Maybe that's telling a friend or family member, or maybe it's taking 20 seconds out of your day and leaving a review in the app store, or if you're feeling particularly kind, it could be both.

[00:15:56] In case you're wondering where the transcript and key vocabulary are, you can find them on leonardoenglish.com. It's really worth checking these out as they can be a very helpful resource for following along. I'll also put the links in the show notes. Thanks again for listening and I hope you enjoyed the show.

[00:16:15] You've been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF PODCAST]


[00:00:03] Hello and welcome to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:09] I'm Alastair Budge. 

[00:00:11] Today we are on to part three of our mini series about British food, the penultimate part. 

[00:00:19] In part one, we heard about how London used to be fueled by cheap oysters and how a dodgy batch of them caused the entire industry to collapse almost overnight.

[00:00:34] Then in part two, we talked about fish and chips, the true story behind them and why people think they helped Britain win the first and second world war. 

[00:00:47] And today it's part three, so we'll be talking about the English breakfast. 

[00:00:54] If you don't know much about the English breakfast, it's quite heavy, it's quite a large meal, so this podcast might be one to listen to on a relatively empty stomach.

[00:01:07] Before we get right into the podcast though, this is just a quick reminder that you can find the transcript and key vocabulary for the podcast on the website, which is www.leonardoenglish.com. 

[00:01:22] The transcript is really helpful if you want to follow along, and the key vocabulary is great for picking up new words and meaning you don't have to stop and look things up in the dictionary. 

[00:01:32] Okay then, let's get cracking. 

[00:01:35] The English breakfast is truly a British institution

[00:01:40] You might have heard it being called a full English or a fry-up. 

[00:01:45] I should point out that there are also slight deviations on the 'English' part.

[00:01:52] You can have a full Irish, a full Scottish, a full Welsh, a full Cornish and an Ulster fry, which is popular in parts of Ireland and Scotland. 

[00:02:05] When you think of a full English breakfast, perhaps you imagine a huge plate bursting at the seams with sausages, bacon, beans, toast, all manner of fried, greasy, fatty things.

[00:02:20] If you come from a country where breakfast is a bit less important or where people eat less for breakfast, and actually that's pretty much every country then this might seem mad to you. 

[00:02:34] My wife for example, is Italian, and in case you don't know, Italians eat pretty small breakfasts. 

[00:02:42] When she first came to the UK she was mortified when she saw the size of what was served on her plate for breakfast.

[00:02:52] So where does the fry-up come from? 

[00:02:55] Where does the English breakfast come from? 

[00:02:57] Why are people in Britain stuffing their faces with sausages and bacon when a lot of Europe seems to make do with some sort of pastry and a little coffee?

[00:03:10] Well, the full English breakfast actually dates back as far as the thirteen hundreds making it one of the longest standing traditional dishes in English history. 

[00:03:22] It's changed quite a bit since then, as we'll discover. 

[00:03:27] Back in the thirteen hundreds a breakfast of this sort was a luxury and therefore was reserved for only the richest in society, the gentry, the nobles who owned the land. Nobody else could afford it. 

[00:03:43] The gentry considered breakfast the most important meal of the day, a message which is still prevalent now. 

[00:03:52] You might have heard the phrase “breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dine like a pauper”.

[00:03:58] There may even be variants in your language. 

[00:04:01] Remember, gentry here means nobles, lords, ladies, landowners, people who are rich because of blood and social status, not through success in business or enterprise. 

[00:04:15] So more like Game of Thrones than Wolf of Wall Street, if you follow that. 

[00:04:22] While the gentry were busy enjoying lavish breakfasts, for the rest of the population, life wasn't quite so interesting.

[00:04:31] For the most part, breakfast consisted of a thick porridge or ale or bread. Those who were slightly better off might stretch to adding cheese or cold meat or dripping, so dripping is the fat that has fallen off roasted meat, they would add that to their ale and bread  

[00:04:55] For most people, this would be all that they might eat until the evening as they would be out toiling, working, in the fields. 

[00:05:03] Lunch generally wasn't really an option and besides, they would have what we are calling breakfast typically around mid-morning, so they'd only really have two meals. 

[00:05:13] By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1819 the gentry as a social class were in decline and there was a new wealthy class emerging made up of merchants, industrialists, and businessmen. People who had become rich through success in business rather than just inheriting titles from their parents.

[00:05:40] The industrial revolution and the British empire at its height were huge creators of wealth in Britain and the newly rich saw the idea of the gentry as the social model to aspire to. 

[00:05:55] Those seeking to advance themselves socially studied the habits of the gentry, the traditions of their country houses, and they enthusiastically adopted this notion of the English breakfast as an important social event. 

[00:06:12] It might sound strange to you or me, but hosting a huge breakfast for your guests was one of the main ways in which Victorians would show off their riches, show off their wealth. 

[00:06:27] The breakfast table became an opportunity to flaunt your wealth and they would go to huge lengths to secure impressive ingredients and have them prepared in the right way. 

[00:06:43] As well as eggs and bacon, which was first cured in the early 18th century, the breakfast feast might also include offal, which is the insides of animals, things like kidneys. 

[00:06:57] They would also serve cold meats, things like tongue as well as fish dishes, so things like kippers, which are cured or smoked fish. 

[00:07:07] And there's more, a typical lavish Victorian breakfast table would also include something called kedgeree, which is a lightly spiced dish from colonial India of rice, smoked fish and boiled eggs.

[00:07:23] Quite a sumptuous breakfast, right? 

[00:07:26] These breakfast banquets could go on for hours, and the amazing thing was that they were just the first of several large meals that wealthy Victorians would eat during the day. 

[00:07:37] These wealthy Victorians often had precious little to do and they would flaunt their wealth just through serving and eating copious amounts, starting with breakfast.

[00:07:51] Guests would be invited to spend the evening, and then this huge lavish breakfast would be served in the mid-morning. 

[00:07:59] Newspapers would also be provided, allowing guests to catch up on the latest developments across the empire. 

[00:08:08] Although it might seem rude today, it was socially acceptable to read a newspaper at the breakfast table.

[00:08:17] Only at breakfast though, reading it at any other meal was certainly not acceptable to Victorians.

[00:08:23] This kind of breakfast was still expensive, though, as you might have guessed, and only accessible by the wealthiest in society. 

[00:08:31] The thing that many people forget, or just don't know is quite how expensive food used to be as a percentage of income. Now we take for granted in the Western world that food is comparatively cheap, at least as a percentage of income.

[00:08:54] A hundred years ago, this really wasn't the case, and even tinned beans would have been too expensive for most working people. 

[00:09:04] Leading up to the First World War, things started to change and it was during this period that we first saw what we would recognise now as an English breakfast starting to emerge and being served as a standard breakfast in hotels, bed and breakfasts, on trains and at business meetings across the country.

[00:09:28] Standard ingredients made it easier and cheaper to prepare, and so the common English breakfast rapidly spread across the country. 

[00:09:40] By this time, its ingredients had standardised to a certain extent, so you would recognise a lot of what they were eating then, today. 

[00:09:51] So that's bacon, eggs, sausage, black pudding, baked beans, grilled tomato, fried bread, toast served with jams, marmalades, tea, coffee, and orange juice if you were lucky. 

[00:10:06] The English breakfast was not just a meal for the wealthy at this point. The middle-classes began to eat a full English breakfast on a regular basis and began seeing it as a traditional family meal. 

[00:10:21] They also thought it sensible to eat a full breakfast before starting the day, one that provided people with the energy that they needed to see them through a full day's work. 

[00:10:34] The English breakfast tradition spread from the middle to the working classes and reached its peak in the early 1950s when as much as half of the British population began their day by eating the same English breakfast we would eat today, collectively turning what was once a meal for the wealthy upper and aspiring middle classes into a truly national breakfast dish and a working class staple

[00:11:03] The English breakfast was famously served in what's called greasy spoon cafes located on industrial estates and close to ports, commercial, manufacturing and industrial centres where all the workers were. 

[00:11:19] For a long time, these were the best places to get a real English breakfast, one cooked and served by real English working class people, but over the last few decades, they have fallen into decline, along with British industry and real greasy spoon cafes are now quite rare.

[00:11:39] Without the workers who needed a big meal to start the day, these greasy spoon cafes started to go out of business. 

[00:11:48] Although even now, there are still quite a few around, and if you want to find a real authentic greasy spoon, then you should go somewhere like near a port or near a manufacturing or industrial area to find the most authentic kind of greasy spoon.

[00:12:04] A full English breakfast, even now, pretty much wherever you go is a pretty affordable meal, a cheap way to start the day. 

[00:12:14] Depending on where you are in the UK, you can probably still get a full English for under five pounds, so that's under seven US dollars. However, if you're going to a fancy hipster place in somewhere like London, you could easily pay three times this.

[00:12:32] For those of you thinking that every person in Britain is still waking up every day and having a full English for breakfast , I'm sorry to disappoint you. 

[00:12:42] A survey was done a few years back and it came out that only 5% of people have a full English every day. That might seem like a lot to you, maybe it seems like not a lot. It's certainly a lot less than it used to be. 

[00:12:57] You might say that this is also a natural selection thing. If you eat a full English breakfast every morning, it's not going to be great for your longevity. A full English breakfast can easily be 1,500 calories, which is 60% of a man's recommended daily intake, or 75% of a woman's.

[00:13:20] So if you eat that every day, well, your doctor probably won't be very happy with you. 

[00:13:26] It's now mainly something that's popular with tourists as a treat and definitely as an age-old hangover cure. And of course the 5% of the population that refuses to give up and continues to start every day with an English breakfast.

[00:13:45] I just want to finish on two final points about the English breakfast. 

[00:13:50] Firstly, even though, yes, it is called a breakfast, and you do normally eat it at the start of the day, you don't necessarily need to eat it right at the start of the day. It can be eaten mid-morning, for lunch or even late evening if you're feeling really crazy.

[00:14:11] Secondly, and this is something that always confuses people, if you're invited to British wedding, you might see an invitation for the wedding breakfast. 

[00:14:23] Don't worry, you won't be served a full English, although that could be quite fun. This is the traditional term for the wedding meal. 

[00:14:32] The term comes from the pre-Reformation times when the bride and groom wouldn't have been able to eat before their wedding, as they would have fasted to take communion,hence the first meal being called breakfast. 

[00:14:49] Okay. I hope you have learned something interesting today. 

[00:14:54] The English breakfast is full of fascinating history. 

[00:14:57] And so the next time you are sitting down at a greasy spoon or deciding whether you can really stomach that third sausage, you'll know a little bit more about the history behind the meal.

[00:15:10] Today's episode is our penultimate episode of our mini series about British food , and in the next one, the final one, we'll be talking about one of my favourite subjects and also one of my favourite comfort foods

[00:15:24] The sandwich. Simple, delicious, sometimes nutritious and with a weird and wonderful story behind it. That's all to come in the next episode.

[00:15:37] As always, if you have enjoyed this podcast, then I would really appreciate it if you could spread the word in any way, you can. Maybe that's telling a friend or family member, or maybe it's taking 20 seconds out of your day and leaving a review in the app store, or if you're feeling particularly kind, it could be both.

[00:15:56] In case you're wondering where the transcript and key vocabulary are, you can find them on leonardoenglish.com. It's really worth checking these out as they can be a very helpful resource for following along. I'll also put the links in the show notes. Thanks again for listening and I hope you enjoyed the show.

[00:16:15] You've been listening to the English Learning for Curious Minds podcast by Leonardo English. I'm Alastair Budge and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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