Growing up in the U.K., I lived with my mother, sister and grandfather. *Grandad was big on giving us chores to do and one of mine was to make his breakfast each Saturday morning! A simple task, you might say? Not so quick though, as Grandad was very particular about just how he liked his weekend “fry-up”. The “fry-up” is the classic English cooked breakfast. Each Saturday I would cook the back bacon (crispy, never soggy) and banger (sausage) under the grill (broiler) to cook, and then take out the frying pan and cook his fried eggs (cooked through), fried bread, mushrooms sautéed in butter, and grilled tomato (warmed, but not burned). I would also warm the baked beans in the pan on the stove (Grandad thought the radiation from a microwave would kill him and refused to eat anything cooked in it).
The British Fry up has a long history and was originally a sign of wealth and prestige. The story of the English breakfast begins in the country houses of the English gentry and their tradition of hospitality. The gentry were a group of people who saw themselves as the cultural heirs of the Anglo-Saxons, and were a distinct social class, generally made up of people of “noble and distinguished blood”. They were senior members of the clergy and people who had connections to landowners and relatives of titled families. The gentry saw it as their place to keep cultural cuisine traditions alive and part of the social context of owning a large country home or estate was to host breakfast, which became an important social event. Breakfast was a way to display the wealth of the home due to the quality of meats and locally produced ingredients.
Later on in the Victorian era, the gentry were in decline, but a wealthy middle class emerged thanks to the Industrial revolution and the prominence of the British Empire. This newly rich class sought to emulate the traditions of the gentry, and again, the full breakfast became a way to show your wealth and social upbringing. During the industrial revolution the breakfast also spread to the working classes. It was a hearty meal which gave them the energy needed for a hard day of manual labor. Up until the 1950’s, as much as half of the British population began their day with such a breakfast. Now, it is still eaten, but mainly on weekends when the mornings are a little less rushed. The breakfast is easy to make at home. This link tells you how. It is also served in hotels, Bed & Breakfast’s and at numerous café’s (colloquially known as “greasy spoons”) around the country. In Las Vegas, a fry-up breakfast can be sampled at the Crown & Anchor Pub.
Of course, like most British dishes, there are regional differences. The addition of black pudding is an influence from Scotland and northern England. “Black pudding” is a type of blood sausage eaten in parts of Britain and other European countries. It is usually made from pork blood and oatmeal. In the fry up it is usually served sliced into pieces and fried.
In recent years hash browns have been added to the breakfast. Something which is undoubtedly an American influence, but it’s also acceptable to have chips (fries) with it. “Bubble and squeak” is also a popular addition. This is a traditional English side dish made with the leftover vegetables of a roast dinner. Leftover potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots or broccoli are mashed and mixed together, then fried in a pan. The dish gets its name from the noises coming from the pan as it cooks!
A full English breakfast is usually available all day in many dining establishments in the U.K. Although loaded with cholesterol and not known as a “health” food it’s an especially good cure for a hangover! So, if you ever find yourself in Britain, head to the nearest café and ask for their “Full English” or “Fry-up”- they will instantly know what you mean, and I think you’ll agree the tastes of all the various additions to the breakfast complement each other so well making for a tasty and hearty meal.
*This post is dedicated in memory to my Grandfather, Harry Charles Nutt, who always loved his fry up!