How the Full English Breakfast became a national institution

Weekends without a fry-up are unimaginable for many of us - but the dish wasn't always the nation's go-to comfort food

The cost of a typical family-sized shopping list for the key ingredients like bacon, sausages and brown sauce, would jump to £26.61 from  £23.59, thanks to increased tariffs
The cost of a typical family-sized shopping list for the key ingredients like bacon, sausages and brown sauce, would jump to £26.61 from £23.59, thanks to increased tariffs

A hangover cure, fuel for hard labour, and an indulgence on the weekend – the full English breakfast is so ingrained in British culture it’s hard to imagine life without it.

But there was, of course, a time before it was the nation’s go-to comfort food.

A plate piled with sausage, egg, bacon, beans, black pudding, hash browns, fried tomatoes and mushrooms is associated with builders in greasy spoon cafes and up-market brunch spots. However, that image is only a very recent one, food historian Professor Rebecca Earle of Warwick University told The Independent.

In the 17th century, the items which make up the traditional fry-up were only eaten by the upper and upper-middle classes, such as bankers. In wealthy Victorian houses, enormous buffet-style breakfasts would also include kedgeree, pork or lamb chops, friend mushrooms, and bread.

As meat was expensive, the rest of the population would eat bread and butter for breakfast, with cheap jam containing little fruit.

“Working men could not afford to eat in a restaurant in general in the Victorian era, and in the early 20th century bacon and eggs might be eaten as a special weekend dish, and even then not necessarily by everyone in the family," said Professor Earle.

The dish appeared in Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management in 1861, but it was not until around 100 years later that the ingredients were cheap enough to make the meal available to the masses.

“The greasy spoon is itself a post-war development. A fry-up requires cheap food, which arrived in the 1950s. Tinned beans, for instance, were a costly import before WWII.”

But nowadays, Professor Earle argues, tourists are more likely to eat the full English than Brits, as research shows only 5 per cent of the population eats a fry up for breakfast.

In the future, Professor Earle predicts a far healthier trend: “Because of our current fascination with porridge perhaps we will renew our appreciation for the filling, sustainable and tasty grain puddings and pottages that have fuelled working people all over the world for millennia."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in