Breakfast - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
Before going any farther I should state clearly, concisely and emphatically that I am not a medical man. I am not even a quack, but I am fond of nice things to eat and drink, and the keynote to the mode of living I suggest, is "Moderation."
I am going to start by getting up in the morning after a good night's sleep. I have taken a half-pint of cold water the last thing the night before. My windows have been wide open—even in the coldest weather; but the covers on the bed have been sufficient to keep me "as warm as toast. A cold bath-in the summer, in the river that flows at the bottom of my garden; in the winter, in my city bath-tuba A rub down with a rough towel, and I feel like a fighting cock. I scorn Swedish exercises and such-like flub-dub. They will tire you out before you start the day. The main thing is to feel well enough to make 'a good breakfast and lay a good foundation for the day's work.
Ninety-nine out of a hundred people start the day wrong, in that on sitting down to the breakfast table, they take a large glass of ice-water. This is the worst thing they could possibly do. It is contrary to all of Nature's laws. When a waiter rushes up and fills my glass with water, it requires the greatest self-control on my part to prevent me throwing it, glass and all, in his face. You may re-member that Count Considine, in "Charles O'Malley," deprecates the throwing of a glass of wine in a gentle-man's face, "You shouldn't have done that, Charlie, says he. "A cut glass decanter, my boy, aimed low." I remember years ago—oh, countless years ago—a young English friend of mine, who was not only very young but very hard up, got a job as "omnibus" at the old St. Denis Hotel on Broadway at 10th street. His duty was to get the table ready for the guest. On his first morning an Englishman sat down at a table, our friend bustled up with a carafe of ice-water and filled the glass, "What's that?" asked the Englishman. "Ice-water," replied the omnibus. "What rot," retorted the Englishman. "Yes, it is rot, isn't it?" responded the omnibus. "Hullo," said the Englishman, looking up, "what are you doing here? You're English, aren't you? You're not a regular waiter." No, sir," replied the boy. This is my first day." "You don't like this sort of work, do you?" asked the guest. No, sir." "Well, after breakfast come up to my room—264-I may be able to do something for you." Just then the head waiter noted the conversation going on and called the "omnibus" to do something else; but the short -inter-view resulted in the Englishman taking the youngster on, first as a sort of general "help" and later as private secretary, and now he is one of the great financial experts of the country—all through a glass of ice-water.
There is only one cereal that is worth eating and that is Scotch oatmeal—none of these pre-digested, emasculated oatmeals, that have all the goodness extracted and leave but a bowl of pap. The Scotch are as hardy and brawny as any race alive, and they are a living monument to the virtues of Scotch oatmeal. The reason why the other oat meals have gained their vogue is because they are thought to be easier to cook. But real oatmeal is not difficult, if properly handled.
Put a cupful of oatmeal in three cupfuls of water, with a teaspoonful of salt, Overnight bring it to a boil, stirring so that it does not burn. Put this in a double saucepan and let stand. In the morning put it on the stove when you get up, and it will be ready for breakfast. If you make sufficient for two or three days, it will keep quite well in the double saucepan, and is better for being heated up.
It should be eaten with milk, not cream.
Cream should have no place on the breakfast table, neither on cereal, fruit, nor in coffee. The stomach is not in sufficiently strong condition in the early morning to digest cream easily—besides which, it is very fattening. Cream may be very nice, but it should be taken in great moderation—once or twice a month at most—and should be looked upon as a luxury and not a necessity.
I have no objection to fruit at breakfast, but I do not consider it at all necessary. Too much grapefruit affects the liver-too many oranges will do the same. A baked apple—without cream—is more or less harmless. But al-though the old saw has it that fruit is "golden in the morning, silver in the afternoon, and lead at night, from personal experience I have found it just the reverse. Any cream with fruit early in the morning is deadly. The only exception to this rule is he who works, at night and takes his supper at 8 A. M. before retiring.
One hears a terrible amount of nonsense talked about coffee. And what remarkably bad coffee one does get—even at the best hotels. This is because it is improperly made. Percolators, Kaffe-Kannes and other patent contraptions are all very amusing in their way—there is something nice about seeing the coffee "perking" on the table, but when it comes down to cases, there is nothing like the old-fashioned French coffee pot that goes right on the stove. Where the trouble comes in—especially in hotel coffee—is that it is boiled, and coffee should not be boiled any more than should tea.
To make an excellent pot of coffee, fill the pot with fresh water, bring it to a boil, put in a cupful of ground coffee (this is sufficient for six or eight cups), stir it to prevent it boiling over, and, as soon as the grounds are absorbed by the water, draw the pot to one side and immediately pour in half a cup of cold water. This sends the grounds to the bottom and in three minutes you pour out a clear, rich brown fluid that is perfect. The main thing is that after the coffee is added to the water, it should not stew. Some people add a pinch of salt. Personally I like' it, as I do a suggestion—but only a suggestion—of chicory. Hot, boiled milk should be served with the coffee, but not cream.
One would think it almost unnecessary to give a recipe for making tea. And yet one gets such remarkably bad tea as a rule, that I am going to give instructions regardless of criticism.
First, warm the pot. Then put in sufficient tea. Old-fashioned people used to give one spoonful for each person and "one for the pot." This, I am inclined to think, is rather a generous allowance; but it was that which apextained in a generation that did not suffer from such a variety of curious and new-fangled complaints as those in which we now indulge; a generation that produced hardy old men and women who lived till close on a hundred and then died with their boots on. There were giants in those days. The tea having been placed in the hot teapot, freshly boiled water—water which has just come to the boil —is poured over it; the pot is closed and covered with a tea-cosy and allowed to stand for not more than three minutes. Then stir it and pour it out. Then add the milk and then the sugar. Never put the sugar and milk in first—it not only alters the character of the tea for some curious reason, but it is bad manners.
I like India or Ceylon tea. Some people like China tea; I never did care for the flavor of it, and when I heard that all China tea exported to the western world has al-ready been used by the Chinese and re-dried, it put me against it, whether it be true or not.
I don't think tea—if taken in moderation and made the way I have suggested—is harmful; but never should it be taken when meat forms a part of the meal. As a matter of fact, meat should never be eaten for breakfast—unless it be a little streaky bacon; but chops, steaks, liver, corned-beef hash and such like dishes that one sees on most hotel breakfast menus, are coarse, vulgar, unsuitable and in every way contrary to the laws of nature. A very "rich, round" cup of tea can be obtained by adding a pinch of salt to each cup, in addition to milk and sugar.
Well, I am inclined to paraphrase Dr. Johnson and say: "He who drinks cocoa, thinks cocoa." It is a most extraordinary fact how cocoa does affect one's political and patriotic outlook. If cocoa is to be taken at all, I think that late at night in very cold weather it may be possible, but then I am prejudiced, I own.
Patent drinks, imitation coffee made of burnt beans and burnt bread and such like concoctions should be avoided as the plague. I do not believe that good tea and good coffee, carefully and freshly made, taken in moderation, will harm any one. It is only when they are taken in excess that trouble results. This rule holds good throughout dietetics. So many people do themselves harm by eating and drinking too much, and then blame the harmless quality, rather than the harmful quantity.
Breakfast should be a light meal—just something to start the day on. A little fruit, if you like, but only a little. A little cereal with milk, but as I have already said, cream should not be used with either fruit of cereal except as a rare treat—on the Fourth of July, for instance, or on the eleventh of November.
Eggs are the ideal dish for breakfast. Boiled, poached, fried, omelette, en caserole, scrambled, shirred.
Boiled Eggs: There is but one way to cook boiled eggs and to have them perfect, i. e., by time.
Soft-Boiled Eggs: Place in boiling water and boil for three and a half minutes exactly.
Medium: Four minutes.
Hard: For salads etc., eight or ten minutes.
How often one hears a woman say: "I can't boil an egg. If it isn't right, let me know and I'll pop it in again." That is simply because she won't take the trouble to time her eggs. My method is infallible. If it fails it is be-cause you have not followed instructions—or you have been careless about the exact time. Or the eggs may have been extremely cold, in which case they should be thawed out. Duck's eggs, being a trifle larger, need a trifle longer. Turkey's eggs ditto. But I have never tried an ostrich's eggs. That doubtless would take quite a long time.
And then the eating of a boiled egg. That is such a large part of the battle. A traveler I once knew, speaking of the Orient, told me that whenever he felt squeamish he ate boiled eggs and oranges. Two things," he said, that the filthy natives couldn't spoil." Of course, he referred to eating the eggs from the shell. That, after all, is the only way to really enjoy a boiled egg. The sight of a soft-boiled egg turned into a tumbler or one of those thick white egg-cups of gigantic size, is enough to upset the strongest stomach in the early morning hours. Was it not Louis XIII (or was it Louis XV?), who used to break-fast in public and allow the people of Paris to watch him from the gallery of the breakfast hall, strike off the top of his egg with one deft stroke of his knife? Alack! that I lived not in those days. I would have formed one of the onlookers. I have attempted the feat with dire results and am now content to gently tap the apex of the egg all round with a steel knife and then, with a sharp pressure against the thumb, sever the top without injury to the yolk. The next best way is to tap the top of the egg-shell with the egg-spoon, break it off in small pieces and then cut off the glistening white top.
I have often wondered at what age an egg ceases to be new laid." As a matter of fact there is such a difference between a really new-laid egg and one three days old, that there is no comparison. A comedian once asserted that there were six kinds of eggs, i, e., new-laid eggs, fresh eggs, breakfast eggs, cooking eggs, eggs, and eggs for election purposes. Then there is the story of the guest at a restaurant who berated the waiter for serving him with a bad egg, and the manager, overhearing the complaint, poured out the vials of his wrath on the waiter's head. "Did I not tell you," he cried, only to use those eggs for omelettes?" And yet why should inferior eggs, or eggs of doubtful age be used for cooking? The idea is horrible.
I am told the Chinaman makes a very excellent servant and is most apt at learning how to cook things just as he is taught, and having learned, never forgets. A mistress was showing her "chink how to make a certain egg dish, and as she broke the third egg, found it was bad and threw it away. Ever after, whenever he made this particular dish, he always threw away the third egg as he broke it, irrespective of its quality. Whether he put in bad ones after or before it, history doth not relate.
Before we. have done with eggs let me tell you a true story. A friend of mine, an artist, had an old woman model sitting to him at one time, and he found that she had been housekeeper to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the poet painter. Now my friend was an ardent admirer of Rossetti—he looked upon him as a God, almost—and at once tried to draw the old lady out and glean some really first-hand knowledge of the great genius. But his efforts were in vain, try he ever so much. "No, said she, "there wasn't anything unusual about him; he was much the same as any other gentleman,'--except that he always ate six eggs for breakfast." And this, in a way, bears out the story of the reason why George Meredith gave up living with Rossetti in Queen's House, Chelsea. He declared that he quit because he couldn't get anything but eggs for breakfast.
Poached Eggs: Bring a little water to a boil in a frying pan. Add three drops of vinegar. Break the egg carefully into a cup and turn it gently into the frying pan, holding the latter a little tilted. Quickly scoop the edges together with a knife, and then throw a little of the boiling water—with a spoon—over the yolk of the egg. This will cover the yolk of the egg with a thin film of "white." A neater way is to have a metal ring about two and a half inches in diameter and an inch or so deep. This can be placed in the frying pan and the egg dropped into it. In this way the poached egg is quite circular and looks very nice. I like a poached egg to be served on hat buttered toast with the crust cut off, but the water must be carefully drained from the egg before it is deposited on the toast or the latter will get sodden.
Fried Eggs are cooked exactly the same as poached eggs except that bacon fat is used instead of water. Bacon fat is much better than butter.
Omelettes; There seems to be so much mystery about omelette making that really they almost deserve a chapter to themselves.
All I can say is that I have had some of the nastiest concoctions served me, masquerading under the name of omelette. And then some idiot went ahead and invented an "omelette pan," a sort of double, half-circular frying pan, hinged together so that you can fold the pan over and fry the scrambled eggs on both sides without risk of breaking the mess. It would be impossible for the best cook in the world to make an omelette in such a utensil. The whole principle is wrong, foolish, stupid, asinine.
Now here is the way to make a plain omelette such as Brillat-Savarin himself would love:
Break four eggs into a bowl and beat swiftly; add a pinch of salt and white pepper and beat again; add a table-spoonful of water. Have your frying pan, in which is a little bacon fat or butter ready hot, but not too hot, on the stove. Whip your eggs finally and gently pour into the frying pan so that the mixture covers the bottom. As the bubbles form, prick them with a fork. Do not have too fierce a fire—a gentle fire is best. Constantly slip a greased pastry knife under the mixture to prevent it sticking to the pan, and if -necessary add a little more fat. As soon as the top of the mixture commences to cream, loosen the omelette all round the pan and underneath and fold over three or four times. Your omelette is complete. A beautiful golden brown outside, rich and creamy inside. Serve with a piece of butter the size of a dice on top.
The omelette can be varied, for instance:
Fine Herbs or Savory Omelette: In the mixing add a pinch of mixed herbs, a few drops of onion juice and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
Mushroom Omelette These, cooked any way you like, Shrimp can be folded in the omelette. Lobster Chicken liver They are all delicious. Jam, folded in a plain omelette (without pepper), makes a delicious sweet. Some people add a little sugar to the beaten eggs.
Is there any harm in mentioning Rum Omelettes? You might go somewhere where there is no Eighteenth Amendment, and a rum omelette is remarkably good. Make a nice sweet omelette—just like a plain omelette, only with-out pepper, and with sugar, and when you place it on a deep dish, sift some powdered sugar over it, then pour a gill of rum over the whole. Set fire to the rum and let it burn until the sugar turns brown. Then blow out the fire and eat the omelette. It is excellent.
Note: The whole secret of making a good omelette is to use water and not milk to mix with the eggs. Milk makes custard, and it is impossible to make a real omelette with it. You merely get scrambled eggs or roast custard.
Numerous things can be used in conjunction with omelettes, and they are nearly all good. A Spanish Omelette; for instance, is merely a savory omelette with chicken livers, and over it is poured a sauce made of tomatoes, onions, and peppers, with a few new potatoes, fried or boiled. An Indian Omelette has curried shrimps, eggs or chicken folded in it, and over it is sifted grated cheese. This is an excellent late supper dish. (See "Curries.")
A day or two ago I was talking to a woman whom I call a poor housekeeper—that is, she is one of those women who can only afford one servant and to that one servant she leaves all the cares of the house and cooking. She complains regularly of the terrible cost of things, and of the waste in the kitchen, but not only does she not supervise but she even does her marketing over the telephone. Small wonder then that expenses are high. We were talking about omelettes. She told me that she wouldn't think of having one made without milk and they always used at least ten eggs. Now as I have already explained, an omelette cannot be made with milk-batter or custard is not the foundation of an omelette—nor can one be successfully made with ten eggs, except by a most experienced chef. The mixture should cover the pan about half-an-inch thick, and an omelette made of more than six eggs would require such a large pan that it would be practically impossible to fold it without a great deal of skill. My friend of course only made scrambled eggs, scooping the mixture when half cooked to one side of the pan and then browning the out-side. I have had this sort of thing served me in country hotels and to me it is most irritating.
By the way, I certainly ought to mention that onions should never, under any circumstances, be eaten for breakfast. A plain omelette or a parsley omelette is ideal for breakfast, but an omelette fines herbes is more essentially for dinner as a savory.
Scrambled Eggs: Four eggs, well beaten, a pinch of salt and white pepper, a tablespoonful of milk, and a piece of butter the size of a walnut. After adding the salt, pepper and milk, beat again and turn into a warm, but not hot pan. Stir briskly with a fork and as soon as the mixture commences to thicken, turn out on a hot plate and serve. If the fire is too fierce, the milk will turn to water, so cook slowly.
Eggs en Casserole: Use the small-size individual casserole pots about three inches in diameter. Grease well with butter. Carefully drop the egg into the casserole and cook slowly over the fire. When half done, cover the casserole and the steam will cook the surface of the egg covering the yolk with a delicate skin of white. Always re-move the pot from the fire before it seems quite done, as the egg will continue to cook some two or three minutes' after it is served. It is well to slip a thin knife under the egg to loosen it from the casserole, before placing it on the table. To vary the serving, the egg can be turned out onto a piece of buttered toast—it is equally delicious.
Eggs and Bacon en Casserole: Line the casserole pot with thin strips of streaky bacon, and when the fat has commenced to rend, drop in the egg. Then proceed in exactly the same way as in the foregoing recipe, but instead of serving in the casserole, slip a knife under the bacon and turn out on a plate, on a piece of toast. It makes a pretty dish—it looks like a bird's nest.
Shirred Eggs: Much the same as "en casserole," except that the egg is turned into a custard cup and baked in a slow oven. It can also be done over a gas or oil stove or on top of the fire stove. Another method is to stand the cup in a saucepan of boiling water.
Other dainty dishes for breakfast are kidneys and bacon, kidneys en brochette, mushrooms, sausages, and if you feel particularly well and fit, bloater and "finnan haddie."
Kidneys and Bacon: Fry a few rashers of streaky bacon and into the fat place the lamb kidneys, which have been skinned and split, split side downward. (It is well to take out the center tube, but not the little piece of fat.) Some cooks drop the kidneys after they are split, into boiling water to sear the outside and to keep the gravy in the kidney. Fry the kidneys gently on both sides, constantly turning them. The fire should not be too fierce or the kidneys will harden. When cooked turn onto a hot plate, pour a little water into the frying pan and roust around with a fork. In this way you get excellent gravy. Serve the kidneys with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and be sure to use English mustard with them. (See English mustard.)
Kidneys en Brochette: Skin and split the kidney, but not quite through. Open it and run a metal skewer through it so as to flatten it out. Broil it over the fire or under the gas. Serve with chopped parsley or watercress, and don't forget the English mustard.
Kidneys and Bacon en brochette: Split the lamb kidneys and on a skewer place a piece of bacon and then half a kidney, and so on till the skewer is full. Then broil.
Mushrooms are things I cannot resist, but I always say my prayers before eating them. I know a man who, a short time ago, went for a ten-minute trip in an air-plane. As he and his friends neared the aviation field, they passed a few Salvationists holding a street-corner service. "I never in my life," said he, "felt such an urge to join the Salvation Army." That is much the way I feel when I am faced with mushrooms. I would not dare go out into the fields to pick them, but I have a child-like faith in the judgment ,of the storekeeper who sells them.
The button-mushroom, or Champignon, is more suited for sauces and garnishing than for a regular "mess o' mushrooms." The mushroom at its best, is when it measures about two, to two-and-a-half inches across. When fresh, the gills are a delicate browny-pink, which soon turn browny-black—but this does not impair the flavor. In the county whence I hail, the mushrooms grow to an immense size, and I have eaten them when they measured twelve or fifteen inches across. They are excellent, but the natives look upon these giant fungi as poisonous. One year we used some of these for pickling, and they were certainly the most delicious pickles I have ever eaten. (See pickles.)
Dried mushrooms are very good when fresh ones cannot be obtained; but here again one may have qualms. A great many of them come from Italy, where I believe they claim there are only four poisonous varieties. Consequently, among the dried mushrooms, one gets some curious and unknown species. I remember how I felt when I had soaked some overnight, and in the morning found that they were red and yellow. I took them back to the shop where the storekeeper laughed me to scorn, so much so, that at the peril of my life I cooked and ate them. I am still alive.
The worst about mushroom poisoning is that it is very painful, and apparently the poisonous ones taste just as, good as those which are edible. The Romans, marvelous epicures, were remarkably partial to many varieties of mushrooms, and they did not despise this means of getting rid of their enemies. For instance, the Emperor Claudius Caesar partook of the Amanita Cæsarea, harmless enough in itself, but it was prepared by his wife, Agrippina, and he never lived to eat another meal. If I remember rightly, without any reference to a Roman history, the lady herself came to a bad end, but not through eating mushrooms.
A farmer near my home is particularly fond of puff balls, which he assures me are excellent; but as far as I am concerned, he is welcome to them. On our own little "farm," grow all sorts and conditions of fungi, and in the mushroom book I bought, I find pictures that more or less resemble these. Some are labeled poisonous and others edible, but so far I have not risked any of them, and I am of the opinion that the wisest and safest plan is to rely on the judgment of the storekeeper. Anyway, if I get poisoned then, it is his responsibility, not mine.
Grilled (or broiled) Mushrooms: Skin and pick off the stalks. Lay them flat on the gridiron, gill side uppermost, and on each place a small piece of butter and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Grill on a slow fire, Turn once.
Stewed Mushrooms: Skin and pick off the stalks. Put both mushroom and stalk into a small saucepan or stewpan with a little water and butter, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and simmer gently for twenty minutes. If thick gravy is desired, add a little cornstarch or flour thickening.
Mushrooms and Bacon: Skin and pull off the. stalks. Fry gently in the bacon fat and serve on toast.
Mushrooms on toast: Toast a slice of bread on one side and place it on the grill. On the untoasted side put your mushrooms and butter. Place it under the gas grill for a few minutes and serve with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
Mushrooms in Egg Sauce: Into the thin gravy of stewed mushrooms, stir a beaten egg till it commences to thicken. Excellent.
Mushrooms improve nearly all stews, curries, ragouts, hot-pots, and meat pies. They go exceedingly well with steaks and chops, and are the making of a "mixed grill."
Sausages: I am prejudiced against "boughten" sausages, because to my mind or taste they are insufficiently seasoned; but the best way to eat them, and also the most wholesome way, is to split them, open them out like a kidney en brochette, and grill, having well peppered and salted them. (See Homemade Cambridge Sausage, page 131 which is infinitely preferable to any store sausage.)
Frankfurters can be boiled, fried or grilled, but by far the best way to cook them is over a wood fire. Gently grilled over wood coals or charcoal, they are as good as a steak.
With all sausages English mustard should be taken.
Bloaters are salted and smoked herrings, but they are only mildly salted and smoked. The hard, dry salted herring is really the "Soldier" or "Red Herring." The bloater should be grilled, but he is fairly good fried. The Red Herring, on the other hand, is much more tasty. Soak it in water overnight, then' split and bone it and grill over a slow fire and you will find it a tasty morsel.
The little boneless herrings warmed in the pan and served on toast are excellent, but the canned kipper or bloater is not a gastronomic success.
Kippers, the herring split, salted and smoked, are exceedingly good if warmed through in the frying pan in a little water. They should not be fried, as this makes them too rich and greasy.
"Finnan Haddie," the haddock split, salted and smoked, should be thick. The large ones are much better eating than the small ones, and if too large for the pan can be cut into blocks. Boil gently in water or milk and water for ten or twelve minutes, according to thickness. Drain carefully and serve with a little butter. "Finnan Had-die," boned and grilled with a poached egg on top, makes an excellent late supper dish.
No breakfast is complete without a little marmalade made of orange and grapefruit. It is pleasant to the taste, cooling to the stomach, and counteracts any disposition to biliousness. Besides which, it keeps the system in order and obviates, to a great extent, the necessity of taking cathartics and other drugs.
So you see my breakfast menu is very slight but sufficiently varied not to become monotonous. I have eschewed steaks, chops, all kinds of griddlecakes and indigestible "biscuits." Toast and bread are ,sufficient for any one. A heavy breakfast can only be taken by a man on a hunting trip, or who is taking other violent exercise. I am not telling you how to fill yourself to repletion but how to reduce your weight without depriving yourself of the good things of this life; how to preserve your health and maintain your youth, and how to get the greatest enjoyment out of life. No one can enjoy himself unless he feels well.