LONG KNOWN AS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL of the day, it was the Victorians and Edwardians who invented the Great British Breakfast. Before then, most people simply ate toast or fruited buns, with tea or hot chocolate. By the time Downton Abbey opens, however, groaning tables and infinite choice were an established part of the country house routine, and the below-stairs staff would have been up for hours preparing hot food for their employers.
Published in 1898, The Dictionary of Dainty Breakfasts by Phyllis Browne included a quick and easy introduction (authored by “a mere man”) to the basics of breakfasts. Running to five sturdy pages, it stated that you should have a “fundamental dish”; some “trifling accessories”; fruit, which could be fresh, tinned, or preserved; various drinks; and a selection of breads. Fundamental dishes were freshly prepared meats, eggs, fish, and the all-important bacon, while the “trifling accessories” were tinned, potted, or cold meats; fish; and porridge. Your aim, as a discerning breakfaster, was apparently to base your meal around a fundamental dish, filling up the cracks with your trifles, having cleansed your palate with fruit. The author closes by recommending tea, coffee, cocoa, white wine, and/or beer, and stacks of hot buttered toast.