Today, we find it hard to imagine starting the day without a bowl of something tasty. However, this hasn’t always been the case. For example, people in the Middle Ages rarely ate breakfast as it was a way of committing the deadly sin of gluttony. Following that logic, eating breakfast was seen to be an affront to God himself and fasting as evidence of your ability to negate desires of the flesh.
So, how have attitudes to the most important meal of the day changed over the years and how did our ancestors set themselves up for the day ahead?
Conquering new lands…and the breakfast table
The Anglo Saxons followed the Romans in taking control of England. They bought with them strict rules around how much you ate and at what time you ate it. If you were seen to be eating too much, you could be accused of being gluttonous. At worst, that could lead to you being banished from civilised life. There is evidence to show that cereals such as wheat and rye were used by the Anglo Saxons to make bread as well as using barley to make porridge. It’s hungry work conquering and holding ground!
You can’t row a longboat on an empty stomach
The Vikings had a rather strained relationship with the Anglo Saxons, with whom who they shared borders at points. They also had a rather different approach to breakfast. Known as dagmal, the Vikings liked to eat breakfast two or three hours after waking up: for them, there were jobs to be done first. As well as leftovers from the previous night, bread, porridge - made from grains that we still use today - fruits and honey were all commonly consumed.
A delicious bowl of porridge
Breakfast gains popularity
By the time we reach the medieval period, the concept of breakfast is becoming much more established. However, not in the way that we know it. The poorest in society would eat and drink as and when they could, whereas those who were better off could afford to eat three times a day. The timings of meals were all based around when Monks ate their food, which meant breakfast was very early in the morning. Rather confusingly for us, a medieval dinner would be served at 9-10am as it had to make way for supper. This supper was to be eaten before it got dark, quite often no later than 3pm during the winter months. Often consisting of bread, it wouldn’t be unheard of for breakfast to be washed down with wine!
17th century into the industrial revolution
It is believed that all social classes started to eat breakfast during the 17th century. After the restoration of Charles II, coffee, tea and dishes such as scrambled eggs started to appear on the tables of the wealthy. By the late 1740s, breakfast rooms had started to appear in the homes of the rich.
New levels of decadence started to appear in aristocratic circles of the 19th century as a fashion for hunting parties, often lasting days and even weeks, when up to 24 courses would be served.
The Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century bought regularised work hours. This meant people needing an early meal to sustain them at work. Bread formed a large part of peoples’ diets as it was not only cheap, it was easy to make and is a quick snack that fills you up. In fact, factory workers spent 36% of their income on bread.
Importantly – for us, anyway - 1843 saw Silvery Tweed founded near the small village of Belford in rural Northumberland by H.O. Short.
Revolution on the breakfast table
American John Harvey Kellogg accidently caused a breakfast revolution when he left boiled maize out and it went stale. He passed it through rollers and then baked it, so creating the world’s first cornflake.
During the 1920s and 1930s, the government promoted breakfast as the most important meal of the day. However, World War II made the types of food people had been accustomed to putting on the table hard to get. With the end of the war came the economically liberated 1950s, bringing items such as the toaster, sliced bread and pre-sugared cereals into homes across the country.
Today, breakfast is made up of anything we feel like. Breads have developed to include seeds and use high fibre flours to help add extra health benefits. Cereals, porridge and toast still dominate, but the availability of items such as fresh fruit and avocado, as well as coated cereals and granolas have significantly altered our eating habits.
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