Our ancestors from the Middle Ages rarely sat down to eat in the morning, but breakfast had become a daily requirement by the 1600s.
We find it hard to imagine a world without a bowl of something delicious to start the day, so we wanted to find out what changed. And what can the history of breakfast teach us about the meal we know and love today?
Breaking the fast with the Anglo Saxons
Breakfast was largely unheard of during 600-1066 AD and taking meals at regular times was largely based around morals rather than needs.
The word ‘breakfast’ literally meant ‘breaking the fast’ after a long night’s sleep, but there were strict rules around how much you ate and the time at which you did the eating. If you were seen to eat too much then you could be accused of being gluttonous and maybe even banished from civilised life!
Eating early in medieval times
By the Medieval era the concept of breakfast was being established, but not quite in the way we know it. While the poorest members of society would eat as and when they could, those who were slightly better off could afford to eat three times a day.
Originally, though, these mealtimes were based on the Church’s hours; more specifically, when Monks ate their food. Breakfast was often eaten very early in the morning (much earlier than we are used to!) because a Medieval “dinner” was served at 9-10am to make way for “supper” which was eaten before it got dark, often no later than 3pm during the winter months. Confusing!
Defending breakfast during the Renaissance
Throughout this era mealtimes were so heavily debated that people began to be write about them at length. Theorists offered a number of suggestions for the optimum consumption of food, but one of the most prevalent ideas was that two meals a day was more than enough for the average person. To that end, authors sought to get rid of that pesky first feast again.
Fortunately, the English fought to defend their beloved custom and instead agreed with the alternative: they would rather give up their between-meal (lunch) or the late night snack than breakfast.
Modern breakfast habits
As Britain began to move into modern times, so too did it’s breakfast habits. During the 18th Century, those who worked ate breakfast at around 8am to give them sufficient time to get ready, while those with a more leisurely lifestyle delayed their morning dining until 10am.
By the 20th Century, the food consumed during these meals had become strongly representative of your social status. The wealthy enjoyed a long breakfast with a plentiful menu, while farmers and poorer individuals stuck to a more modest meal.
What about today?
Well, it’s fair to say that breakfast has become a staple part of our diets (although, by the sounds of things, it’s far less regimented than it used to be!) Depending on where we are in the country, whether it’s a weekday or the weekend, or perhaps even whether we feel like it or not, breakfast seems to be eaten at any time of morning and anywhere the moment takes us. Even better, it’s made up of anything we feel like it, from delicious cereals and porridges to fresh fruit jams on toast and avocados aplenty. Even the traditional Full English still has a place in our homes, with healthier versions proving popular too.