Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

28 September 2009

What’s For Breakfast?

Somewhere high above the Java Sea the Malaysian air hostess brought my breakfast tray of exotically ornamented china, napkin-shrouded cutlery and a lonely bowl of corn flakes. She promised more to come: omelettes, steak, a fish dish of some sort; coffee, tea, fruit juice. But I was desperately hungry, my body clock all over the place, and calculating to when we’d left Rome hours and hours before I’d have said it was dinner time; but the airline had different ideas.

I eyed the corn flakes. A dry heap. No milk in sight anywhere. I had to have something, so I started to eat them as you’d eat nachos or pre-cocktail nibbles and discovered that they were extremely good that way. In fact, while admitting that I haven’t eaten corn flakes for years, I have to say that I’ve never enjoyed them quite so much. I finished the bowl.

At which point - wouldn’t you know it? The milk arrived.

Funny things corn flakes. They’ve been around for well over a century. If you’d tried to buy a packet of Kelloggs or Sanitarium before 1898 you’d have been out of luck. Before then the closest you could have got would have been some gravelly corn husk things called ‘hominy grits’. Cowboys used to eat them in all the cowboy books that I read when I was a boy…
‘Wild George Dubya kicked the dust over his camp fire, packed up his bed roll and finished the last of his hot, black coffee. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as his tongue sought to dislodge a hominy grit from the cheap upper dentures that low down tooth-puller in Abilene had sold him. He looked at the angry sun rising like a curse out of the prairie. Today was the day when he’d catch up with the skunk who shot his pa…’
The only way you could make hominy grits edible was by boiling them until they were soft enough not to smash your teeth; but by some miracle, in 1894, the Kellogg brothers, Dr John and Will, working together at the Seventh Day Adventists’ Sanitarium at Battle Creek, Michigan, discovered that by squeezing softened wheat and corn kernels through rollers and then baking the resulting flakes they became wholly edible. Four more years of experiment led to the birth of both Sanitarium and Kelloggs’ Corn Flakes and breakfast has never been the same since.

They do say that practically everybody eats either wheat biscuits or corn flakes for brekky these days although I, personally, prefer toasted home-made bread and home made marmalade. (Recipes available at donovan@ihug.co.nz).

Mind you, I wasn’t always that sensible; before cholesterol frescoed the insides of the ancestral arteries I was a great one for the only meal the poms have ever been renowned for, the ‘full English breakfast’. The big London hotels still do them, so do landladies in bed-and-breakfasts around British seaside resorts, and you can get a particularly excellent one on the cross channel ferry that plies between Dover and Calais:- two fried eggs, their skirts ever so slightly singed and their yolks marbled by an assiduous chef who’s flicked sizzling bacon fat over them as they’ve cooked. They lie on fried bread that’s never soggy and are accompanied by rashers of streaky bacon also done to a subtle crisp. The odd beef sausage is by no means out of place and a little colour and piquancy is added by a modestly blushing tomato or two. Oh, the days of my youth!

A piece of research I read some years ago showed that New Zealanders were cereal eaters five days a week but were into the bacon and eggs at weekends but I somehow doubt if that’s still the case. As we’ve become more health conscious we’ve abandoned the glory of the formidable breakfast, which, if you believe all you read, was even more glorious in Edwardian times…
‘Algie appeared in the morning room looking the worse for wear after a losing night at the card tables. Gamely attempting a flippant manner, he lifted the lids off the silver dishes one by one: devilled kidneys, smoked haddock, grouse and partridge (suitably strong and well-hung) larks tongues and venison paté with sauté potatoes… “God I’m bored!” he cried. “Any one for tennis?”.’
The strange thing about those Edwardians is that so many of them lived to ripe old ages. I suppose they suffered from gout; and they probably had a fair measure of flatulence. But they probably compensated by keeping fit tramping the moors, shooting their beaters or drowning their gillies, and if they went travelling at all it was by ship with a chance to walk the promenade deck and play quoits, which you can’t do on a Boeing flying from Rome to Auckland via Kuala Lumpur. Which is why it’s probably a good idea to flag away the omelettes and stick to the dry corn flakes.

And that’s where I came in.


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By Don Donovan