There are, perhaps, few meals that in this country vary more than breakfasts; and, indeed, it is not possible to draw any exact line between the hospitable and heavy Yorkshire breakfasts, including -the huge game pie, and draughts of home-brewed strong ale at its finish, and the feeble breakfast consisting of thin dry toast and cup of tea, which with many is the limit of nourishment they can take early in the day.
There can, however, be no doubt that a good breakfast is very conducive to good health. There are, too, perhaps, few meals at which the appetite is more capricious than breakfast, and few occasions on which more depends upon appearances. A nicely-laid breakfast-table, with its snow-white cloth, crisp brown loaves," bright silver, neatly-patted butter, looking doubly tempting by contrast with the rich dark-green parsley with which it is ornamented; the juicy joint and tempting ham upon the sideboard; the rich, fragrant smell of the coffee—in itself sufficient to create an appetite.
But let us wait till the door opens, and the rattle of the silver covers is heard. First, say, a fowl done spread-eagle fashion, with mushrooms; next, some curried sausages; next, some mutton cutlets, with mixed hot pickles in the centre; while in another dish some poached eggs sleep peacefully on slices ot rich juicy ham that have just left the gridiron. All these are placed on the table, while some grilled salmon, with which the breakfast begins, is handed round : many preferring hot muffins in lieu of bread as an accompaniment. But we must not forget the tankard, with the college arms emblazoned on its side, full of good buttery ale ; for, as many probably have already guessed, it is a college breakfast we are describing; and Paterfamilias, when he shakes his head over the college bills, will do well to excuse a little of the extravagance of youth which breaks out in the form of breakfasts rather than suppers, the latter being conducive too often to the former consisting simply of a red herring and a brandy-and-soda.
With a dozen or more healthy young men seated round the table, free from the cares of life, indifferent to, and indeed ignorant even of, the meaning of the "money article," no wonder the tempting viands cooked by cunning hands rapidly disappear amid a merry conversation, in which the summum bonum of earthly happiness seems to be to row in the University Eight. But we must wait a few years. The bright-eyed youth with the fluffy whiskers, who performed such prodigies of valour in the last town and gown, has settled down into the sleek-looking country clergyman or lawyer; and his pretty, quiet little wife probably never dreams even of the life he led in the boisterous, but for all that really innocent, days of his college life. The college breakfasts and the college hall have, however, had their effect, and the change from the " college professor of cookery " (who probably is far better off than the tutor to Mary Ann) is—well, a change. The unvarying cold boiled bacon and hot boiled eggs will, in spite of the bright silver tea-pot, the butter-dish with the silver cow on the top, the lavish display of butter-knives (all wedding presents, of course), after a time pall upon the strongest appetite ; but, unfortunately, if Mary Ann breaks down in one thing more than another, it is over the breakfast. There is an indescribable something in the appearance of the breakfast dishes she sends up that is not conducive to appetite. The yolks of egg have a tendency to run into the whites, and the fried bacon always seems as if it had been up the chimney, or under the grate, as well as in the frying-pan. An omelette is a hopeless impossibility, kidneys turn out tough, sausages come up burnt in one place and burst out like old boots in another, and when eaten, the bread-crumbs overpower the pork. After a series of failures, people settle down into the cold bacon and boiled eggs ; what little change they do have consisting of potted meat, the most delicate palate being unable to distinguish between potted ham, potted beef, potted tongue, and potted game ; for if there is one thing in the world of which the pieman's remark of " It's the flavouring as does it" holds true, it is of these shilling pots of potted meat.
That breakfasts will occasionally go wrong, is probably everybody's experience; to show how to make them always go right is not so easy. One great cause, in addition to ignorance of cooking, is late rising. Cooks sometimes start the day an hour behindhand, and never overtake the time. I am not sure that in judging a cook's character I would not take her as she appears in the morning coming down to light the kitchen fire. Some will be seen at this period fresh, clean, and bright-looking. This is a good sign, and augurs well. Others, however, come down yawning— no cap, the hair in an eccentric fashion, consisting apparently of one large knot at the back of the head. They have a fluffy and disagreeable look, suggestive of having slept in their clothes in a close room, the window of which has not been opened for months, and in which you would expect to find an inky fluid render itselt visible in the wash-hand basin, were you to blow away the soapsuds. All this augurs ill for breakfast.
However, we will suppose the former of the two servants has come down, and that the dish for breakfast is the very common one of ham and eggs. First, the ham, which is probably in a slice or slices already. The first point to be considered is the state of the frying-pan ; this latter should be perfectly clean before the ham is placed in it. Next, cook the ham rather slowly; with ham, poached eggs look better, and to my thinking taste better, than fried. Have a stew-pan ready full of water gently boiling, and drop in this water four or five drops of vinegar. Have a dish ready in the oven; and as soon as the ham is nearly done, take the eggs, which should have been carefully broken each one separately in a cup, and let them slide out slowly into the boiling water, doing two at a time ; as soon as the eggs are in the water, place the ham on the hot dish, and so place it that an egg will stand on each slice. Next, take the strainer and lift each egg carefully out of the water, and have in your other hand a knife ready to trim off the loose pieces of white, so as to have the egg a compact mass, the yolk surrounded by an even rim of white. Next, should a little of the water rest in the bend of the strainer, mop it up with the end of a cloth before you slide the egg on to the ham, or otherwise, owing to the vinegar, the egg will taste acid. After the eggs are on the ham, see that all is placed uniformly in the middle of the dish, put two or three pieces of fresh parsley round, and send the dish up to table as quickly as possible.