I love breakfast. It’s easily my favorite meal of the day (followed by second breakfast, elevenses, and supfast). When I die, if anyone wishes for whatever reason to celebrate my life, please do so with a “Brightwell Breakfast.” Robert Burns gets his supper, after all, and surely if anyone deserves the sobriquet “ploughman blogger,” it is I.
I’ve long wanted to host a breakfast party but was until last weekend precluded by several seemingly insurmountable obstacles. For one, scheduling a breakfast party proved rather difficult. There’s not only the day of the week to consider but also the times of morning at which people rise. Whilst a 7:00 breakfast party might make sense to me, I’ve heard that there are some louche sorts who sleep in as late as 9:00!
There’s also the question of what to serve. I thought that sugary cold cereal and milk was something people outgrew along with Saturday morning cartoons, short pants, and
games of freeze tag — and yet more than one roommate has proven otherwise. It’s interesting to note that the phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” was coined James Caleb Jackson and John Harvey Kellogg — two Seventh-Day Adventists obsessed with the supposed dangers of masturbation who hoped that a diet
of boring breakfasts would dampen diners’ inwardly directed sexual urges.
At the other end of the social engineering spectrum, Edward Bernays — a notorious propagandist and promoter of herd mentality who used his powers of persuasion to get Americans to turn their backs on the traditional light breakfasts. No longer
would toast, fruit, porridge, and coffee be the choice of cereal-eschewing adults; instead, they would consume bacon and eggs — now ubiquitous in diners across the land — because Bernays was paid to propagandize protein by the Beech-Nut Packing Company. Bernays can also be credited for getting Americans to use disposable dishes (paid by Dixie Paper Cups & Plates), fluoridate their water (paid for by the Aluminum Company of America), women to smoke cigarettes (paid for by the American Tobacco Company), and many other nefarious consumerist schemes.
A few months ago I hit upon the idea of creating a California Fry Up — a Full Californian if you will. I assure that my motivation was neither religious obsession with the sexual habits of others — nor was I paid to do so by nefarious corporate sponsors. I just like breakfast. To me, bagels and cream cheese, biscuits and gravy, casamiento, chilaquiles, congee, crêpes, croissants, dim sum, grits, mohinga, and phở are all phantastic.
I also love a good fry up — that super-hearty, high-calorie breakfast historically associated with various cultures of the British Isles — and decided that it might be a fun and tasty exercise to create a California version. When I found myself joined by a group of friends in Palm Springs I realized that it was the perfect opportunity to test out my concoction.
There are several regional variations on the traditional full breakfast, including the full Cornish, full English, full Irish, full Scottish, and the Ulster fry. The roots of the full breakfast are usually traced back to the 13 century and it’s often said to be essentially unchanged since then — despite the presence of potatoes and tomatoes — both of which were unknown in Europe until the 15th century and uneaten until the late 16th — and tea or coffee, both of which arrived even to the breakfast party even later. The REgional variety and dubious historical claims aside, most fry ups have more in common than they have differences and I worked from that template to create my full Californian.
In nearly all modern fry ups, whether grilled, fried or tinned; there’s a tomato. The tomato is native to Mexico, where they were known to the Mexica as “tomatl” and cultivated at least as early as 500 BCE. Today there are some 7,500 varieties (and yet most people content themselves with those red, perfectly round, perfectly flavorless ones from the supermarket). Because of the tomatoes key role in the full breakfast — and because Los Angeles is home to the largest population of Mexicans outside of Mexico — I set aside some tomatoes for the full Californian. There were, in the end, no tomatoes in this particular breakfast, however, because they ended up in the previous supper’s ceviche.
Potatoes are prepared in traditional fry ups in a variety of styles, including boxty, Cornish potato cakes, fried potatoes, fried potato farl, hash browns, potato bread, and tattie scones. Potatoes were first cultivated by Andean peoples sometime since sometime between 8,000 BCE and 5,000 BCE. Today there are roughly 5,000 and I’ve never had one that I didn’t like… and yet I decided to go with something a bit different — the sweet potato.
Despite their names in English, potatoes and sweet potatoes are only distantly related. Potatoes, like tomatoes, are in the same family as deadly nightshade — which is why, for centuries, Europeans wrongly assumed that they were poisonous. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are in the morning glory family — a fact which will come as no surprise to the gardener who’s ever grown them. Yams, for the record, are something else entirely — an old world plant in the lily family the name of which was applied by West African slaves to somewhat similar-looking sweet potatoes they encountered in the American South. Sweet potatoes were first cultivated by Carribean residents as early as 3,000 BCE and by 2,500 BCE had spread throughout the region. They spread rapidly, appearing in Polynesia by 1,000 CE. From the 1500s-mid 1700s they made their way to Fujian, Ryūkyū, and Korea. The potato’s popularity, on the other hand, is more of a trans-Atlantic story and that tuber became especially popular in European counties like Belarus, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, and Russia. Los Angeles and California are Pacific places, though, and the sweet potatoes Pacific journey seemed more symbolically appropriate.
Sweet potatoes are usually eaten baked in places like China, Korea, and Japan. They’re popular as evening snacks but less so as breakfast foods except in Sri Lanka, where they’re often topped with sweet coconut sambal. In Taiwan, the leaves are often sautéed and seasoned with soy sauce and garlic (Los Angeles is home to more Taiwanese than any other city outside of Taiwan). In my experience, hash browned sweet potatoes rarely turn out as well as hash browned potatoes and so I cooked made home fries by cooking them with garlic, onions, peppers, herbs, and black pepper.
To the typical American, the most bizarre feature of the full English breakfast is also one of the most essential — beans on toast. I decided to serve beans and toast — and both in my typical Californian fashion. Not every fry up in the British Isles includes beans on toast, mind you, but nearly all include bread of some sort, whether wheat bread (toasted or fried), oatcakes (grilled or fried), white or brown soda bread, laverbread, potato bread, or soda farl.
Our California fry-up included tortillas — that unleavened flatbread eaten at breakfast throughout the Southwest, Mexico and Central America (Los Angeles is home to the
largest populations of Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans outside of their respective home countries). We also had freshly made sourdough bread, courtesy of James, who baked it with cheddar and jalapeños on top. Sourdough, of course, is famously associated with California’s fourth-largest city (San Francisco). Months ago, when discussing my plans for a California fry up, fellow fry-up enthusiast Deidra suggested avocados. I used them and James’s bread to make avocado toast. The earliest known mention of the avocado toast comes from a newspaper article in San Francisco’s Daily Alta California dating from 1885. The Hass avocado, the most common variety, was cultivated by Californian Rudolph Hass, whose first tree bore fruit in Whittier in 1926. Several decades later, the dish made its way to Sydney and Brooklyn.
British beans are, I think, another interesting story. Nearly every version of the fry-up includes Heinz beans which are sometimes referred to here as British beans and mostly found in British and South Asian markets like India Sweets and Spices. One of the Scottish breakfasters, Chris, is even nicknamed “Beans.” Henry John Heinz, however, was American and he founded his company in his native Pennsylvania. For whatever reason, though, Heinz’s beans proved much more popular in the UK than US and so, in 1896, Heinz relocated to London. In 1928, Heinz stopped even selling beans in the US and today amongst Americans the Heinz name conjures up thoughts of ketchup, not canned legumes.
Beans have been cultivated on every continent except Antarctica. The most widely consumed versions, however, tend to have originated in the Americas, where they were regarded by some Native Americans (along with maize and squash) as oen of the “Three Sisters.” The variety cultivated by Palm Springs’ indigenous ʔívil̃uqaletem (or Ivilyuqaletem) was the mesquite bean, but I believe it was mostly pounded into flour and is somewhat difficult to come by today. The choice, as I saw it, came down to pinto beans and black beans. Both are widely popular, although pinto beans are somewhat more associated with El Norte whilst black beans are decidedly associated with El Sur. I went with black and topped them with cotija — a Mexican cheese named after Cotija de la Paz, Michoacán. A good vegan alternative might be ground epazote.
None of our party were vegan but about half (including myself) were vegetarian and so I didn’t even consider including bacon, bangers, haggis, pudding (black, fruit, gurty, hog’s or white), or rashers. Nor did I include cockles, herring, mackerel, or sewin. Americans eat more animal flesh than just about anyone but California is the most vegetarian state in the country and so an appropriate compromise would be mock meat of some sort. Beyond Meat makes several types of pretty unbelievable vegetarian sausages. There are also all sorts of tasty (if not at all healthy) Taiwanese mock meats (Taiwan is the second most vegetarian country after India) widely available in Southern California markets.
As I said, none of us were vegans although Dia doesn’t particularly like eggs — and nor do I except when scrambled. I actually prefer a tofu scramble to scrambled eggs and tofu, in the US, has California roots. Wo Sing & Co, established in San Francisco in 1878, was the country’s first tofu manufacturer. I was cooking for fourteen people, however, not all of whom I presumed shared my love of tofu scrambles and so went with the eggs. Una was responsible for preparing those and mixed in nopalitos (from the Nahuatl “nōpalli”) the diced pads of the native prickly pear cactus.
Most full breakfasts include some fried or sautéed mushrooms — usually Agaricus bisporus — an edible basidiomycete mushroom known, depending on its maturity and appearance as portobello, champignon, cremini, brown, or white mushroom. It’s naturally found across Europe and North America (and easily cultivate) making it the easiest option and it’s the one I went with. If you want to make your full Californian more Californian than mine, you might forage some Boletus, Chanterelle, Lactarius, or Morel. I see Laetiporus (Chicken of the Woods) growing all over but usually on eucalyptus, which is rumored to make it inedible. If you’re a budding mycophile, consider joining an organization like the Los Angeles Mycological Society — otherwise (unless you’re already an experienced forager), stick to the supermarket (as we did).
As for condiments, brown sauce has been the staple condiment of fry-ups ever since Heinz packed his bags of beans and moved to England. Once settled in the UK, Heinz began bottling HP (“Houses of Parliament”) Brown Sauce in 1895. Like Heinz beans, you’re unlikely to find it in the US outside of import shops and specialty markets. More common and similar is London Pub Steak & Chop Sauce which, despite its name, is owned by New Jersey-based company or A1 Sauce. A1, for that matter, is pretty similar to brown sauce and I do wonder whether London Pub Steak & Chop Sauce is just A1 steak sauce re-packaged for gullible British expats and Anglophiles. In Australia and New Zealand, apparently, brown sauce is also uncommon and often substituted with barbecue sauce or Worcestershire sauce are often substituted.
Our group had Huy Fong‘s version of Thai sriracha sauce (invented in Los Angeles’s Chinatown in 1980), Cholula (manufactured in Chapala, Jalisco), Valentina (bottled in Guadalajara, Jalisco) — all of which proved to be fine. One might also consider El Pato (made in Boyle Heights), Tapatío (bottled in Vernon) or any number of small-batch salsas picantes which one can pick up from street fairs, craft fairs, and farmers’ markets.
Last but not least, there’s the beverage to consider. The full English is, since the 1660s, served with black tea. Coffee has been another popular option, ever since the absolute beginners of the 1950s decided that they needed a new kind of kick. Since full breakfasts are often served at pubs, beer is often consumed. Beer was probably introduced to the British Isles by the Romans in pre-Christian times. Since most of us don’t want to get tanked before noon, lighter lagers are more popular than strong or heavy beers.
There are plenty of Californians who exhaustedly climb aboard every beverage fad bandwagon after they’re whipped into a frenzy by hack writers joylessly grinding away at the local listicle mills. The past has witnesses crazes for lattes, boba, kombucha, salted coffee, LA Croix, cold-brewed coffee, cold-pressed juices, flat whites, matcha, cheese foam tea, hard seltzers, and CBD-infused everything. None, however, were born in California, however, nor are any particularly associated with the state. Years ago, a Native American friend told me that indigenous Californians used to make a beverage from native toyon — but some research suggests that toyon is toxic (a fact that my friend might not have thought worth mentioning).
Poet Clint Campbell had an obvious solution which I’d somehow overlooked — orange juice. The sweet orange is native to Southeast Asia but navel oranges, the type most often used to produce orange juice, were developed in the early 19th century — first appearing in either Brazil or Portugal. Navel Oranges were introduced to Florida in 1835 and Riverside County, California in 1870. Although Brazil produces most of the world’s orange juice and Florida declared it that state’s drink, the importance of oranges in Southern California is reflected in the very names of the city of Orange, the communities of Citrus and Orange Park Acres, Orange County, and the Inland Empire.
The only problem was that we didn’t have any orange juice. Una gamely juiced about five mandarins, which maybe produced 5 mL of juice, and so people instead turned to coffee, tea, and lager.
Anyway… let me know if you decide to make your own full Californian Breakfast or any other newfangled fry-up and include pictures.
FULL CALIFORNIA/CALIFORNIA FRY-UP MENU
- sourdough avocado toast or tortillas
- black beans with cotija
- tofu scramble or scrambled eggs with nopalitos
- sweet potato home fries
- veggie sausage
- sautéed mushrooms
- orange juice, tea, or coffee