March, without a doubt, is a changeable month. A bridge from winter to spring; the days are longer and often there is a hint of brightness and warmth that can return overnight to blustery and cold catching us unawares either way. Rhubarb, purple broccoli and spinach are all in season right now and should be bursting with flavour, while spring lamb would be a traditional favourite for the next while. March always brings its own festivities and this year is no exception with back to back celebrations of St Patrick’s Day and Mothering Sunday. It is certainly shaping up to be a busy weekend for families everywhere.
While all mothers should be utterly spoiled at every meal on Mothers’ Day, perhaps the easiest meal to get all the family involved in preparing is breakfast. There are so many breakfast ideas and indeed, breakfast to lunch suggestions, that the choices are plenty. With or without meat, from American pancakes to a traditional full Irish, stick the kettle on and break everyone’s fast with some tasty morning treats. You can satisfy any number of tastes first thing in the morning and with the atmosphere relaxed and informal the potential to create the perfect start to the day is abundant.
Recently I came across a very old book entitled Royal Chef: Recollections of a Life in Royal Households from Queen Victoria to Queen Mary, which was published in 1954. It was written by a Swiss native Gabriel Tschumi, a chef who served in English royal households for forty years. In the book he recalls his first day at Windsor Castle around 1900, where, to his great surprise, he found that breakfast was as big a meal there as the main meal of the day was in Switzerland at the time. In the book he writes, “I had risen about 7am and come to the kitchens expecting that, as lunch and diner were meals of about eight to ten courses, breakfast would be a very light meal indeed. Instead I found that the coal ranges were red hot and the spits packed with chops, cutlets, steaks, bloaters, sausages, chickens and woodcock. In other parts of the kitchens cooks were trimming rashers of streaky bacon, a quarter of an inch thick for grilling, and preparing egg dishes.”
Admittedly this was a royal household but even in the great houses of Britain and Ireland breakfast, in its day, was quite a meal. Bacon, eggs, kidneys and chops were regularly on the menu. Even the ordinary citizen understood the importance of breakfast with breakfast with porridge followed by some bacon and poached or boiled eggs perhaps. These days the rituals around breaking the fast have diminished, rather sadly, to a fast scramble for the sugary contents of cardboard boxes at worst or a quick whizzed up cocktail of fruit and yoghurt at best and then out the door and into the day; neither option coming remotely near the nourishment or satisfaction of the five courses enjoyed by the households of Queen Victoria or Queen Mary.
So when we do get a chance for that leisurely breakfast I feel we should embrace it. When it comes to breakfast I have to start with the egg. Without wishing to sound like the Minister for Eggs, a more versatile food is hard to find. On their own they are quite sufficient but add a herb like chives, a little smoked salmon perhaps, some ham, streaky bacon, cheese or interesting breads and you have some tasty new combinations. You could of course simply boil them and serve them with traditional soldiers or for a more sophisticated twist, some spears of asparagus, but also try scrambling, poaching or even baking in small ramekins for something special.
The rather carbohydrate heavy American inspired breakfast of pancakes with syrup and bacon is quite the sweet treat and my own little ones are very partial to French Toast topped with the full works of syrup, sliced banana, pecan nuts and a sprinkling of icing sugar. If you are in the mood for ‘fancy’ it’s hard to beat the old cream cheese and salmon on bagels and while this might be a nice idea for Mothers’ Day when it comes to our national holiday 24 hours earlier, a full Irish is really the only option.
In Tipperary we are quite spoiled with the quality of our bacon and the range of artisan sausages and breakfast pudding at our disposal. Whatever your preference; whether it be a traditional rasher and pork sausage or a sophisticated black pudding and herb sausage, there is something for you. Add to this some free range eggs, scrambled or fried, along with some home made breads from any of the several local producers and you have a breakfast fit for any royal household. Another favourite hot breakfast from my own childhood would have to be grilled kidneys with mushrooms cooked in butter. I know that kidneys aren’t to everyone’s taste, but I’d urge you to give them a try. Interestingly the Europeans always seem to add something sweet to the breakfast table, even after a meaty breakfast feast, and so the rise in popularity of the Danish pastry, the plain or chocolate croissant, brioche or the apple turnover.
Given that Patrick’s Day is falling on a Saturday this year, you could get three days of leisurely breakfasting in if you include Mothers’ Day and Bank Holiday Monday. Be careful though, you just might get used it. Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit and enjoy Mothering Sunday too if you are one!
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers