Topsham, England — Who has not heard praise of the great English breakfast, surely one of this country's most famed culinary traditions?
Visions of a groaning Victorian sideboard come to mind, heaped with such early-morning delicacies as pungent kippers from Scotland, joints of cold tongue , beef, and ham, a silver chafing dish of hot deviled kidneys, perhaps that favorite adaptation of the British Raj, Kedgeree, and, of course, rashers of thick-cut bacon, sausages, fried tomato, eggs, and toast.
The gentleman of the manor stomps down in riding boots to tuck into this little spread before indulging in such strenuous but civilized pursuits as fishing.
Need I add that such breakfasts are hardly an everyday occurrence for most of us. We can learn from the English, however. For breakfast as a main meal is a custom well worth reviving now and then.
For if the 10-course breakfasts of yesteryear are rarely seen now, this first meal of the day is still taken very seriously here.
Even such a mundane dish as bacon and eggs is always cooked to perfection, as anybody who has stayed in the humblest ''Bed & Breakfast'' from John O'Groats to Lands' End can testify.
Bacon as thick and lean as smoked ham is first fried. Speckled brown eggs are then broken into the pan, and the sizzling bacon fat is spooned over the egg whites. The bacon and eggs are transferred to a hot plate, and the cook now adds tomatoes (tomahtoes, please), large-capped mushrooms, and squares of bread to the hot pan.
The lot is served with spicy, sweet brown sauce, or Worcestershire sauce -- believe me, a meal large enough to keep you going until dinner.
Children, and some wives, mine included, love to eat ''dippy eggs.'' These are soft-boiled eggs that are served in little egg cups.
Egg cups are pretty china or wood cups that hold the egg upright. The top of the shell is expertly broken off, and ''fingers'' of buttered toast are plunged into the runny yolk. Delicious!
Fish is still a firm breakfast favorite. Orange kippers, which are herring that has been smoked over oak chips, should be broiled in butter. Smoked mackerel is plentiful and tasty, too.
And in areas such as the Lake District, fresh mountain trout, or even poached salmon, sometimes graces the morning breakfast plate.
Kedgeree, a mildly curried mixture of smoked haddock and rice, is an adapted Indian dish carried over from the day of the British Empire.
It should be light and fluffy, but filling as well. As such it makes a perfect dish for breakfast, brunch, or even a late snack or light supper.
Timing is all-important when creating a proper English breakfast. Preparation should be done well in advance, and certain dishes can be kept warm in chafing dishes or hot plates.
The table should be laid carefully, with nice china and silver and a dainty, flowered tablecloth. Begin with fruit juice, segments of grapefruit, or perhaps, if the weather is cold, bowls of thick porridge oats.
If there is a large enough party of you, you may want to include a few specialty dishes along with the usual bacon, sausage, eggs, fried tomatoes, and mushrooms. Alternatively, serve breakfast chops, kippers, or fresh fish for the main course.
Every English breakfast must finish with rounds of hot toast, fresh butter, and homemade marmalade. Kedgeree 1 pound cooked smoked haddock 6 ounces long-grain rice 3 or 4 hard-boiled eggs A little chopped green or red pepper, or frozen peas 3 ounces butter 1/4 teaspoon mild curry powder Salt and freshly ground pepper Hard-boiled eggs and tomato for garnish
Cook rice until just tender. Meanwhile, flake cooked fish and chop hard-boiled eggs. When the rice is just tender, remove and drain. In a large saucepan, melt butter and stir in mild curry powder. Add rice, flaked fish, peppers or peas (if using), and chopped egg. Season and heat gently until hot.
Serve on a chafing dish or hot plate garnished with egg quarters and tomato wedges. Serves 4 to 6. Deviled Kidneys 8 lambs' kidneys, cleaned and chopped Seasoned flour Pinch of cayenne pepper 2 ounces butter Dash of Tabasco sauce 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1/3 cup chicken stock Hot buttered toast
Dust kidneys with seasoned flour and cayenne pepper. Melt butter in skillet and cook kidneys, turning frequently, for about 4 or 5 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, a few splashes of Tabasco sauce to taste, and chicken stock. Bring to boil, then simmer until gravy reduces to a thick sauce.
Serve on rounds of hot buttered toast. Homemade Three-Fruit Marmalade 1 grapefruit 3 oranges 6 limes 2 1/2 pints of water 4 pounds sugar
Cut fruits in half and scoop seeds into a small bowl. Cover seeds with water and leave them to soak overnight. Cut fruit, peel, pith, and pulp into slivers, or mince coarsely in a food processor. Put into a bowl and pour over water. Allow to stand overnight.
The next day, add peel, its water, and strained water from seeds (this contains pectin) into a large pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until fruit is tender, at least 20 minutes. Add sugar and stir until it has dissolved. Simmer for a further 2 1/2 hours.
When mixture sets, pour into hot sterile jars and cover.