For years, breakfast has been the forgotten meal. ``It's just as well, in some ways,'' says Marion Cunningham, who has written a complete book on breakfasts - the meal many people still avoid daily.
It's her contention that breakfast is the last ``honest'' meal. ``It has remained pure in the middle of all the fancy food trends,'' she says.
``It's the only meal without a lot of chic new garnishes and unusual food combinations. But most of all, it's a wonderful meal to share with members of the family.''
Mrs. Cunningham explains that brunch is a completely different thing. She's talking about the honest simplicity of breakfast foods - those easy, familiar foods like fresh strawberries and cream, hot cereals, hot biscuits and muffins, raised doughnuts, and pies.
No one has ever stood for more outstandingly honest cooking than Marion Cunningham, author of the ``Fannie Farmer Baking Book,'' who was also responsible for the complete revision of the ``Fannie Farmer Cookbook.''
``There is no such thing as gourmet cooking,'' she says in an interview.
``There is simply good cooking. Pretentiousness is indefensible. Too many people cook competitively instead of getting personal pleasure from it.''
What upsets her most about today's eating habits is the breakdown of the family dinner hour.
``So much is happening to make us all anonymous,'' she says. ``The one spot to displace loneliness is at the table, but instead we stand alone in front of the refrigerator door gulping down a snack.
``Today, breakfast falls into two categories,'' she explains, talking about her new cookbook, ``The Breakfast Book'' (Knopf, $17.95). We all go through the rushed everyday snacks that just manage to get you out of the house and off to work. Because of their staying power, muffins of all kinds have become popular all over the country for this time of day.
Weekend breakfasts bring friends together, she explains in the book, which contains recipes and complete menus for everything from poached and soft boiled eggs to souffl'es, puddings, and pork tenderloin with hot biscuits and gravy.
When asked about the current fitness trend and its relation to breakfast foods, she said simply, ``This is not a health book. People should be allowed to eat what they please, within reason, without worrying about nutrition at every mouthful.
``As tired as the old adage `moderation in all things' may be, I'm of the mind that we should follow this edict, and not become too anxious about each and every bite. I believe we should eat a wide variety of foods, without eating too much of any of them.''
The book is charming and easy to read. A reproduction of Pierre Bonnard's painting ``The Breakfast Room'' (circa 1930-31) graces the cover, and drawings by Donnie Cameron are sprinkled through the text.
Cunningham introduces new approaches to old favorite breakfast dishes and also shows you how to make your own muesli, grits, fresh sausage, and scrapple.
Her special Raw Fresh Fruit Jam can be made in just 30 minutes. There's a recipe for ginger shortbread and another for fresh ginger cake. Pickles, relishes, and other condiments and beverages are here too.
She revives the custom of puddings and pies for breakfast. ``For people who don't like eggs ordinary ways, egg custards are wholesome, soft, spoonable. They're gentle food that won't ruffle our feathers in the morning.''
There are recipes for cheese oatmeal custard, spoon bread custard, cornflake pudding, and steamed spiced carrot pudding.
James Beard, her partner in many cooking projects during their long friendship, is mentioned several times in the book, and Cunningham includes some of his recipes, such as kedgeree and J.B.'s French Toast. A recipe for baked breakfast fruit comes from Darina Allen of the Ballymnaloe cooking school in County Cork, Ireland.
Cunningham worked for many years with Mr. Beard, is a food writer, and was recently menu consultant to the Bridge Creek Restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., which specializes in breakfasts.
Tart and sour flavors have a traditional affinity for pork, ham, and sausages - think of sauerkraut, for example.
In this dish, the sour taste of dried apricots goes well with the smoky flavor of ham. Serve this hot, spooned over a crisp waffle, white toast, or rye toast. Chipped Ham and Dried Apricots 1 cup dried apricots 2 cups boiling water 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 3 cups milk 1 teaspoon dry English mustard dissolved in 2 tablespoons water Salt to taste (be careful - ham is quite salty) 1 cup shredded or coarsely chopped cooked ham
Place dried apricots in bowl with boiling water. Let stand 15 minutes, until apricots have softened. Cut into small pieces and set aside.
Melt butter in skillet and stir in flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Continuing to stir, slowly add milk. Add mustard and salt, and cook sauce 5 minutes. Then add apricots and ham and cook another minute. Taste, correct seasoning, and serve. Serves 4.
This soft, gentle pudding is slightly crisp on top. It won't startle you first thing in the morning. It can be made ahead and reheated. Cornflake Pudding 4 cups milk 2 eggs 2 tablespoons dark molasses 6 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon ground ginger 1/4 teaspoon salt 4 cups cornflakes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 11/2-quart souffl'e dish or baking dish. Put a pan large enough to hold baking dish in oven, and fill with hot water halfway up sides of baking dish.
Put milk, eggs, molasses, sugar, ginger, and salt in bowl, and stir briskly until well mixed. Put cornflakes in bottom of baking dish and pour milk mixture over.
Put dish into pan of hot water and bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until pudding is set.
Serve warm. Serves 6.
Blueberries and cranberries bring out the best in each other. This bread is nicest when you serve it warm. Blueberry Cranberry Bread 1 cup fresh cranberries 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1 cup brown sugar 8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature 2 eggs 1 cup buttermilk 3 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup blueberries
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.
Put cranberries and granulated sugar in small skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until sugar has dissolved. Remove from the stove and set aside to cool.
Put cup of brown sugar and butter in mixing bowl and beat until blended. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in buttermilk.
Put flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in bowl and stir with fork until well mixed. Add to butter mixture and beat only until blended.
Stir in cranberry mixture and blueberries. Spoon batter into loaf pan.
Bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a straw comes out clean when inserted into center. Remove from oven and turn onto rack to cool a little.