It's a brave breakfast, whatever you call it

Back around St. Paddy's Day this very department had a pleasant dissertation about growing accustomed to the ancient "Irish" breakfast of bacon and eggs. Knowing full well that this breakfast is not necessarily Irish, I dwelt on this - perhaps overlong - and then took the book down and read again the ringing paean of Sir A.P. Herbert:

The Brave British Breakfast

of Bacon and Eggs

Sing bacon,

Bring bacon,

And fry me two eggs.

A brave British breakfast is not something bandied about too much in South Boston on St. Patrick's Day. Since England and Ireland have nothing else to fight about, perhaps a few kindly words here may start something. Let's find out:

Years ago I was a young reporter looking for grist, and I worked up a story about favorite dishes. Up and down town I asked folks what they favored above all else. Far and away the leader was a simple Down-Maine standby: bacon and eggs! Ben Furbish, who kept the hardware store, phrased his answer thus: "My favorite is breakfast, and I don't care what it is so long as it's bacon and eggs."

Here in Maine we favored brown eggs, although we knew well enough that once they're peeled you can't tell brown from white. Our family hens were Rhode Island Reds and Plymouth Rocks, and non-brown-eggers kept Leghorns and Wyandottes.

What I'm getting at is the friendly squabble my father had with Mrs. Patrick O'Shaugnessey over her breakfast eggs. When my father and my mother were first married, they lived in a flat in Boston. In the flat below lived the O'Shaugnesseys, who, in those uncouth days, were labeled the "lace curtain" folks. Mrs. O'Shaugnessey kept a small pen of laying hens on her back porch. They were Leghorns, laid white eggs, and could fly like robins.

And when my father and mother (to be) moved in, they also kept a few hens on their second-story back porch. They were Barred Plymouth Rocks, laid brown eggs, and were much too heavy to fly. The Leghorn hens of Mrs. O'Shaugnessey would fly upstairs to socialize with our hens and feed at our hopper. In short, my father kept feeding the O'Shaugnessey hens.

He did speak to Mrs. O'Shaugnessey about this and, in carefully selected words, suggested she might at least clip the wing feathers of her flock. She thanked him and made it known she would do something about it.

In the meantime, my father would find white eggs in the nests he had made for his Rocks from orange crates. He would take them downstairs and hand them to Mrs. O'Shaugnessey. He would make a big joke of it and say, "We don't eat white eggs!"

Mrs. O'Shaugnessey would smile at his jocularity and thank him for his neighborly kindness. Then one day my father felt there had been quite enough of this joint poultry management, or sponging. Instead of taking the white eggs downstairs, he put them in the egg bowl in our ice chest.

That evening, Mrs. O'Shaugnessey came up to inquire if there'd been any eggs that day.

My father, a rascally Yankee with a sly twinkle in his eye, replied: "Oh, yes! But we don't eat white eggs, so my wife made a Nova Scotia layer cake!" (Such a cake would take six eggs.) I was not then of an age to recall this, but I heard about it often. Mrs. O'Shaugnessey clipped her birds the next day. We never saw them again.

One year we made the railway trip to Churchill, Manitoba, to look at Hudson Bay, and the hotel there served macaroni three meals a day and got away with it. On the third day, we walked to take breakfast at a lunchroom of the Canadian National Railways for its workers. It was a cozy eatery, not fashionable, but nourishing.

The counter was lined with brakemen and rounders with the most beautiful waitress you ever saw. She was a Cree, straight and tall, and as we opened the main door she shouted at us, "How do you want your eggs?" After so much macaroni, that was the finest welcome I ever had in a place to eat.

This was on the 10th of July; Churchill has permafrost, and across the Churchill River we could see snowbanks left from the Ice Age. That is, we were three sleeps by train into Canada's great frozen north, with a bunch of gandy dancers being served an Irish breakfast by a native American colleen. She made a scarecrow of Molly Malone 10 times over and some to spare.

To rub it in, let me say that in Canada one doesn't get just any old kind of British or Irish bacon. The eggs come with Canadian bacon. It is not a treat you'll likely find in Killarney or even in Trafalgar Square. I suspect I'm right.

Some years later we visited Germany, and I was surprised to find so much pork on the menus without either ham or bacon mentioned. They were great on Westfalian ham, which is a tasty experience but not just what I meant.

Then I was told, "You haven't learned how to ask for it! Ask for Black Forest ham or bacon with two looking-glass eggs and some castle potatoes, beide Seiten angebraten."

So we did get a good Irish breakfast in Freudenstadt, except that they called it a Schwarzwlder Frhstck. Top o' the morning to ye!

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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