East Midlands Food

East Midlands Food

No-trouble breakfasts 1914 – style…

What do you have for breakfast, that most important meal of the day? The author of an article in the popular women’s magazine Home Chat in 1914 referred to a friend who ‘gives her family boiled eggs for breakfast one morning, and cold pickled pork the next, with fried bacon on Sunday. All excellent, of course, but I do think it may get a little monotonous… I do not  like turning out early any better than most people. But my people have a hot breakfast every morning… I choose dishes that can be got ready the day before, and only need heating up when morning comes’.

Her ‘specialities’ included Fish Croutons, a mixture of cooked fish, hard-boiled egg and anchovy essence on fried bread; Mowbray Eggs, four eggs baked in the oven and served with a hot vinegar and parsley dressing; and Ham Cakes made of mashed potato, chopped ham, parsley and onion, and fried ‘a pretty golden brown’ in a pan of fat ‘on the fire’. In case you fancy something different for your own breakfast, here is her recipe for Curry Balls:


Curry Balls

Four ounces of well-boiled rice

Half a pound of any cold meat, game or fish

One teaspoonful of curry-powder

One teaspoonful of lemon juice

Two teaspoonfuls of grated onion

Half an ounce of flour

One ounce of butter

One gill of stock

One egg, crumbs, frying fat

Overnight I mix the finely minced meat with the rice, melt the butter, add to it the curry-powder and the onion, and let these cook in a saucepan over the fire for a minute or so. Next I stir in the flour to the butter, add the stock, and stir the mixture over the fire until the sauce boils. Then I mix into it the meat and rice, lemon-juice and seasoning, and let the mixture cool, when it stiffens. I shape it into neat balls, and coat them with egg and crumbs. Put them aside on a tin covered with a piece of soft paper, and see there is plenty of clean fat ready in the frying pan.

In the morning all I have to do is to heat the fat until a smoke is rising from it, and then fry the curry-balls a nice tempting brown. I serve very hot, with a little sauce if I have any. NOTE. – Do not make fresh sauce if you happen to have any left over. Any unsweetened kind will do.

The recipe itself is perhaps not so different from a 21st century version of curry balls, but the article also gives some glimpses into the diet and lifestyles of its readers just before the First World War. At 1d. an issue it was accessible to a wide audience, but it is clear from the fashion advice and advertisements that its main target was lower middle class women who – like the author herself – ‘only have one maid’ and thus had to do their share of the cooking and other work in the house. Although the magazine looked forward to the day when ‘electricity will play a much larger part in domestic affairs than it does at present’, in 1914 it was still ‘merely a luxury for the wealthy’. This explains the extent to which much food was still cooked ‘on the fire’, and the effort involved in cleaning the cooking range, the ‘heaviest and dirtiest part of present-day drudgery’.   

This particular edition (31 January 1914, Vol. LXXVI, No. 985) also carried the advice that ‘Wringing Spells Ruination’ for woollen clothing, and advertised a ‘safe home treatment’ guaranteed to overcome a ‘drink habit’ in only three days or ‘money back… Cut this out and show it to others in need of this joyful news’. There were also some fascinating ‘Points About Porridge’ that I promise to pass on to you another time…

Somewhere to visit - the National Gas Museum in Aylestone Road, Leicester has a large collection of gas appliances including cookers. The museum building was originally the gatehouse to the gas works where town gas was first made in 1878. Admission is free. See http://www.gasmuseum.co.uk/about.htm for more details and opening times.




    Angela Cutting July 28th, 2010 at 8:15 am

    Mmmmm, some of those breakfast specialities sound rather good, especially the fish croutons. I’m not sure I would want curry balls for breakfast though, although they are possibly a little like kedgeree. But all of them would be a good way of using up leftovers!


    Sue Scandolo August 16th, 2010 at 8:55 am

    As a child in Leicester (1955 onwards) our breakfasts were nothing unusual except on Christmas day. We always had pork pie with chutney as an optional extra. When I told my mother that my friends thought this odd she insisted it was a tradition introduced by my father from his home in the north east. Not sure if that was true or if it was a busy mums’ expenation for not cooking breakfast.


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A research project that looked at various aspects of food in the East Midlands, linking them with museum displays and objects in the region, and making the results available to as many people as possible in different formats.