Why are Continental Breakfasts Called That?

Posted by


Many hotels offer guests a free breakfast
consisting of muffin, coffee, cereal and milk, toast, juice, bagel, and, at some, even scrambled
eggs and make-your-own waffles. Born in the Gilded Age, today’s continental
breakfasts reflect the West’s transition from a mostly agrarian culture to an industrial
(and today, service) society. Luckily, however, some of us have not forgotten
our culinary past. Breakfast in the Early 1800s
In the first part of the 19th century, as many rural American families had greater wealth
and access to a larger variety of foods, a typical family breakfast would include a meat,
eggs, fish, a bread, a cereal, fruit and any of a variety of condiments, including butter,
jam and maple syrup. Common meats throughout the states included
bacon, sausage and ham. Cereal grains such as grits and oats were
also popular, as were many different types of breads, including pancakes and biscuits. A hefty intake of calories, these hearty breakfasts
were a necessity for the hard-working American farm family of the first half of the 19th
century. Birth of the Continental Breakfast
Over the latter part of the 19th, and early quarter of the 20th, centuries, the West (and
in particular) America increasingly became urbanized. From 1870 to 1920, the population of American
cities grew from 10 million to 54 million, and many of these people were a part of the
growing middle class. While these shopkeepers, dentists, accountants
and merchants may have put in long hours, they certainly weren’t exerting the same
physical energy as their agrarian forebears. Needing fewer calories, the traditional American
heavy breakfast eventually fell out of fashion. Also at this time, continental Europeans were
traveling the world and bringing their taste preferences with them. This brings us to the British and the traditional
British fry up. Alternately known also as the “fry,” “full
English,” and even the “Full Monty,” a traditional English breakfast has both sausage
and bacon, eggs, fried bread (literally, a slice of bread fried in either lard, butter
or bacon fat), sliced fresh tomato and baked beans (yes, like Heinz’ baked beans). In addition, many purveyors of this Matterhorn
of breakfasts also offer optional “pudding” (not JELLO, but rather a sausage made from
oats and pork fat, with or without pig’s blood), kidneys (beef or lamb), kippers (smoked
herring), sautéed mushrooms, and, of course, fried potatoes. Appalled by the heavy British breakfast, the
Europeans (think the French and their petit déjeuner) helped the British create a modest
first meal, frequently consisting merely of coffee or tea, pastry and fruit. By 1855, this was being referred to as the
continental breakfast. Europeans were also touring America and staying
in her hotels. Frequently the primary (if not only) source
of meals for a tourist, American hotels soon began adjusting their fare to meet the tastes
and expectations of their European customers. The American middle class (some of whom also
toured Europe and were exposed to the practice over there, as well) soon also preferred the
smaller meal, and, thus, the continental breakfast became an American staple. It’s Not Just the Food
The term “continental” referred to more than just the dishes served, it also described
its pricing. Traditional American hotels were more like
boarding houses where meals were included in the price of a room. On the other hand, European hotels offered
rooms and meals à la carte. As Europeans toured America, (and Americans
toured Europe), soon hotel patrons in the U.S. were opting out of most hotel meals,
although breakfast was still desired. To accommodate these changing tastes, the
‘continental’ model of room pricing, where breakfast was included with the cost of the
room, came about. Lamenting a Loss
Not every member of the Gilded Age was pleased with the new fad. As one sad and hungry person noted in Harper’s
Weekly in 1896: In old days a hungry man could get more things
to eat . . . . Hungry men have declined in numbers and influence . . . . No one but the
“Autocrat” ever talked much at [the old-style breakfast] for the viands were too tempting
– great beef steaks, hot rolls, buckwheat cakes, omelettes, potatoes, coffee, and even . . . pie.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *