...and orangutans, a breakfast cereals, and fruit bats, and large chunks of oatmeal, and bananas, and raisins, and koalas, and blueberries...

It's always fascinating to see how the Industrial Revolution changed even the most basic aspects of our modern life.  Before, I've mentioned the affect it had on when we had our meals...leading to the creation of teatime, to fill the gap that was created.  Today, though, I'd like to discuss how it has affected what we eat for a given meal, specifically breakfast.  Because until 200 years ago, there really was no such thing as breakfast cereal.

The traditional Victorian breakfast was a holdover from an agrarian age.  It assumed that the eater was preparing for a long day of hard labor, whether that was working outside, washing and cleaning by hand, or more wealthy pursuits such as riding or hunting.  Protein then, was a sensible choice, for multiple reasons.  The first was to have a steady source of energy for the following hours of high activity.  The second, because of the lack of refrigeration, using up any leftover meat from the night before as quickly as possible was a sensible choice.

From EssentiallyEngland.com
This has led to the rather epic breakfast menus so many books discuss when they mention the Victorians.  The modern "Traditional English Breakfast" filled to the brim with meat, eggs, bread, mushrooms, tomatoes, and maybe fruit or beans is only half the story.  The menu at the Hotel Victoria in London used to serve up choices of porridge, fish, kidneys and bacon, sausages, fried apples, and an entire cold plate of additional meats and cheeses.

As people began to eat more while doing less, certain maladies, such as heart disease and gout began to become prevalent.  Researchers of the day decided that simple foods, grain-based, were most easily digested.  Muesli was invented in Switzerland in the early 1900's by a doctor Maximilian Bircher-Benner for his hospital patients. Traditional muesli is raw grains and fruit, soaked overnight, or even left to ferment slightly, releasing important nutrition that would otherwise be difficult to access in the whole grains.

Meanwhile, in America, similar grain-based breakfasts were being created, with a strong moral twist. John Harvey Kellogg was a Seventh-Day Adventist who believed in not only avoiding alcohol and tobacco, but sensuality in any form.  "Self-Pollution", a newly "discovered" problem blamed for everything from death to insanity was an issue that in Kellogg's mind could be placed squarely at the feet of vices such as red meat Combine that with a wholesome marketing image (such as the pioneer girl on the left, or the Quaker on the Quaker Oats package), and a stable shelf life, allowing the cereal to sit for months if needed(unlike whole grains), and you had an immediate success, appealing to American's love of frugality and quantifiable virtue.

Thus many of the common breakfast foods for the past 100 years were born: Corn Flakes, granola, shredded wheat, etc.  Granola, in particular, has taken off since the 70's, when it began to be marketed more widely, and in bar form. 

Who, though, is right?  The Victorian's?  Kellogg?  Most modern cereals have become little more then a vehicle for refined sugar and processed carbs, causing mayhem for anyone with a family history of diabetes, and leading to a quick sugar spike, followed by a mid-morning crash.  On the other hand, too much fat and red meat have been tied to a number of ills, particularly heart disease.

Both sides lack balance.  A number of modern researchers are now returning to advocating lean protein--meat or eggs-- at breakfast, pared with whole grains (not processed--a whole grain porridge or oatmeal is an excellent choice), and with fruit and vegetables--a much more hearty prospect. It seems more and more that as we move into the 21st Century, instead of a "one size fits all" diet, the focus will be on what a particular individual needs, based on desired outcome (weight loss, maintenance, building muscle, etc), and family history/genetic/ancestral background.  This means that what works for me, with a very solid Germanic/Norse/Scottish heritage is often heavy on meat, particularly fish, poultry, and grass-fed red meat, vegetables, and whole grains such as oats, barley, and rye, and focusing on a very hearty breakfast, with a lighter lunch, and a rich, but small, dinner.  I actually loose weight when eating that way, for the first time since having my first child.  My husband, on the other hand, with a stronger Welsh/Southern England/ French background, doesn't have the issues I do with wheat.  Very interesting for such subtle differences. 

That doesn't mean, though, that the high-energy buzz of granola doesn't have it's place.  Home-made granola bars are healthy, easily adjusted to insure that they contain the nutrition that you want, and honestly, make the packaged ones taste like sugar-dipped cardboard.  They're the perfect lift in-between meals if you start to fade, or when doing some sort of activity that calls for heavy exertion, since they contain a blend of nutrients.

Great Grandmother's Kitchen Granola Bars

  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, or 2 cups partially cooked steel-cut oats
  • 1 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 cup barley flour, or Graham flour
  • 1/2 cup honey or agave nectar
  • 2 T molasses, or dark brown sugar
  •  2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  •  1- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped dried fruit, I use the Dried Fruit Blend from Sam's Club, which has pears, apricots, peaches, figs, plums, and apples

  Preheat the oven to 350 F, and toast the oats and nuts in a 9X13 pan, stirring occasionally (should take about 15 minutes to start smelling that toasty smell). Pour into a large bowl.

Put parchment paper in the bottom of the 9x13 pan, sticking up the sides to help remove the bars later. Reduce the oven to 300 F.

Mix in other ingredients, stirring to combine.  Scoop into pan, and use the edges of the parchment to press down hard into the pan (or else it'll crumble).  Bake for 25 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely (refrigerate even) before cutting into squares.  Keep in original pan, or individually wrap.  Best to make in small batches, as they get stake quicker the ones from the store, but if they get crumbly, they're great in a bowl of milk.


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