England, part 1: Breakfast and sausages

The first of several essays about my recent trip to England.

The rather large lady sat down with a sigh at the table next to ours with a sigh. Laying down her walking stick, she looked around appreciatively at the sunlit room, decorated tastefully in pale yellows to match the vaguely Edwardian architecture of the hotel. Beyond the large windows, we could see the waters of the Channel sparkling in the morning sun.

“I want a proper breakfast” she declared to her husband, who nodded without any questions and trotted off obediently to the breakfast bar. He returned shortly with a large plate laden with the Proper Breakfast: a mound of scrambled eggs, several strips of bacon, some slices of black pudding, a couple of links of pork sausages, fried bread, and sauteed mushrooms and tomato halves. The lady tucked in happily. “Oh these sausages are lovely”, she mumbled.

I glanced discreetly at their table, where her husband was deep into a similar plate, and then stared down at my own modest plate of English Breakfast Food. I’d assembled it based on the nostalgia I had for such food - in Switzerland or the U.S., I never eat breakfast like that (unless it’s for a sunday brunch),. The black pudding was not bad. (Black pudding is a sausage made of congealed pig’s blood, lumps of lard, pig’s liver, and other ingredients. It’s served sliced and fried, in yet more lard or butter or oil. It is related to the French boudin noir.) I’m not sure I’ve ever had a “good” black pudding, but these didn’t totally disappoint - they were crunchy on the outside, mysteriously velvety or liver-y on the inside, and made me feel properly carnivorous. But the sausages were something else. Contrary to that lady’s opinion, they weren’t a bit lovely.

I have fond memories of sausages, English sausages. When I was quite little and we lived in Berkshire for a few years, I loved to hang around our local butcher shop, listening to the convival banter between the large, genial butcher and his customers. When the flow of customers slowed down, he liked to do what he called “knitting” - which meant, stuffing and twisting marvelously neat bunches of fat little sausages. More often than not, I’d beg my mother to buy a pound or so, which she’d fry up for our supper.

Since then though, I’ve have countless sausages. The standard sausage in New York was the Italian sausage, either mild or sweet, flavored with fennel and maybe some oregano or marjoram and such, always meaty and tasty. Switzerland does great sausages, of all varieties: roughly ground Bratwurst made from pork, veal, venison or even chicken; finely ground Cervelat (or Stumpen); Schüblig, and many more. Most are burstingly meaty, juicy, and for the most part best when grilled. As I write this, the whole neighborhood is filled with the smell of sausages grilling on outdoor barbeques.

The fat little sausages that sat on my white plate, with the sun shining on them, were suspiciously un-meaty. I cut them open to look at the sliced edge. The grind was very fine, which may account for the “smooth” mouth feeling. But veal wurst in Switzerland is also finely ground, but still tastes quite meaty. Something was wrong with this breakfast sausage.

A few days later, we engaged in one of my favorite activities while traveling: roaming the local supermarket. (Tescos in Stow-on-the-Wald, Gloustershire, in this case.) In the meat cases I found several packages of plump, short sausages, “knitted” the way I remembered them. I hesitated for several moments before deciding on one promisingly labeled “pure pork sausage”. We had rented a cottage for the week, so the sausages were going to be the centerpiece of our breakfast the next day.

Bright and early (10am on a holiday is bright and early) I heated up a frying pan and put in the sausages. There’s something about the size of English sausages that makes them so appealing; about 15 centimeters or six inches long, 1.5 cm (three-quarters of an inch) in diameter, they are about the size of the fingers of a large man’s hand. They are easy to roll about in a frying pan. I don’t think there’s any question that one pan-frys these types of sausages rather then grilling them or such.

In just a few minutes the sausages were ready, and I eagerly sliced into one. There was a promising little spurt of juices from within… But alas, the taste was still not lovely. Disappointed, I fished the wrapper out of the trash and looked at the ingredients. Ground pork was listed first, but there was also a list of things that don’t seem to belong in a meaty product. Oatmeal? Flour? Hydrogenated onions could be forgiven. Preservatives and color-enhancers or whatever may be inevitable in a supermarket product. But the oatmeal and other starchy fillers probably account for the non-loveliness. I sighed. Was my favorite butcher from my youth also using fillers? Do all English sausages contain starchy fillers?

We decided to forget about sausages and eggs for breakfast, and found a very nice muesli mix at Tesco’s. With fresh milk and strawberries picked at a pick-your-own farm near the cottage, it was quite lovely, in fact, if not too English a breakfast.

Filed under:  breakfast food travel uk

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If the rest of the essays are as well-written and compelling as this one, I am looking forward to the series!

Maki, very nice post and great description of the sausages in England :-(. Tesco does have some decent ones though but I can't recall what they're called. I'm sure they had leeks in the meat mixture.

BTW, have you ever tried the black pudding from Clonnakilty, Ireland? I used to hate black pudding before I had a bite of this three years ago in Cork. It's quite nice, with a noticeable amount of spices. I like the white pudding even better but I guess that's just my blood repulsion :-).

Oh but there are some wonderful sausages in England - you just have to find them.

Sainsbury's luxury ones are nice and come in a number of flavours - pork and apple, italian, cajun, pork and leek, toulouse etc.

Going to Borough market is a wonderful experience. http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/entrance.html

Also there's a small chain of shops called simply sausages that are said to be excellent.

The Porkinson Banger is a good classic english sausage. A reviewer says "Made to a recipe created by the photographer Norman Parkinson with 80% shoulder meat from free range pigs. Tasters commented that they have a good chewy texture and liked the strong pepper taste. A slight lemon/acidic aftertaste was also identified."

I am so sorry you've had a bad experience with the great British banger, which at its best can be quite splendiferous.

I am not surprised, however, that it happened during a hotel breakfast. I cannot understand why, when for a lot of guests breakfast is the only meal they will eat in the hotel, it is often left in the hands of the night porter or kitchen trainees, and is poorly sourced.

Sausages are often bad quality, very bready, and are frequently deep-fried or grilled from frozen. "Fried" eggs are steamed on a greased plate. Scrambled eggs are from a ready-made mixture.

I always judge a good hotel by the breakfast, especially if they have "to order" items on the menu, such as kippers, poached eggs or omelettes. And can actually deliver them.

Even if I only have toast and coffee.

Beautifully written evocation, even if you were diappointed in what you got. I've been getting BBC Good Food magazine for some time now (I buy it at B&N or Borders if I like the issue) since it is a) better than all the American food magazines bar none, b) reminds me of my youth in Surrey and Berkshire c) shakes me out of whatever California rut I have gotten into. Amyway, they periodically have evaluations of things like what the best English breakfast sausage is and there are indeed some very good ones. They had a nice interview with a guy who was (I think) a lawyer and now runs an organic pig farm in Essex and sells his meat only direct from the farm shop or at farmers markets and his sausages sounded glorious. Oddly enough he went to school with Jamie Oliver and apparently Jamie is now thinking of sourcing pork from him. He lets the pigs roam in a small oak copice on his property, which can only be a good thing. Anyway, best 'English' breakfast I ever had was actually in Scotland just over the borders at the Chirnside Country House Hotel, where we went every Summer and met huge English characters like Vera Brittain (really) and had staggeringly good food. They grew PEACHES in SCOTLAND! (They had a brick greenhouse that covered a third of an acre). They laid on the BEST breakfast with absolutely everything. I particularly remember the kippers (which have always ever since disappointed), the smoked salmon and (remember, I was between six and twelve) the wheat flakes combined with tinned grapefruit.

Jen, thanks!

Alberto, I've never really tried any blood pudding from a specific area, but I'll sure look for them!

I guess I will have to explore English sausages more next time I'm there. :)

Tesco's definitely has some good sausages but you have to look carefully before you buy. The Prince of Wales' Duchy originals are very good, for example, and the proceeds go to charity! (Here's a link to the site: http://www.duchyoriginals.com/products.asp?lngCategoryID=1024). We have also been impressed by the leek sausages and the pork and Stilton!

wow...very nicely written. Can't wait to read the rest

What an interesting topic. I am in Kent England and was originally looking up a simple sausage roll recipe for an american friend when i stumbled on this site. I am always trying to promote England and tell potential visitors to not believe all they here from those who think they can rush around the country in one day just because it is small. The trouble is they get to use the tourist stops and as i have found you can often get served appalling foods because they know you need to eat but you will not be back again. Get off the beaten track and visit somewhere the locals use, they will not eat muck on a regular basis. I am not a great banger eater, in fact pork does not always like me unless it is free range type, but i have attempted to make my own bangers which is an expensive venture as my lot soon shoved them down and i thought hang on here that cost about three times more then the ready made ones. My butcher will give me skins if i want them and i use a belly of pork as it is a mixture of meat and fat which one needs. After that it is pot luck what else goes in, normally some breadcrumbs freshly made,seasoning and a sprinkle of herb like sage. The worse bit is the breaking up of the meat in my food processor, very messy.... Don't forget the bangers and mash meal favourite of all kids especially boys with the sausages simply plonked in the pile of mash like unexploded bombs. Toad in the hole with a yorkshire batter poured over them. I cook mine first a bit then add the batter. and of course sausage rolls, oh the calories.... sausage meat or skinned sausages rolled in to a long piece put on puff/flakey pastry sealed and egg washed, cut into pieces then in to the oven until golden. If you are going to try one use a bakers or cafe that serves then hot first then decide if you may like them cold too, afterwards. Right, anyone for fish and chips, christmas cake, mince tarts and christmas pudding or even kentish hop picking cake? !....


I cannot believe that I have just sat here reading about the good (and it really is GOOD) old English banger for over half an hour!

Funny what you know to be, isn't it? I have been living in the USA for 16 months now and, I have to say - I miss my sausages. I found pork meat in the supermarkets over here but it isn't the same - too spicy and fatty. Sausages to me are pork, I'll take them from Tesco, or Sainsbury's or Somerfield - I don't care! Good old pork sausage makes a great sarnie, a fab sausage roll and don't get me started on Toad in the Hole - OH YUMMY! The best way to cook sausages in my house is in the oven for 20 mins - no fat (it all runs out) - jubbly.

I found a shop in Scottsdale (I'm living in the Phoenix area) that sells English food and they import sausages from Southern Ireland - I pay $6 for 12 of the little skinless fellows but for times when I'm just craving a sausage - it's money well spent.

Some American friends of mine made me a sausage sarnie to show that they have good bangers over here.....like you didn't like the bangers in the UK - sorry - I don't like them over here, they are not sausages to me. :-)

Bacon, sausages, gammon steak - the 3 meats I miss from England along with Pate. Sure, you can buy sausages (although called LINKS here) and bacon over her but they are totally different. I can't tell you my dissapointment when I bit into a 'juicy double bacon' sarnie of some sort in the USA - the bacon was thin, wafer thin, smoked, and as cripsy as a piece of honeycomb. Not the juicy, thick, tasty bacon I had assumed I would get.

Each to their own, life would be boring otherwise!

If there is such a thing as a good supermarket sausage, I have yet to find it. I do like the Porkinson banger which I understand is made now by Bowyers - I see one of your other commenters has something to say about them. I am thinking of making my own sausages in the new year, a steep learning curve I fear.

Hi Maki,
I just discovered your site via Chocolate&Zucchini and its really great. About good sausages: I love the Swiss ones too and my brother is totally into Schüblig, but to me the best Bratwurst ever is Nürmberger Bratwurst. If you like a good one, try those, they look just like the English ones but are so much better! Migros in Germany sells the best, I don't know if they have the same brand on your side of the border. Just go for them and enjoy (they are of couse best when barbecued but don't mind a roll in the pan, too).
Guten Appetit ;o)

Thanks for the comment Claudi! I will be sure to check out the bratwurst next time I'm in Nürnberg. I'm quite addicted to the small Nürnberger Rostbratwurst....such tasty little things!