Breakfast down at the Whelans

On Sundays I try something a little different for my first meal of the day

For the last several years, my standard breakfast fare has been fruit (usually fresh) and a fat slice of bread well coated with peanut butter (crunchy) or at the most, slight variations on that theme.

These menus do exclude Sundays, however, when bacon or sausage, eggs in plain or elegant form, nicely browned leftover potatoes, and a butter-slathered piece of toast with more slathering of marmalade, take precedence.

Every now and then, I think about the more exotic breakfasts that were the norm in our house when my late husband was here to share them. Strangely enough, these early morning feasts were brought to mind this morning when I donned my cracked and aging duck boots to make a trip through dewy grass to the compost box.

It was these boots, you see, that were often part of our breakfast scene – whether it was having our morning coffee in the garden or sitting by a campfire wherever the previous day’s wanderings had parked the truck and camper.

Those campfires did make their impressions on the boots, too, as an ever-hotter fire ring melted rubber while warming feet.

But back to breakfast. Jack was no slouch in the kitchen, loved to cook, brought many of his recipes from California, delighted in building meals from scratch, and certainly did not believe in a standard breakfast menu. Always, his breakfasts started with a hot dish, followed by fresh or home-processed fruit.

When, every fall we bought a huge bucket of mature, fresh herring, many of the little silver fish ended up in the smoker and were then packaged and frozen in breakfast-sized bundles. When the Whelans had kippers for breakfast, their pungent aroma often broadcast the menu to the neighbors.

Another hearty specialty was a mixture whose name I forget. It started with some lean ground beef, quickly browned and set aside; coarsely chopped chard lightly sauteed, the beef returned to keep it company, all bound together by gently beaten eggs, and served on a warm plate.

Whatever was the leading dish, it was most often accompanied by homemade sourdough bread. This was no bread maker special but a production that kept the kitchen in a flurry for most of the day.

The bread was nourished by a homemade starter, that magic potion that can live for weeks, then add volume and flavor to its loaves. Our starter somehow acquired the name “Herman” and he lived for years, with occasional feedings, in a plastic shortening container at the back of the fridge.

Baked beans were also a breakfast favorite, but a freezer load of soups were the mainstay. Pea soup, lentil soup, minestrone … they all came regularly to the breakfast table. And then there was menudo … and naturally my computer underlines it in red. And maybe red, or at least the orange of caution are exactly the right colors for this concoction … it should indeed be thus approached.

A native of the true north strong and free, you can believe that menudo, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, was an unheard of delicacy for me. Many might say that “delicacy” has no place in its description.

Menudo supposedly came into its own in Sonora, that wild, northern state of Mexico bordering on the USA. At the time of the Mexican civil wars, what meat was available from the poor desert cattle was made into jerky and sent off to supply the soldiers with a reasonably long lasting source of energy.

Not much was left of the poor bovine critters but their bones and stomachs. You can bet these were not wasted and their use resulted in menudo.

The knuckle bones, like all good soup bones provided a flavorful base, and then came the stomach, or as modern butchers call it – tripe.

 

Of a bovine’s four stomachs, the second, providing honeycomb tripe, is the best. Add tomatoes, onions, a generous helping of chiles, some hominy, herbs and spices, and Ole!