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Typical and Traditional Breakfast in New England

Updated on May 12, 2013

Take I-95 and Head for the Six New England States

Bacon and eggs is a small portion of a traditional, hearty New England breakfast.
Bacon and eggs is a small portion of a traditional, hearty New England breakfast. | Source

New England is so called because this six-state region was first colonized by the English with the arrival of the Mayflower to southern Massachusetts shores in 1620. Even after 393 years, a visitor to this region can still see the imprint of the English in the historic city buildings (which look just like those in London), the old stone walls surrounding some historic farmhouses, and in the typical breakfast foods still served in diners and small restaurants throughout the region. This hearty breakfast may have been eaten every day by hard-working farmers, but mostly it was eaten by townsfolk on Sundays, their day of rest, just as it is enjoyed today.

The English Influence on New England Breakfast Foods

A typical English breakfast is the “Full English” or, sometimes, the “Full English Fry Up.” Nowhere is this still more true than in the small seashore towns of Cape Cods or mountain ski towns of New Hampshire and Vermont. The typical New England breakfast is a selection of fried meats, such as bacon, ham, sausages, or corned beef hash (one or all of them), eggs (fried over easy or sunny side up, scrambled hard or loose, poached – any way you like them), home fries (boiled potatoes cut up into chunks then fried on the grill), and some kind of fried bread, such as the typical jonnycake or pancakes, muffins, toasted wheat, white or rye slices or English muffins. And sometimes, though not as often seen any more, a side of typical Boston Baked beans is served. In seashore towns, a typical New England breakfast may feature fried fish cakes instead of – or alongside – the other meats.

The Jonnycake (or johnny cake)

Rhode Island prides itself on having invented the jonnycake but this, or a version of it, is served throughout the New England region. The agreed-upon spelling of this cake on Cape Cod seems to be “johnny cake,” and it is sometimes also called by its original name of “journey cake” (from which the modern “johnny cake” is derived). Derived from a Native American recipe shared with early New England settlers, this is a flat, hard pancake that used to be made using flint corn – a variety of hardy corn that grows well in the salty, foggy air of coastal areas like Rhode Island and Cape Cod. Nowadays they are made with cornmeal, salt, either water or milk, and, sometimes, a little sweetener, then fried. Unlike pancakes, johnny cakes are unleavened and therefore fry flat. They were called “journey cakes” by early settlers, colonists and pioneers because they could be packed into saddlebags and taken on long trips without fear of their spoiling.

Corned Beef Hash

Corned beef hash came about as a way to use leftovers from the traditional New England boiled dinner. The ingredients, therefore, are essentially corned beef, onions, potatoes, and, perhaps, cabbage. These are then “hashed” or thrown together, perhaps diced or chopped a little further, and pan-fried or grilled to warm it up before serving alongside the eggs, breakfast meats and breads.

Fish Cakes

Although they might seem weird to people who don’t live in coastal areas, to anyone who has ever eaten lox (thinly sliced smoked salmon), kippers or smelts for breakfast, fish cakes as a breakfast food will not seem too strange. In coastal areas, especially commercial fishing areas like Gloucester or Cape Cod (Massachusetts) and Maine, fish cakes are a staple of a traditional New England hearty breakfast. These are usually made from a flaky white-meat fish, such as cod or scrod, breaded and pan-fried to give them a delicate golden, crispy crust. They are truly scrumptious!

Boston Baked Beans

While baked beans are sometimes also a part of the traditional “Full English” breakfast, Boston baked beans have a secret ingredient that gives them a deeper sweetness: molasses. The other secret to great Boston baked beans is slow cooking. The early colonists would make these beans in heavy ceramic beanpots, place them in the banked fire of their hearths on Saturday night, and let them slowly cook overnight until the Sunday breakfast.

A typical New England breakfast is hearty, but it’s a great way to start a modern Sunday – or any day of rest!

What’s your favorite breakfast? Where in the world have you had the best-ever breakfast? Please share in the Comments below!

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  • chef-de-jour profile image

    Andrew Spacey 3 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Some fascinating information here, thank you. I can say without doubt that a full English breakfast is a true champion of breakfasts because, once digested, it'll outlast any other breakfast and keep you going for hours, sometimes half a day. At John Lennon airport in Liverpool I once sat down to enjoy a FE - there were 10 ingredients, the most I've ever seen. Washed down with a pot of strong tea it kept me going til mid afternoon.

  • everymom profile image
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    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    Jeff, thanks so much for the directions! I can't wait for this weekend! :-) Have a good trip back home in a couple of weeks. You are a brave soul. While I love traveling the US, I cannot imagine living anywhere but New England.

  • Jeff Gamble profile image

    Jeff Gamble 4 years ago from Denton, Texas

    Anahi - Rte 495 & 28, just off the rotary heading east, you won't be disappointed! We're coming up in a couple of weeks and that will be one of the first stops after we get out of Logan!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    My Mother was from New Bedford; Dad was born in New Hampshire. My Mother grew up back east, and her side of the family stayed there as well--I still have cousins on Cape Cod. My Dad's family moved to CA when he was a boy of about 10...they met in Hawaii during WWII...and lived the rest of their lives in San Francisco, making me a first generation CA native in the family. ;-)

  • everymom profile image
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    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    Jeff, thanks for the recommendation; I'm going to have to head south this weekend! :-)

  • Jeff Gamble profile image

    Jeff Gamble 4 years ago from Denton, Texas

    I'm drooling! I'm from SE Mass originally, a breakfast like this can truly only be had in New England. Dave's Diner in Middleborough has the best hash on the South Coast.

  • everymom profile image
    Author

    Anahi Pari-di-Monriva 4 years ago from Massachusetts

    Thanks so much for reading my Hub and for your vote! I love food, but can't really eat this kind of breakfast anymore, either...though I care more for savory than sweet. I agree that this meal makes a great dinner. We (well, my daughter, anyway!) tend to eat this way more as a big noon meal on Sundays than a true breakfast. Thanks for your recommendation of Gray's Grist Mill. I will definitely look it up! Where do your ancestors hail from?

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Well done. I have New England roots in my immediate ancestry--namely, my parents. I am more than familiar with Boston Baked Beans and Johnny Cakes. I still make both from time to time, but I no longer use my mother's genuine bean pot--because it came down in her family, and it recently occurred to me that it is old enough to have a lead-based glaze...so I use my crock pot these days.

    However, I don't care much for all that heavy of a breakfast, and for me breakfast must be on the sweet side--anything from oatmeal with brown sugar to Danish pastry. ;-) I'd eat this kind of food more for dinner, minus the meat.

    Gray's Grist Mill in Rhode Island (http://www.graysgristmill.com/ ) still makes old fashioned Johnny Cake meal, I believe from the original flint corn, or something they've found that is very similar. ;-)

    Voted up and interesting.