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Book review – Breakfast: The Cookbook

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Book review – Breakfast: The Cookbook

In the late 1800s, Dr John Harvey Kellogg, a Seventh-day Adventist, had a medical degree and a new breakfast food.

Kellogg’s cornflakes were designed to promote abstinence and sobriety and, as he said in the paper he published in the medical journal he managed, breakfast was “the most important meal of the day”. And here we are today – still buying cornflakes, and still eating breakfast.

Emily Elyse Miller’s Breakfast: The Cookbook is the result of three years of research into the meal-time trend Kellogg certainly didn’t start, but did mould in the western world. Across almost 400 recipes, she plots an authoritative course around the globe and its people, from acai bowls to ze ek bannann (a Haitian egg and plantain scramble) and offers up a guide to making cornflakes from scratch.

This approach – one of exploring the world and its food in unison – has left the book with a fabulous honesty. There is plenty to delight and surprise, and Haarala Hamilton’s photography presents every dish captured with Insta-worthy flair, but equally there are plenty of dishes that won’t be appearing on your menu any time soon.

For example, hagelslag from the Netherlands – bread with butter and chocolate sprinkles – is unsurprisingly a fairly short recipe: smear, sprinkle, serve. However, if you ask Dutch people about the dish, you will discover it is eaten by children and adults, served in hospitals, and personalised with peanut butter, gouda or single-origin chocolate versions of the sprinkles. It’s about culture, nourishment, nostalgia and national identity.

This spirit is what the book has been able to encapsulate so well. Across the centuries, breakfast may not have been the most important meal, but it is often the most intimate – one that, as Miller puts it, “displays our need for comfort through food”. Her book explores “what goes on in the early hours around the world” as people sit sleepy eyed and dig into congee or masala koki or conchas. This vast 463-page collection is a bible for early hours’ cuisine, presenting nothing more or less radical than the real food people crave and love when they wake up the world over.

Breakfast: The Cookbook by Emily Elyse Miller (Phaidon, £35)

• Try the recipe for cut rice noodle soup from the book here

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