When did eggs become the breakfast staple (in the US)?

It’s hard to imagine a breakfast menu in the US not centered around eggs. Does this go back very far? Did individual farms 100 years ago have big eggs and meat breakfasts or did it take until chicken farming got to be a factory effort?


Chickens are easy to raise, and eggs are a good source of concentrated protein. It’s hard to imagine eggs not being a staple of farm cuisine.

But American breakfasts can also be centered around pancakes/waffles, various pastries, or cereal and milk.

Speaking only for myself and families I’ve been associated with, eggs have been a regular feature of breakfast since I’ve been on the planet – 70+ years. I don’t always have a breakfast of any sort, but when I do eggs are part of it.

It’s been that way all my life.

In Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Adam and Cal have eggs for almost every meal, so I’d guess it goes back at least to the 1870s.

Breakfast hasn’t always been “the most important meal of the day”. People were actively discouraged from eating breakfast in Medieval Europe, and doing so marked one as a poor laborer (who needed the extra energy to work), weak or sickly, or a glutton. However, we can find an early recommendation for breakfast eggs from Dr. Tobias Venner, whose medical text Via Recta ad Vitam Longam (“The Right Way to a Long Life”), published around 1622, had this to say:

The good doctor’s reasoning for a lot of his advice may have been bunk (though he lived to the ripe old age of 83 in the 1600s, so what do I know?), but his take on eggs–that they “speedily and purely nourish”–is a fair point. Eggs are easy to keep, easy to prepare, easy to eat, and contain a high proportion of protein. That makes them a convenient source of sustained energy for people who need to quickly grab a bite before going off to do heavy labor.

Farm folks probably cottoned to that first, with eggs being too expensive for city workers ($1 a dozen in Boston in 1802, for example). In rural areas, they were probably a staple in the 1800s, and likely appeared in “country breakfasts” in cities. They probably didn’t become a staple for working class city dwellers until large-scale egg farming came in, which probably means the 1920s or 1930s at the earliest.

This book might have a lot of what you’re looking for — A History of Breakfast — https://books.google.com/books?id=5LghYCqDJw8C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

Damn - the e-book version of that is $30! Would have liked to add it to my collection but that’s a bit more than my book budget right now…

Maybe your library has it? Then you could at least read it.

mixdenny writes:

> It’s hard to imagine a breakfast menu in the US not centered around eggs.

Only one in five breakfasts in the U.S. include eggs:


Good point.

But no, they don’t have it, I just checked.

What I don’t understand is how adding eggs to a dish instantly makes it “breakfast.” Burritos aren’t breakfast. But wait-- scramble an egg and toss it in there; now it’s breakfast! :confused:

Isn’t a breakfast burrito just a rolled-up huevos rancheros, which was already a breakfast dish?

You do, actually, always have breakfast. Everybody does, unless they’re fasting. You may not eat breakfast at “breakfast time,” but you most assuredly eat breakfast, even if you don’t eat it until Noon.

A pointless and irrelevant nitpick, and an inaccurate one, in the context of this thread. Yes, technically “breakfast” means the first meal of the day, but it also means a meal eaten in the morning,* and i that sense not everyone eats breakfast.

At least in US (and many other cultures) the kinds of foods one eats for one’s first meal, or in the morning, are generally different from those eaten for any other meal. Also, an Few people have bacon and eggs or cereal and milk for their evening meal, and few people have roast chicken and stuffing or spaghetti and meatballs for their first meal meal of the day. (I’m sure that some people will start posting that they do exactly that;), but most people will consider that unusual.)

Eggs as a main part of a meal (not just as an ingredient or accompaniment) are pretty strongly associated with breakfast in the US, so much so that as had been said adding them may turn some other dish into “breakfast.”

Here in Panama, eggs are also strongly associated with breakfast, but few other typical breakfast foods are shared with the US. Typical breakfast foods include various kinds of fried cornmeal, cassava, or flour items, fried liver, chicken, or fish, or hotdog-type sausages stewed in tomato sauce.

**I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time’. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.
-Steven Wright

Certainly. No English speaker I know calls the first meal of one’s day, regardless of timing, “breakfast.” I mean, “skipping breakfast” is a thing. If I awake at 7 a.m. and don’t eat until 6 p.m. in the evening, that meal is certainly not called “breakfast” by any usual speaker of the English language. I just skipped breakfast (and lunch.)

I think mixdenny meant menu in the sense of a restaurant menu, not an average daily breakfast.

It’s not just chicken eggs.

My mom’s sister’s family had pet ducks for several years. Duck eggs were on the menu. :wink: Fried duck was never served.

Humans have alwsys eaten various bird eggs. AFAIK any fresh bird egg is edible.

Before refrigerators were common, eggs went bad very quickly, and a bad egg can make you very sick (I speak from personal experience)> Eggs were probably gotten in the early morning and eaten right away.

That’s not my experience. Freshly laid eggs can last a good month at room temp as long as you don’t wash them. I just asked my mother-in-law, who grew up on a farm, and she said they never kept their eggs in the fridge, just in the wash house. My mom similarly grew up on a farm (and with no electricity) and same deal. I remember her house (or really my grandmother’s house) having some kind of earthen storage area that was perhaps a bit cooler than ambient, but eggs would be kept there. Heck, even in Europe today at the supermarkets, eggs are often not sold refrigerated. I didn’t keep my eggs in the fridge when I lived in Budapest, just in a cupboard.

That’s my suspicion, as well, and that’s what I had taken away from his post.

Disclaimer: I spent three years of my career working for one of the U.S.'s leading manufacturers of breakfast products. :slight_smile:

Outside of regionally-popular choices like biscuits & gravy, the “breakfast menu” at most U.S. restaurants is pretty limited in scope:

  • Eggs cooked in various styles
  • Breakfast meats (bacon, sausage, sometimes ham)
  • Pancakes / waffles / French toast (what we used to call “carriers,” because they are essentially syrup delivery devices :smiley: )
  • Hot cereal
  • Toasted breads