Today, the first Saturday in February, has been recognized for about 50 years (unofficially, of course) as Ice Cream for Breakfast Day (ICFBD). The holiday was invented on a snowy winter day in the 1960s by Florence Rappaport in Rochester, New York. Florence had six children, but it was her youngest two, Ruth (now Kramer) and Joe Rappaport, who inspired her on a cold and snowy February morning. To entertain them, she declared it to be Ice Cream For Breakfast Day. She recalls, “It was cold and snowy and the kids were complaining that it was too cold to do anything. So I just said, ‘Let’s have ice cream for breakfast.'” The next year, they reminded her of the day and a family custom began. The exact year of the first ICFBD is unrecorded, but it is speculated to be 1966, when a huge blizzard hit Rochester in late January, dumping several feet of snow on Rochester and shutting down schools. When the siblings grew up, they held parties and introduced the custom to friends while in college, and it began to spread.
The holiday began to spread across the world thanks to Florence’s grandchildren, who have traveled extensively. Celebrations have been recorded in Nepal, Namibia, Germany, New Zealand, and Honduras. Some are small family celebrations and others are larger parties. The holiday has even been celebrated in China since 2003 and was featured in the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and local magazines in Hangzhou, China. Ice Cream for Breakfast Day enjoys particular popularity in Israel. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on ICFBD in 2013 in Hebrew and then in 2014 in English.
I’ve always been interested in what people eat for breakfast in general (from the sidelines). For many years I’ve eaten whatever I want – curry, leftovers, soup, eggs . . . anything that I fancy at the time. I find the idea of certain foods being designated as “breakfast foods” (particularly eggs or cereals) patently absurd, but millions of people throughout the world have fixed notions of what you can and cannot eat for breakfast. Some eateries in the UK advertise “breakfast served all day” meaning that there is a fixed notion of what breakfast should consist of, despite the fact that you can eat it at any time of day.
The word “breakfast” itself is relatively modern. The Old English word for dinner, “disner,” means to break a fast, and was originally the first meal eaten in the day until its meaning shifted in the mid-13th century. It was not until the 15th century that “breakfast” came into use in written English to describe a morning meal, literally meaning to “break” the “fast” of the prior night.
Having a meal to start the day before work has obvious benefits and is occasionally noted in ancient texts. Manual workers in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome all ate something to begin the work day, but it was not a meal that differed in any substantive way from other meals – it was just regular food, including things such as bread, cheese, olives, dried fruit, legumes, and so forth (along with beer or wine).
In the Middle Ages in Europe, breakfast was not usually considered a necessary and important meal, and was practically nonexistent during the earlier medieval period. Only two formal meals were eaten per day—one at mid-day and one in the evening. The exact times varied by period and region, but this two-meal system remained consistent throughout the Middle Ages. Many written accounts in the medieval period disparage eating in the morning. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica (1265–1274) that breakfast committed “praepropere,” or the sin of eating too soon, which was associated with gluttony. Breakfast in some times and places was solely granted to children, the elderly, the sick, and to working men. Eating breakfast, therefore, meant that one was poor, was a low-status farmer or laborer who truly needed the energy to sustain his morning’s labor, or was too weak to make it to the large, midday dinner, and was potentially shameful.
By the 15th century breakfast became a more common practice for nobles and by the early 16th century, recorded expenses for breakfast became customary in household account books. The 16th -century introduction of caffeinated beverages into the European diet was part of the reason for allowing breakfast; it was believed that coffee and tea aided the body in “evacuation of superfluities” if they were drunk in the morning.
To the best of my knowledge, the makings of the classic Full English breakfast date to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. My musings on this subject can be found here https://www.bookofdaystales.com/jerome-k-jerome-english-breakfast/ and elsewhere on the blog. Meanwhile here’s a description I like of a traveler’s breakfast in England from Tom Brown’s Schooldays (published in 1857 but reminiscing about the 1830s). Tom is on his way from Berkshire to Rugby by coach, and makes a stop at an inn on the way in the morning:
And here comes breakfast.
“Twenty minutes here, gentlemen,” says the coachman, as they pull up at half-past seven at the inn-door.
Have we not endured nobly this morning? and is not this a worthy reward for much endurance? There is the low, dark wainscoted room hung with sporting prints; the hat-stand (with a whip or two standing up in it belonging to bagmen who are still snug in bed) by the door; the blazing fire, with the quaint old glass over the mantelpiece, in which is stuck a large card with the list of the meets for the week of the county hounds; the table covered with the whitest of cloths and of china, and bearing a pigeon-pie, ham, round of cold boiled beef cut from a mammoth ox, and the great loaf of household bread on a wooden trencher.
And here comes in the stout head waiter, puffing under a tray of hot viands–kidneys and a steak, transparent rashers and poached eggs, buttered toast and muffins, coffee and tea, all smoking hot. The table can never hold it all. The cold meats are removed to the sideboard–they were only put on for show and to give us an appetite. And now fall on, gentlemen all. It is a well-known sporting-house, and the breakfasts are famous.
Two or three men in pink, on their way to the meet, drop in, and are very jovial and sharp-set, as indeed we all are.
“Tea or coffee, sir?” says head waiter, coming round to Tom.
“Coffee, please,” says Tom, with his mouth full of muffin and kidney. Coffee is a treat to him, tea is not.
Our coachman, I perceive, who breakfasts with us, is a cold beef man. He also eschews hot potations, and addicts himself to a tankard of ale, which is brought him by the barmaid. Sportsman looks on approvingly, and orders a ditto for himself.
Tom has eaten kidney and pigeon-pie, and imbibed coffee, till his little skin is as tight as a drum . . .
You can find the same basic elements in Mrs Beeton (1861). She speaks of steaks, chops, eggs, kidneys, bacon etc. as breakfast food, but she does not single them out as uniquely fit for breakfast. The elements of a hearty breakfast are proteins, bread of some sort, and tea or coffee (or small beer).
The addition of breakfast cereals to the mix was a U.S. invention by the likes of C.W. Post and the Kellogg brothers https://www.bookofdaystales.com/kelloggs-corn-flakes/ following an almost universal trend for centuries of eating cereals (in the generic sense), that is, oats, rice, corn, etc. to start the day, simply because they were daily staples for many people throughout the world.
Nowadays I neither eat a meal you could label as “breakfast” nor do I eat foods you would call “breakfast foods” (at any time of the day). I eat what I want, when I want. So, why not ice-cream for breakfast? – not just today, but any day.