No, it’s not the typical British breakfast, there’s no bacon, no beans, no tomate, no mushrooms, no toast. It’s more the opposite of a classical British breakfast: sweet vs. savoury, sugar vs salt. The only similarity? They both fill you up well in the morning, ready for a long day.
The breakfast I’m talking about is a ‘poor knights of windsor’. It contains french toast with jam and maybe some cream. When in Windsor it’s of course a great breakfast to have, especially since it has such a rich history.
The poor knights of Windsor
The name of the breakfast has a rich history to it. It actually refers to the poor knights of Windsor, the more official names for these knights are ‘alms knights’ or ‘military knights’. This group of knights has existed for over 500 years!
Initially, there were 26 of these knights. The reason they were also called the poor knights is that they used to consist of knights who had lost their estates during fightinh (or other reasons). Later on, different reasons for ‘hiring’ the knights played a role as well. The knights have always lived at Windsor castle. There, their main job is to pray to God and pray for the King/Queen and his armies.
Nowadays there are still 13 poor knights of Windsor, all of them are retired army officers. They live on the grounds of the Windsor castle and do not get paid for being a ‘poor knight’. nowadays one of the main functions of the poor knights is to participate in almost weekly parades, besides that, a lot of knights also do other volunteering jobs in and around the castle.
The breakfast dish
The breakfast dish itself is centuries old as well! Thanks to Foods of England, I was able to find two cookbooks, one from the 17th century and one from the 19th century, that both discussed a recipe for the ‘poor knights’. In those books they aren’t called poor knights of Windsor, so I could imagine it being a more general term at the time than just for those knights in Windsor.
The recipe itself is pretty simple (see below), some bread with milk and eggs which was fried in butter. One could imagine that these poor knights had access to bread and some of the dairy, so that it would be an easy, but tasty dish to make.
As mentioned at the start of this post, the dish has a lot in common with French toast. It’s also slices of bread soaked in dairy (milk of cream) with some eggs and fried in butter. It’s often flavoured with sugar and cinnamon and served with jam. The ‘poor knights of Windsor’ I ate was also served with some (unsweetened) whipped cream. I’ve also found quite some recipes in which the ‘poor knights’ would also be soaked in sherry (or covered in sherry after frying).
As is the case with most old recipes from cookbooks, they don’t tend to give measurements for all ingredients, nor are the instructions as complete as they are nowadays. I’ve read these cookbooks served more as a reminder, than something that people actually learned from. Cooks already had quite some experience when (if ever) they came into contact with a cookbook. Below is a combination of various recipes I found.
- 4 thick slices of (white) bread - feel free to use another bread, but darker breads or those with a lot of seeds etc. will change the flavour
- An egg
- 250 ml milk (feel free to substitute part with water or sherry)
- Butter to fry
- Cinnamon powder
- Whipped cream
- Mix an egg with 250 ml milk (feel free to add a little more of less milk to properly soak the toast).
- Soak the slices of bread in the liquid mixture for a couple of minutes.
- Heat some butter in a pan until light brown.
- Add the slices of bread and bake until brown on a medium fire. Do not turn the fire to high or the outside will burn while the inside is still wet.
- Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over the toast.
- Serve with jam and whipped cream on the side.
Enjoy! And let me know when you find other interesting food history snacks!