Red Sauce Brown Sauce by Felicity Cloake review – a quest for the great British breakfast

Halfway through reading Red Sauce Brown Sauce, I cycled 6km to a fishmonger’s on an industrial estate, between a Hertz car hire centre and a T-shirt printer’s, to buy a tin of laverbread. What can I say? I’m susceptible. Felicity Cloake’s description of cycling from Falmouth to Gowerton – from hog’s pudding HQ in Cornwall to a seaweed-rich estuary of south-west Wales – made me jealous. Not that hers was an entirely painless journey. Early on, Cloake falls awkwardly into a stream near Bath, and so undertakes much of her odyssey with a wrecked hamstring, as well as the usual weariness, saddle ache and frustrating diversions on to thundering roads familiar to anyone who has ever cycled fairly long distances in Britain.

Her book is, put simply, a quest for the great British breakfast. In an era when too many fully grown adults munch through instant microwave oats, overpackaged biscuits or simply skip eating altogether, Cloake is making the case for a cooked, regional, calorie-packed kick off, both as a treat for your senses and as a way of supporting smaller, traditional food producers. Like One More Croissant for the Road before it, in which Cloake cycled around France, Red Sauce Brown Sauce is as much a travel book as it is a piece of food writing. The descriptions of riding through open fields in search of a mustard factory, touring the unlikely Baked Bean Museum in a block of flats in Port Talbot and crossing the causeway to Holy Island in the chapter about stottie cakes are by turns funny, enlightening and evocative.

Inevitably, Covid hangs over the book like the smell of kippers; restrictions prevent her from visiting some of the larger and more obvious breakfast destinations such as the Heinz and Marmite factories and would have stopped her trip to the Isle of Man altogether had she received the email in time. But the result is that Cloake is forced to get a little more creative. She visits tiny butcher’s shops to taste black pudding made with fresh – rather than dried – blood; she eats honey in a garden in Ceredigion beside a whippet; she visits the home of the Golden Spurtle porridge champions and we go with her every pedal, step and lift of the way.

While the book leans heavily towards the meaty end of the breakfast table – sausages, hog’s pudding, bacon, white pudding, black pudding and haggis – there is still plenty of regional delight for vegetarians and vegans, from soda farls and potato bread in Northern Ireland to marmalade in East Anglia and tea and pikelets in Yorkshire. Chapters are broken up by recipes and fact files on everything from the different dialect names for bread rolls, the possible constituents of an authentic Ulster Fry and things sold in Scotland, from Callander to Auchtermuchty, by the side of the road.

As a greedy woman who loves cycling around the country in search of double and even triple breakfasts, I was delighted by this book about a greedy woman, cycling around the countryside, looking for several square meals a day. Oh, and the laverbread? It was delicious of course. I had mine spread on a homemade crust with a glistening base layer of salted butter. Twice.

Red Sauce Brown Sauce: A British Breakfast Odyssey is published by Mudlark (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

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