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Portable Breakfast Inside Bread

Marcia Ehinger, MD, a native Californian, is a retired pediatrician and genetic specialist. She is the California Writers Club Sacramento Branch newsletter content editor.

Recently, we were strolling through Sacramento International Airport at 4 o'clock in the morning on a trip to a college graduation ceremony. My family was hungry and only one food concession was open: Famous Famiglia Pizza.

Leftover slices of cold or reheated pizza are often breakfast food in America. I wondered if there should be pizza with breakfast-y toppings? However, instead of scrambled eggs on a crust spread with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, we were greeted with piles of fresh bagels. Scrambled eggs, bacon, ham and sausage were waiting for those who wanted traditional breakfast protein. Someone's smart thinking had provided peanut butter and jelly Uncrustables (round sandwiches without crust) and chocolate milk for kids.

The prize offering was a stromboli — bread filled with cheese and vegetables, or cheese and ham, sausage or bacon. This was a new-to-me form of portable breakfast enclosed in bread.

Today's fast-food breakfast offerings began at the golden arches. Downey, California, where I grew up, is home to the oldest McDonald's still in existence. The Egg McMuffin was developed by Herb Peterson, a Chicago ad man who helped create Ronald McDonald and then moved to the West Coast and opened several McDonald's franchises in Santa Barbara.

Herb realized that his customers were hungry earlier than his restaurants' 11 a.m. opening time. He commissioned a blacksmith to fashion an iron ring with a non-stick coating to cook a circular egg, perhaps took some advice from his friend Julia Child, and modeled his portable breakfast item after his favorite morning treat, eggs Benedict. The McMuffin consisted of a toasted and buttered English muffin containing the round cooked egg, plus slices of cheese and Canadian bacon. It sold for 63 cents in 1972.

It took a few years for the new item to catch on, and for the McDonald's franchisees to agree to working longer hours. Now, breakfast accounts for 35% of their business.


When my daughter left California to attend medical school in Texas, I made many visits to Galveston, an island in the Gulf of Mexico known for quirkiness and pirate barons, where kolaches were king. These pastry treats from Czechoslovakia began as fruit-topped sweet dough, known elsewhere as a "Danish." Over time, kolaches morphed into a savory Texas-style pig-in-a-blanket, with dough wrapped around a sausage. The Texas version of sausage featured cheese and jalapeños. Now, you can find breakfast kolaches filled with scrambled eggs, cheese, and/or ham and bacon.

In the American Southwest with its Mexican culinary influences, we have the breakfast burrito. Beyond a simple flour tortilla wrapped around pinto beans, with or without cheese and rice, we can now relish a traditional egg and bacon breakfast inside, or munch on multiple choices of fillings, perhaps roasted potato wedges, fries or hash browns, and a selection of salsas.

Not long ago, my son informed me that another fast-food chain, opened by Glen Bell in Downey in 1962, had gone beyond the simple burrito with the "crunch wrap." A Taco Bell employee decided to combine a quesadilla, tostada and taco. He added structural support to this combination by folding a flour tortilla into a hexagon around a tostada shell filled with seasoned ground beef, nacho cheese, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. It was released as a summer item and later appeared in other versions. In 2014, Crunch Wrap was added to Taco Bell's first breakfast menu.

Another surprise awaited me after we arrived in Ohio. We pulled into a local fast-food drive-thru lane to find breakfast and saw something new: goetta. Pronounced "getta," this concoction is specific to the Metro Cincinnati area. Created by German immigrants a couple of centuries ago, it is a way of extending dietary protein by mixing pork or beef meat scraps with grain. In this case, steel-cut oats and spices are mixed in, much like meatloaf or meatballs are made using ground meat and bread, or scrapple in the South has cornmeal added. This was my introduction to a unique breakfast sausage patty in a bun with melted cheese, onions and hamburger fixin's.

Portable breakfasts inside bread. So many possibilities to tease our taste buds.

~ Marcia Ehinger