Saturday, April 16, 2016

Emily's Scrambled Eggs "James Bond"

Who knew that the real question wasn't shaken or stirred, but scrambled or over easy?

Sometimes I feel a little funny saying I'm a James Bond fan. I'm very well aware of how the various incarnations of the character are problematic from a number of angles, and some of the movies are pretty bad, and I haven't seen every single one of them, so labeling myself as yes, I am a huge James Bond fan has always felt a little weird.

That being said, I have seen many of the movies, read all of the Young Bond books, which are very good, and I own and have read all of the original novels written by Ian Fleming. It started on a whim, because I was curious about how similar Casino Royale was to the film version, and then I realized the books are both entertaining and a really interesting piece of literary history, even if they're never going to be held up as an example of great British literature.

The thing is, I went in expecting the books to be a lot like the movies, full of action and Bond seducing extremely attractive women and narrowly escaping increasingly elaborate death traps. And all of that's in there! But that's not what Bond seems to spend most of his time doing.

The international man of mystery actually spends a ton of time eating food.

To really understand James Bond, you have to remember when and why the books were published. Their author, Ian Fleming, worked with British naval intelligence during World War II, and was (in)famous for suggesting somewhat outlandish plans to trick the Germans and get information about their Enigma codes, or to throw them off Allied plans. One of these ideas - to hide fake documents on a corpse to make it seem like the Germans had accidentally stumbled upon key Allied strategies - was actually used by the British as a part of Operation Mincemeat: a corpse with fake documents was planted by the British to trick the Germans about the timing and locations of the Allied invasion of Italy from North Africa. The plan worked perfectly, but there's no proof that the men behind it specifically borrowed Ian Fleming's proposal, which he actually lifted from a book.

During the war, he'd mentioned to friends that he was interested in writing a spy novel, and in 1953, Casino Royale hit the shelves. This was followed by eleven other James Bond novels and two short story collections by Fleming, and then tons and tons of other books, films, and ephemera since then. Everyone knows James Bond. The character is a composite of commandos Fleming worked with during the war and on Fleming himself, and many of the other characters are inspired by people he worked with during the war.

But the historical relevancy and inspiration doesn't just end there. They're also a really interesting exploration into attitudes towards minorities and women in the 50's and 60's, which sometimes make them an extremely uncomfortable read for a modern audience, but it goes even further than that, too. Before I started reading the books, I assumed they'd be jammed pack full of car cashes and gun fights, just like the movies. As it turns out, most of the book is about Bond just kind of hanging out, doing more low key investigation and building up the storyline slowly. The last thirty pages of the book is generally where things get intense. Until then, Ian Fleming spends a ton of time talking about the places Bond's visiting, the people he meets - yes, people, not just the attractive women - and all the food he's eating. The food especially caught me off guard. Fleming goes into such great detail about the meals Bond enjoys, you can't help but salivate, even if you're not really into champagne and caviar. It puzzled me for a bit while I was reading, and I didn't find out the reason why Fleming did this until well after I'd finished the series and was working on this blog. Any guesses as to what's going on here?

In the early 50's, the average British citizen had been eating drab, repetitive, vegetable heavy food and making do without butter, cream, spices, or even onions basically since 1940. Rationing in the UK didn't end until a full year after Casino Royale was published! International travel for civilians wasn't really an option either, especially if you were looking for beautiful casinos, ski resorts and beach houses. Meanwhile, here's James Bond dining on the finest foods in Montenegro, the Caribbean, the Alps. The Bond books therefore aren't just a masculine fantasy about power and sex, but also a more general fantasy of post war Britain. The public couldn't quite do all the things Bond did, and so it was fun to read about all that in detail. I wouldn't be surprised if the bigger appeal to the books originally was the culinary and travel aspects, not the spy thriller parts!

Funnily enough, even though he eats lobster, steak, and more caviar than I'd ever want to see in my entire life, Bond's most frequently ordered food at all times of day are eggs. Scrambled eggs, generally, enjoyed as breakfast, lunch, late night dinners, afternoon snacks, usually chased by a cocktail or twelve. The movies definitely didn't exaggerate the functional alcoholism. This was apparently one of Fleming's favorite snacks as well, and in 007 in New York (my copy of Octopussy & the Living Daylights includes it), he even provides the reader with Bond's favorite recipe for eggs:

Remember how we talked about each person only being allowed one egg per week in wartime Britain? Even if you do split this between four people, that's a lot of eggs, not to mention the butter. Can you imagine making do with dehydrated eggs and virtually no butter or cream or sugar and then reading about something like this? I do a lot of research about American POWs in the Pacific War and in almost every single personal testimony I've read, they talk about how being hungry turns your thoughts almost exclusively towards all the delicious foods you'd like to be eating right at that moment. Wartime Britain wasn't anything close to the experiences at Cabanatuan or Omori, but I can promise you, these parts of Casino Royale were more interesting to most readers than the women Bond gets involved with.

But okay, really, though. That's a lot of eggs. And butter. And I'm just one person, and unlike Bond, I'm interested in living beyond the age of forty. The version I made cut this down to be a slightly healthier version of the original, but if you ever feel like really spoiling yourself at breakfast, feel free to give the real one a shot! Maybe invite some friends to help you finish them off.

I got a decent scoop of butter, maybe half a tablespoon or so going in the skillet, and then poured in two beaten eggs, whisking them on a low heat as the recipe suggested with some salt and pepper. I like my eggs cooked so well that they're almost overcooked, so I was a little nervous about pulling these off the stove when they were still a little wet, but I'm at least trying to go for authenticity here, so I pulled them and threw in the chives. I added a tiny bit more butter, and I kept stirring until the eggs looked more firm and ready to eat.

You serve it over toast, and I decided to go for the full English breakfast thing and have it with a cup of tea rather than going with Bond's suggestion of champagne.

I think it's an interesting dish. To the untrained eye, it doesn't really look like anything special, except it does seem a little fussier than the average American diner breakfast. But I do think it's a really interesting relic of another time, both in the sense that people didn't count calories as crazily as we do in the 50's, but also because how even a simple comfort food and popular breakfast staple could be gussied up and turned into a delicacy. It's kind of a perfect look at Bond as a character, too: he might dress well and look nice, but he is pretty much a brute in a suit, something average that's been dressed up a bit.

Taste wise? This was really good. I don't really do anything fancy to my eggs. It's usually salt and pepper and that's it, if that, so even just putting a little more butter and chives in them and serving it over toast was going way out of my breakfast comfort zone. The chives really just took the eggs from being boring to special, and I think I'd like to start adding them to my eggs on a regular basis. Eating the eggs over toast was a new experience for me, too, and it was one I found myself enjoying. This isn't something I'd want to eat every day, but as a special treat? Definitely. And considering just about every hotel or club or restaurant anywhere in the world has eggs, it doesn't surprise me that Bond turns to this as his go to meal, even if it does seem a little odd at first glance.

So there you have it. Who knew that out of everything in the world, James Bond's favorite food might be scrambled eggs on toast? The Bond books are definitely an interesting snapshot of literary, political and social history, but I feel like this is a part of the stories that most people don't take a second glance at, or even know about in the first place. Hopefully you found this as interesting as I did!

And maybe you'll have found some inspiration for your next spy thriller themed brunch as well!


  1. Huh, that's really interesting to hear about the focus on food and low-key happenings in the books - it makes me want to go and pick up a couple of them.

    And I think I need to go fry up some eggs now as well! ;)

    1. They're very interesting from a historical perspective, otherwise they're shockingly tame for a spy novel ahaha. Some of the books were definitely like okay, who read this and thought wow, this would be a great action movie!

  2. Studying the history of British Rationing is super cool--and how overly extravagent they wanted to be post war. Unlike the US, which didn't ration as hard as the British had to do--they started in the 30s and didn't get some things, such as full sugar candy, back until the early 50s, I think. It explains why Edmund in the Narnia Chronicles so quickly sold his soul and family out for authentic sugary candy. (I might sell someone's soul for cheesecake, I can't be trusted.)

    1. Yep, that's all true! When Casino Royale came out rationing still would have been in effect. The US stopped rationing in 1947, and sugar was the last thing we still restricted. Not sure about the UK, but I'd imagine it'd be about the same for them. :|a

  3. I really appreciated your look into why a post war Britain might have enjoyed James Bonds' adventures in food. It probably isn't unusual for people in modern society to forget that it took a while for life to return to pre-war routines. Thanks for the insight!

    1. No problem! Glad you enjoyed. :D