It is not rising at dawn to risk their necks over ditch and stile that makes those who ride to the hounds a fit subject for our envy. It's what they get to eat afterward.
The Hunt Breakfast may no longer be what it was in the 16th century when a writer was moved to caution, "When the meet runs up to and over a hundred horsemen no one but a millionaire should attempt hot dishes," or in the 19th century, when another wrote of the boozy hilarity that, "Mr. Tregonwell was so good tempered he showed no annoyance when his horn was stuffed with buttered toast during a hunt breakfast at Winchester Barracks."
But the Hunt Breakfast is still a good thing and should not be the province only of those rich or determined enough to maintain a hunter.
For those of us who must hunt on two feet instead of four, there can be the Scavenger Hunt Breakfast, or the Treasure Hunt Breakfast. Treasure hunts have been in the news recently, with Canadian Club printing clues that led to the discovery of a case of whiskey hidden in a Georgetown cellar. And in England an even larger treasure remains hidden. In the children's book, "Masquerade," by author/illustrator Kit Williams (published here this month), clues placed throughout the book reveal the location of a real treasure, a jeweled hare.
Though usually the hunt breakfast comes after the hunt, for a scavenger or treasure hunt, feed the guests first. For a scavenger hunt, the guests are then paired and each couple is given a list of objects (the same list), which range from the easily found (a pigeon feather or a postcard of the Washington Monument) to the almost impossible (an Alf Landon campaign button). The couple returning first with the most objects wins.
The wise host puts a time limit on the hunt (or wakes at 4 a.m. to a treasure-laden straggler).
The treasure hunt requires more work. There must be a cunning, but clear set of clues to a treasure, and there also must be a treasure -- put in some place where half the population won't absentmindedly walk off with it.
Before sending your guests off on their search, you give them the reason for the whole party: the hunt breakfast. Lots of food, lots of wine, perhaps a rum-and-cider punch, eggs, bacon (Safeway has been carrying nitrate-free bacon in case you hadn't noticed), sausages, sauteed chicken livers, ham with biscuits (country ham if you can afford it, and speaking of splurges, why not smoked salmon with lemon and thin slices of white bread?), apple muffins, croissants, Isish soda bread, scones, a large pot of oatmeal (made not from instant oats, but the chewier, steel-cut kind) with a pitcher of cream, a jug of honey, bowls of brown and white sugar. And as much more as you can think of.
You will still fall below the standard set by London's New Sportsman when in the 1830's they described the meal of a fictional sportsman: "mock turtle soup, turbot with lobster sauce, salmon, boiled beef and a roast, two dishes of grouse, three brace each, hashed calf's liver head, leg of mutton, chicken, ducks, mountains of vegetables, plum puddings, tarts, jellies, pies and puffs."