Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: I Tried Greta Garbo’s Infamous Breakfast

I am mod but sometimes I take detours and this time, I am trying a food combination that does not come from a cookbook but from celebrity gossip.

The target: Greta Garbo.

The gossip: That she ate her cornflakes with jam and coffee on top.

While this is talked about a fair amount, I have not seen many attempts to replicate it so… Here I am! Let’s do this thing.

Can you handle it?

I should probably start this by stating that I am rather “meh” about Garbo as a performer but I am quite defensive of her as a person. There are various snickering articles about her “weird” diet available online and, well, they get my dander up.

I am a reasonably private person and the idea of someone stalking my dietary choices is, frankly, horrifying. I also believe that we all have eccentricities and weird taste combinations that we love and that’s fine. Heck, I subsisted almost entirely on fried mushrooms last week. Garbo’s food isn’t even all that weird, a lot of it is typical mid-century health food that sounds odd now but was reasonably mainstream when she was eating it. Raw egg in orange juice? Yeah, that’s a proper orange julius and it is delicious. Veggie and nut loaves? Classic vegetarian fare at the time.

Plus, as a major Hollywood actress, the pressure to not “put on flesh” would be constant and if she crash dieted with spinach, that says more about film culture than Garbo herself.

But of all the “eccentric” foods attributed to Garbo, the fact that she put jam and coffee on her cornflakes is probably one of the more well-known items.

The source for all of this is a 1938 trip abroad that Garbo took with Leopold Stokowski. While under siege in an Italian villa, Garbo was spied on by the staff and possibly her fellow tourists and they delivered the following scoop, as reprinted in Life Magazine:

And, this, my friends, is probably why Garbo and her jam wanted to be alone.

When people discuss Garbo’s diet, they invariably hone in on her breakfast and the all-carrot luncheon. They ignore the fact that her afternoon tea would have been quite a normal and filling meal. So, in short, Garbo ate four major meals a day, three of which were kept light and one of which included cake. Seems like a pretty good way to go about matters, all things considered.

I would also like to point out that this narrative is third-hand and there seems to me to be some ambiguity as to whether Garbo poured her coffee in a cup or over her cornflakes.

The jam was very likely lingonberry as Garbo had arrived in Italy from Sweden. I do not blame her for jealously guarding her jam and eschewing a large wardrobe in order to make more room for it in her luggage. Respect.

Lingonberry jam is absolutely delightful, like a slightly more perfumed cranberry. I obtained my jar at World Market but IKEA also carries it, of course, and you can order it online. If you want to attempt this and the jam is not to be had, a chunky cranberry sauce would be a creditable substitute.

A bowl of cornflakes over which she spread several spoonfuls of jam and then poured a cup of coffee.

I don’t know what kind of coffee the villa served (it was located in Italy but run by a Swiss woman, catered to Americans and had a Swede and a conductor of ambiguous origins as their guests) so I just made my usual. I have zero taste in coffee. I know good coffee is nice and if you like it, fine, but I’ll pretty much drink any old motor oil set before me as long as it is not flavored. (Flavored coffee and creamers are decidedly not my thing. Again, no worries if it’s your thing– it’s your coffee– but none for me, please.)

The cornflakes were Kellogg’s, of course, and I decided to put milk in the bowl as I take my coffee with milk, though not always with sugar.

Next, the jam. Several spoonfuls of lingonberry jam smack dab in the middle of the bowl. Isn’t it pretty?

And now for the moment of truth… is Garbo’s breakfast as vile as people make it out to be?

So, I mixed in the jam a bit and took a bite and…

It’s fine. It tastes fine.

The tang of the lingonberries goes well with the sharpness of the coffee and the cornflakes keep the whole thing from being too acidic with their neutral toastiness.

I mean, it’s not going to be my new go-to breakfast or anything (I have better uses for that jam) but it is perfectly palatable. I mean, I am mad for Korean cereal lattes and I like breakfast cereals with dried and freeze-dried berries so this isn’t really that far out of my wheelhouse. It’s certainly more my thing than a cereal milk latte.

But keep in mind that my parents made all my baby food, had an organic garden, baked whole grain bread and introduced me to alfalfa sprouts, orange juliuses and bran cereal (not the flakes, the twigs) at a really young age. So, Garbo is my people.

All I can say in conclusion is: don’t knock it ’til you try it.


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  1. Ross

    Corn Flakes do, as I’m sure you know, have their origins in John Harvey Kellogg’s attempts to rid people of one of their nasty habits. I’m not sure if this has any bearing on Ms Garbo’s choice of breakfast.
    Meantime I look forward to your report on your results re Amundsen’s (not blini) buckwheat pancakes.

      1. Marie Roget

        Hmmm, cornflakes and sugar as an aphrodisiac…now THERE”S food for thought 😉

        I’d try Garbo’s breakfast. Perhaps a good strong café au lait as my pour-over choice, but would certainly give it a go.

        Love all sorts of jam and preserves. Having no IKEA in these parts, imported lingonberry can be purchased down in Solvang CA (Danish community there love jams, bless ’em), along with all sorts of local jam treats including olallieberry and a sublime peach/apricot jam. As to “weird” food choices, hey, life is about new choices and experiences!

  2. Nick

    As I was recently at IKEA, I had all the ingredients, and gave this a try. Kinda OK? I think it would have been better if i’d used more coffee.

    The net result is I’m now craving coffee ice cream with lingonberry jam swirl. Does that even exist? 🙂

  3. Shari Polikoff

    My meat-and-potatoes-cum junk food diet is light-years away from yours, Fritzi, but I do share your adoration of lingonberry jam, which I first tasted while traveling in Scandinavia.
    I’m glad you and your fellow coffee-drinkers (I’m not one) enjoyed the Garbo-inspired concoction, but in reading and rereading the quote, it seems to me that she put the jam on the cereal then poured coffee into a cup to have with it.
    By the way, unsalted popcorn makes a tasty cereal substitute; I think I’ll try that with jam too.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      I agree that there is quite a lot of ambiguity in the quote. Especially considering that the source was an American who heard it from the Swiss staff of an Italian villa– this sounds like a game of telephone. Nevertheless, the story is generally quoted as “coffee on the cereal” so I went that route. But just jam would have been nicer.

  4. Michael Kuzmanovski

    I bought lingonberry jam recently. I’ve been putting it on waffles. The stuff is delicious and it’s no wonder why Garbo covetedthe stuff.

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