The History of Brunch
Photo credit: nicolesy/Getty
The closer one inches towards the weekend, the more vivid the visions of delicate poached eggs swathed in a velvety blanket of Hollandaise. Of cheddar biscuits smeared with honeyed butter. Of fluffy ricotta pancakes. Brunch! Brunch is near!
It’s a wonder, then, that we know so little about the meal we love so much. Good thing the internet can help us remedy that.
According to Smithsonian.com, the word “brunch” first popped up in a 1895 Hunter’s Weekly article, in which author Guy Beringer implored readers to give up heavy, post-church meals on Sunday afternoons in favor of daintier fare in the morning. The former involved hearty meat dishes and savory pies, and functioned more like an early dinner. Brunch, on the other hand, would be a lighter, buzzier affair… in more ways than one.
"Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting," he wrote. "It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week." He suggested serving beer and whiskey instead of coffee and tea, which set the scene for brunch to become the boozy affair we know and love today.
A Mexican-inspired brunch dish. Photo credit: Dave White/Flickr
Brunch grew in popularity in the 1930s, but it wasn’t until the years after World War II that the late-morning meal really took off. Evan Jones, author of “American Food: The Gastronomic Story,” explains that post-war, American attitudes shifted and churchgoing became less of a priority. “Sunday became a day to enjoy doing nothing and brunch just grew like topsy,” he wrote. (To “grow like topsy,” if you don’t know, is a phrase meaning to “grow quickly without being noticed.”)
Standard brunch fare such as Eggs Benedict predates the Beringer article; one origin story indicates its inventor was a hungover Wall Street broker named Lemuel Benedict, who reportedly came up with the dish in 1894. Omelettes, pancakes, and waffles have been around for even longer. But the modern rendition continues to evolve.
"The strange world of brunch continues to expand, generating bizarre new life forms, embracing flavors and ingredients never before associated with mankind’s pre-noon existence," William Grimes wrote in the New York Times in 1998.