Hungry History

The Goods on Brunch

By Stephanie Butler

brunchFor some people, the weekend just isn’t complete without brunch. A leisurely meal of eggs Benedict, perhaps some home fries and a Bloody Mary or two: What’s not to love? But we haven’t always brunched. This week we’ll investigate the history of this unique meal, from its origins in the United Kingdom to its popularity here in the United States.

The concept of brunch can, in part, be traced back to the upper-class British tradition of hunting luncheons. In between rousting the foxes, men and women gathered for decadent early lunches, complete with a multitude of meats, egg dishes and plenty of adult beverages. And while chicken galantines, cold sliced headcheese and port wine are a far cry from the huevos rancheros and Belgian waffles we enjoy today, this meal was the first time breakfast and lunch foods were combined into one mega-meal.

The word “brunch” made its first appearance in an 1895 article by author Guy Beringer. Beringer’s piece, which appeared in the short-lived British publication “Hunter’s Weekly,” advocated the physical and emotional benefits of a convivial meal consisting of lighter fare to replace the traditional heavy, late Sunday meals common in the United Kingdom. When the popular British periodical “Punch” reprinted Beringer’s article the following year the concept spread, and by the late 1920s had reached American shores.

Oddly enough, the first American city known for brunches wasn’t trendsetting Los Angeles or fashionable New York, but the Windy City of Chicago. Back in the days before transcontinental flights, movie stars who had business on both coasts would stopover in Chicago on their multinight treks across the country by rail. On Sundays, actors like John Barrymore, Helen Hayes and Clark Gable stopped to brunch at the famed Pump Room at the Ambassador Hotel.

From there, brunch’s popularity only grew. Sunday brunch, especially, became increasingly popular after World War II. Church attendance had dropped significantly in the post-war years, and folks were looking for something to do with the time that previously would have been spent in the pews. Sunday mornings and afternoons became a time to relax, spend time with friends and maybe have a mimosa or two. And the advent of convenience foods during this period only helped brunch dominate the Sunday table. Frozen orange juice, boxed cake mixes and even powdered Hollandaise sauce were all used to create brunch with a minimum of fuss and muss.

Categories: Breakfast, British History