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Beyond Bacon: Where Did Brunch Get Its Start?

Beyond Bacon: Where Did Brunch Get Its Start?

Allison Ford | Divine Caroline

I lived in New York City for ten years, and I can safely say that it’s a city crazy about brunch. On weekend days, especially Sundays, people all over town go out for eggs, pancakes, and sandwiches. People who normally would never wait for a table at a restaurant shiver in the cold for an hour at the most happening spots. Even the most dingy, unspectacular pubs open up on Sunday mornings to serve scrambled eggs to bleary-eyed hipsters. Brunch can be a group affair with parents and friends, or even just a quiet breakfast between roommates where you re-hash the events of Saturday night.

The word “brunch” is obviously a portmanteau made from the words “breakfast” and “lunch.” It’s served midday and combines the best sweet and savory elements of both of these meals. It’s the most common way to celebrate Easter and Mother’s Day, and has even become an important element of wedding and family celebrations. As popular as it is, it’s easy to wonder how this mish-mash middle meal ever came to be.

A Hazy History

The origins of brunch aren’t exactly clear. We do know, however, that on Sundays, it was common among Christians to have a large post-church meal. Catholics require fasting before mass, so after leaving their place of worship, many people ate a large celebratory meal combining breakfast and lunch. Some churches even hosted the meals right on the premises. We also know that during much of Western history, the Sunday midday meal was the largest meal of the day, followed in the early evening by a smaller supper.

A British writer named Guy Beringer first used the word brunch in 1895. In his essay “Brunch: A Plea,” he advocates for a meal that’s lighter than what was traditional at the time. The midday post-church meal in turn-of-the-century Britain consisted of heavy meat pies and other gut-busting delicacies, but Beringer proposed a lighter meal, which started with breakfast food before moving onto dinnertime fare. He wrote, “[Brunch] 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.”

Beringer also noted that a later meal on Sunday would make it easier for those who liked to drink on Saturday nights. He wrote, “By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.” He even suggested that instead of coffee and tea, perhaps this new meal could start with alcoholic beverages.