In 1927, the Queensland Figaro and Punch published an article recommending brunch as a substitute for Sunday lunch. It seemed no-one much listened. Although brunch really caught on in the USA in the 1930s and was being served in at least one London café in 1933, it wasn’t until the 1950s that it became a fashionable way for the Australian social set to entertain friends at home.
WHY NOT BRUNCH? reads the headline of the article, which carries no byline. It continues:
I wonder why it is that youth, which has a pretty free hand in these days, has not long ago abolished the mid-day Sunday dinner in favour of “Brunch?” Varsity men still seem to be its only supporters. They discovered some time ago that lunch, or the Victorian dinner, served between one and two, cuts up the day indefensibly.
Brunch is breakfast and lunch combined and is not necessarily a meal of the ungodly! I will tell you how it works in a smoothly running house where I sometimes spend Sunday.
Early tea is served at eight, an excusable weakness. At ten a table is spread hospitably with fare associated with both breakfast and lunch. There are dishes of fruit; bowls of cereals and milk, potted meats and cold ham, eggs and Cheddar cheese, scones, preserves, wholemeal bread; tea, coffee, ale, lemonade for drinks. A meal to please everybody.
The author concludes that, thanks to brunch, the family has the best part of the day to follow other pursuits and “is rescued from the state of semi-coma noticeable in many households on Sunday afternoons”.
The word “brunch” has a longer history than we might suppose. It was coined in 1895 by an English writer, Guy Beringer, who proposed it as a civilised way to ease into the day when suffering from a Saturday night hangover. The word appeared in America the following year.
However, although Beringer may have invented the word, it seems the custom of a mid-morning meal was not new. An American historian traces its arrival in America to 1862, when a German-born woman opened Dutrey’s Coffee House in the French Market in New Orleans. Catering to mainly butchers and market goers, she served the zweites Frühstück – literally “second breakfast” – a German tradition. Although not called brunch, that’s effectively what it was.
It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that brunch began to catch on in America. Its popularity grew during the 1950s and ’60s and exploded in the 1980s. It seems alcohol was (and remains) an important part of the American brunch, with the Bloody Mary or the Mimosa the drink of choice.
Here in Australia, the late 1940s and early 1950s began to see mentions of brunch, usually as a means of entertaining casually at home. Suitable recipes appeared in the newspapers. Among those recommended were Eggs and Spinach, Corn and Bacon Cakes and, reflecting the American influence, Hot Dogs. An Australian author, Donovan Clarke, in his 1949 book Cookery For Occasions, suggested Cabbage with Cheese and Bacon. In the Daily Telegraph American cookery writer Ida Bailey Allen described the waffles and ham she served for brunch in her New York apartment.
By 1953, it seems some cafés and restaurants were responding to the trend, with mid-morning dishes such as Welsh rarebit,, herrings on toast, “quickie” omelettes. Breakfasts on offer at Kings Cross could be American-style pancakes, English-style kippered herrings or rissoles.
The modern day Australian café breakfast menu often extends beyond mid-morning into lunch time, or even all day. It owes much to Bill Granger, a self-taught cook who opened his first restaurant, bills, in Sydney’s Darlinghurst in 1993, . It became known for its breakfasts, served at the central communal table. bills (never Bills) became the template for cafés around the country. Call it breakfast, call it brunch – it’s usually something topped with a couple of poached eggs, served with a strong flat white. Hold the Bloody Mary. In Oz, it’s definitely not about the booze.
It seems brunch is no longer cool in the USA. But it shows no signs of going away here.