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Rise and Dine: The Glorious Tradition of Brunch

As it is currently "National Brunch Month" I'm going to dive into the wonderful world of The Best Excuse for Lunchtime Drinking Since... Well, ever!
The Glorious Tradition of Brunch
These days, brunch is a widespread weekend tradition and social occasion, with, over recent years "hashtags" becoming more important than hash browns, and an Instagram worthy plate being worth its weight in gold. 

But there is one constant that brunch has always been about: togetherness. Friends together with lunch, together with breakfast, together with cocktails.

What's not to like?

Brunch's origins are a bit murky - but it's generally accepted that it started among the upper classes in late 19th century England, as a truly decadent multi-course affair of gluttony and day drinking.

It was first written about in August 1895 by English writer and poet Guy Beringer, who really wanted an excuse to sleep in late on Sundays. So, he invented a meal that would let him do just that.

Beringer didn’t like getting up early for Church, and he imagined brunch as a rejection of that expectation. Instead of rising early to be pious, you could sleep in and enjoy a “cheerful, sociable, and inciting meal,” he wrote in the magazine article, “Brunch: A Plea.”
An amalgamation of “breakfast” and “lunch,” brunch was a special Sunday event which Beringer suggested should begin around noon or half-past and consist of “fish and one or two meat courses.” 
Essentially, brunch would be a pleasing alternative to waking early for “Saturday-night carousers,” who could, presumably, now carouse without “fear of the next morning’s reaction.”
He also helpfully concludes with the note, “P.S. — Beer and whiskey are admitted as substitutes for tea and coffee.” 

Basically, brunch was a way to party harder, skip out on church, and continue your party into Sunday.
If you could afford it, of course.
Brunch was, from the beginning, meant to be a particularly leisurely affair. As Beringer put it, brunch “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.’’

Though little else is known about the Father of Brunch, the meal he invented has become a worldwide phenomenon.
It thrived first in early 20th century Britain among the upper class, who would dine late, usually after a morning spent hunting.
It was eventually exported to America, and evidence suggests that by the 1920s, New York, New Orleans, and Chicago all had their own brand of brunch culture.

New York brunch diners in the 1930s
By the 1930s, there was a veritable American brunch boom, and in 1939, the New York Times declared Sundays to be officially a two-meal day (brunch and dinner).
Of course, the food people brunched on might look a bit unfamiliar to modern diners: A 1940s NYT article notes that the Fifth Avenue Hotel served a “Sunday Strollers’ Brunch’’ which was comprised of “sauerkraut juice,” “clam cocktails,” and “chicken liver omelet." [sic]
Yum to the chicken liver omelette, but I'm not sure about the other stuff!
It was a meal initially championed by hotels, since most restaurants were closed on Sundays and, with church attendance flagging after World War II, people were looking for a new social outlet that also let them sleep in a bit.
Also, as more women entered the workforce, they too wanted a break from cooking on the weekend. So, they started going to brunch in groups and taking a much needed respite from their dual duties as workers and homemakers.
Restaurants soon hopped on the bandwagon, however, and began offering the decadent spreads of food and signature morning cocktails, such as Bloody MarysBellinis and Mimosas that would be more familiar to us today. 

Importantly, brunch popularized day-time drinking, which was previously taboo, particularly for women and the middle-classes. In the early days of brunch, (which coincided with Prohibition, where alcohol could easily be hidden in a fruity cocktail), pretty much only wealthy males could imbibe during the day without raising eyebrows. 

So how did brunch morph into the monster it is today?
  • You could blame "Sex & The City".
  • You could blame the rise of bottomless mimosas.
  • You could blame everyone's increased alcohol intake in general. 
Whatever it is, between the late 1990s and early 2000s brunch became huge.
But not everyone is a fan, especially chefs.
As Anthony Bourdain said, “Buzzword here, ‘Brunch Menu’. Translation? ‘Old, nasty odds and ends, and 12 dollars for two eggs with a free Bloody Mary’."

And, whilst brunch has become a guaranteed money-maker for many big restaurants, it's also become a notorious amateur hour for both front and back-of-house staff, because the experienced, "First Team" all work on Saturday nights and wouldn't be caught dead at a brunch shift unless they're covering for someone.
Also, executive chefs are most definitely sleeping in and letting the place run on auto-pilot.
So, choose your venue carefully.
One of the best things about brunch is that the menu has no rules.
I've been looking at a few of my local, Surrey, restaurant offerings and they range from the good old Full English, Eggs Benedict, and poached eggs with smoked salmon and a champagne hollandaise: to Crab Royale, huevos rancheros (one of my favourites) and, of course, smashed avocado: and even French toast with malted custard and hazelnut sauce, and artisan pastries.
Then there's the booze..... Bloody Mary's and Mimosa's are just the start. Bellini's, Prosecco, Sangria, Black Russian's (another favourite), Espresso Martini's, Michelada's (a light Mexican-style beer, lime juice, salt, chili powder, hot sauce and soy sauce) and even Long Island Iced Tea's (that might be a bit much, even for me, at lunchtime!) are on offer.
And all this is before I hop on a train into London, where thing can get really bonkers.
Still not convinced? Here's five things that make brunch so great…
  1. You can eat breakfast foods at any time of the day.
  2. Drinking before 12pm becomes acceptable.
  3. It’s efficient: you’re combining two meals into one.
  4. It’s the best cure for a hangover.
  5. There’s a dish to suit everyone, and I mean everyone...
So, despite its many detractors, brunch nowadays, is a popular social gathering for all ages and usually, before any of the food or drinks are touched, the number one priority is to take pictures.
After all, if nobody "likes" it, did it really happen?

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