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The History Behind Brunch

- Jennifer Davick
Jennifer Davick

Brunch is a long-standing Southern tradition, whether you’re celebrating on Mother’s Day, using the meal as an excuse to catch up with your girlfriends, or have made pancakes at noon a post-church family tradition. But where did the meal come from?

A clever wordsmith first pushed the words “breakfast” and “lunch” together to create the word “brunch” way back in 1895. In Hunter’s Weekly, British author Guy Beringer made the case that post-church Sunday meals shouldn’t be long, multi-course meals of heavy meats and cheeses, but instead lighter fare served late in the morning. ″Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,”⁣ Beringer 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.″⁣

While Beringer may have coined the word “brunch” he didn’t come up with the meal itself. The meal’s exact origins are a bit murky, but food historians think that the meal came about thanks to either of the South’s favorite pastimes—hunting or church-going. Some historians think brunch started thanks to the pre-hunt breakfasts that were common in England. Those were traditionally lavish meals with both sweet and savory options for every palate. Modern brunch staples like eggs, bacon, fresh fruit and sweets were all common at these gatherings. Other food historians think that Sunday brunch started thanks to Catholics who would fast before mass and then eat a large lunch after church. Another group of historians think brunch really got going in the Big Apple. From the early days, dining spots across New York served up now-classic brunch dishes like eggs Benedict and bagels and lox turning breakfast lovers into brunch fanatics.

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Wherever brunch started, it was definitely perfected in the United States. According to one brunch historian, the late-morning meal became chic in the 1930s, when Hollywood stars making their way across country on trains would stop in Chicago to enjoy a late morning meal. Thanks to its celebrity boosters, brunch became a hit.

A key point brought up by Stanford University professor Carl Degler in a 1980 Chicago Tribune article on the rise of brunch culture, Is one that still holds true today: “Married women needed a relief on Sunday, too, thus the rise in popularity of Sunday brunch eaten out.” (It shouldn’t take a professor to realize that!)

Restaurants were happy to have another way to lure in customers. There’s nothing like pecan French toast, bacon, cornmeal waffles, omelets and morning cocktails like Bloody Marys, Bellinis and Mimosas to lure people out on a Sunday morning.

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