The brunch scene at Rose and Sons on Dupont Street (Image: Emma McIntyre)
Toronto writer Shawn Micallef believes we should all be thinking a lot more about brunch. His new book, The Trouble With Brunch, was published last month by Coach House Books; it’s part-autobiography, part-history, and part-dissertation, all with the aim of examining the relationship between the weekend ritual and shifting attitudes toward class and leisure. Here’s an excerpt.
In 1895, the English writer Guy Beringer published an essay titled “Brunch: A Plea” in a now-obscure periodical called Hunter’s Weekly. Nearly a hundred and twenty years later, the vision for a new meal that he proposed is as real now as a traditional Sunday roast was in his time. Little can be gleaned about Beringer himself—all searches for further information circle back only to this essay. In a 1998 New York Times article, “At Brunch, the More Bizarre the Better,” author William Grimes attributed the invention of brunch to Beringer and quoted a few passages from the original essay: “Brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”
Just like we do today, Beringer saw the link between brunch and the hangover, writing that having the first meal later in the day on Sunday would make life easier on “Saturday-night carousers.” Beringer differentiated brunch from those English roasts, calling the latter “a post church ordeal of heavy meats and savory pies” while brunch, served around noon, would instead begin with tea or coffee, marmalade and other breakfast fixtures, before moving on to heavier fare. “More than a century later, Beringer’s template for brunch remains as valid as the day it was created, perhaps because, in drafting his culinary declaration of independence, he was not overly specific about what dishes should be served,” wrote Grimes. “He demanded ‘everything good, plenty of it, variety and selection.’ In a postscript, he suggested that beer and whisky could be served instead of coffee and tea, laying down a precedent for the mimosa, the Bloody Mary and the screwdriver.” Satisfaction, a little gluttony and a buzz—the familiar components of most brunches served today.
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