Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Fashionable Brunch.

Today, August 1st ...

The concept of brunch was invented – or rather, promoted, on this day in 1896 if the OED is correct. An article in Punch announced that “To be fashionable nowadays we must ‘brunch’ ” , and attributed the idea to Mr. Guy Beringer who had coined the ‘portmanteau word’ the previous year in the Hunter's Weekly, to indicate a meal which combined the features of ‘breakfast’ and ‘lunch’. Some humourless word-pedants think the word ‘brunch’ is silly, but in its defence let me point out that the official French name for the same thing is le grand petit déjeuner, which translates as ‘big little lunch’, which is far sillier. Naturally almost all French people (excepting the members of the Académie Française) prefer to use the English word ‘brunch.’

It is not surprising that the idea came from someone who was involved in hunting. Hunting parties traditionally (in the elegant parts of England at any rate) have always had two breakfasts – a light snack before embarking on the arduous work of shooting grouse and pheasant and such like, and a heavier reward on returning home with the kill. Mr Beringer’s idea was perhaps intended to enable this second breakfast for non-hunters, although he gave various other justifications in his article “Brunch: A Plea”. In particular, he said, it had the potential to increase human happiness by avoiding the need to get up early on a Sunday morning after the Saturday night before.

It is all very well, this sleeping in late on Sunday, secure in the knowledge that a hybrid meal awaits you on waking, but someone has to be up early to get it ready for you, don’t they? I wonder what Mrs Beeton would have thought about the idea of brunch ? She would certainly have disapproved I think, as the early-to-rise and be-prepared philosophy is repeated many times throughout her extraordinarily comprehensive manual – for it is not simply a cookbook. Perhaps we can glean some organisational ideas from it to assist us in getting ready for brunch.

Naturally, the most important thing is to instruct and supervise one’s servants well. It must be quite clear who is responsible for which household chore. To summarise: the footman will normally set the breakfast table , and indeed, if one’s circumstances do not allow the employment of a butler, it will also be the footmans duty to prepare and serve the breakfast. The footman necessarily has to get up early, for he has many responsibilities before the family breakfast hour:

‘The footman is expected to rise early, in order to get through all his dirty work before the family are stirring. Boots and shoes, and knives and forks, should be cleaned, lamps in use trimmed, his master's clothes brushed, the furniture rubbed over; so that he may put aside his working dress, tidy himself, and appear in a clean jean jacket to lay the cloth and prepare breakfast for the family.
At breakfast, when there is no butler, the footman carries up the tea-urn, and, assisted by the housemaid, he waits during breakfast. Breakfast over, he removes the tray and other things off the table, folds up the breakfast-cloth, and sets the room in order, by sweeping up all crumbs, shaking the cloth, and laying it on the table again, making up the fire, and sweeping up the hearth.’

If one’s resources only stretch to employing one single servant, then the ‘Maid of all Work’ as she is very accurately called, must get up extraordinarily early to do ‘all the work which in larger establishments is performed by cook, kitchen-maid, and housemaid, and occasionally the part of a footman's duty.’

The mistress of the household must not be a lazy lay-abed while the staff are scurrying around trimming lamps and blackening grates, as she too has many responsibilities. Let us be unashamedly honest here: in these impecunious times, the Mistress may be servantless (Gasp!) and may have to do the actual preparation of the first meal of the day herself. There is no reason for being slatternly no matter how much work is to be done, and Mrs Beetons instructions are clear on the proper attire for the Mistress at this time of the day:

‘The dress of the Mistress should always be adapted to her circumstances, and be varied with different occasions. Thus, at breakfast she should be attired in a very neat and simple manner, wearing no ornaments. If this dress should decidedly pertain only to the breakfast-hour, and be specially suited for such domestic occupations as usually follow that meal, then it would be well to exchange it before the time for receiving visitors, if the mistress be in the habit of doing so. It is still to be remembered, however, that, in changing the dress, jewellery and ornaments are not to be worn until the full dress for dinner is assumed.’

Sadly, Mrs Beeton does not give any instructions for the responsibilities of the Master in regard to breakfast. So, Modern Man, you are on your own: just apply the basic principles of adapting your attire to the circumstances, and at least change out of your pajamas.

Brunch did not exist in Mrs Beeton’s day, so she does not give any recipes specifically for it. She does however give a number that are suitable for either breakfast or luncheon, so these will serve us nicely for today.

BROILED PHEASANT (a Breakfast or Luncheon Dish).
1 pheasant, a little lard, egg and bread crumbs, salt and cayenne to taste.
Cut the legs off at the first joint, and the remainder of the bird into neat pieces; put them into a fryingpan with a little lard, and when browned on both sides, and about half done, take them out and drain them; brush the pieces over with egg, and sprinkle with bread crumbs with which has been mixed a good seasoning of cayenne and salt. Broil them over a moderate fire for about 10 minutes, or rather longer, and serve with mushroom-sauce, sauce piquante, or brown gravy, in which a few game-bones and trimmings have been stewed.
Time: Altogether 1/2 hour. Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons.
Seasonable from the 1st of October to the beginning of February.

POTTED HAM , that will keep Good for some time. Seasonable at any time.
(A nice addition to the Breakfast or Luncheon table.)
To 2 lbs. of lean ham allow ½ lb. of fat, 1 teaspoonful of pounded mace, ½ teaspoonful of pounded allspice, ½ nutmeg, pepper to taste, clarified butter.
Cut some slices from the remains of a cold ham, mince them small, and to every 2 lbs. of lean, allow the above proportion of fat. Pound the ham in a mortar to a fine paste, with the fat, gradually add the seasoning and spices, and be very particular that all the ingredients are well mixed and the spices well pounded. Press the mixture into potting-pots, pour over clarified butter, and keep it in a cool place.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Mulberries and Silk in the Kitchen.

Quotation for the Day ….

Pooh and Piglet walked home thoughtfully together in the golden evening, and for a long time they were silent. “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said. A.A. Milne.

1 comment:

Libby said...

Hi, I'm writing a paper on brunch, and I wanted to know where you found a copy of the "brunch:a plea" article. I can't find it anywhere and it would be really great to have it as a source! Thanks!