Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lunch or Luncheon?

Lunch is interesting. We have a great tendency to shorten words, so assume that lunch is an abbreviation of luncheon, but in fact the reverse appears to be the case and luncheon appears to be an extension of lunch. The OED gives as evidence the analogies of punch and puncheon and trunch and truncheon. The word apparently derives from lump – as in the lump of bread or meat or cheese that you put in your pocket when you went out into the fields for the day – the analogy here being hump and hunch or bump and bunch. Any further delving into lump is fraught with theories: it may be old Dutch or Danish or German; it may relate to lap which may relate to lumpen which means to happen by chance (referrring in this argument to the random size of the portion, that is.)  Lunch was for a time in the early nineteenth century (according to one of the supporting quotations in the OED) the fashionable word, and luncheon “unsuitable in polished society”, but fashions change and later in the century that changed – and the un-posh tended to have dinner and tea anyway ( High Tea that is)

The word refers, of course, to the middle meal of the day by those who have dinner at night. Those who have dinner in the middle of the day have to forego lunch, but get tea (or supper) at the end of the day instead. Our source from yesterday was of the latter persuasion, so for lunch today I am going to see what her countrywoman the reliable Miss Marion Harland has to say in one of her books - Breakfast, Luncheon, and Tea (1875), from the Common Sense in the Household series.  The book has very common-sensicle chapters on individual topics such as ‘Kidneys’, ‘Haste or Waste?’ and ‘What I know about Egg-Beaters.’
She starts her chapter on Luncheon with a wonderfuly inspirational story. A “young friend … who had not long been a wife and housekeeper” returns from a morning drive one day to find her widower brother had arrived home with three gentlemen for dinner. The custom in the household being for an early “dinner”, and her husband not yet home, she goes to the kitchen with great trepidation to see how the preparations for the meal are progressing. They are not. The cook is already distressed. The usual “plethoric hamper” has not been delivered by her usually careful provision merchant. It is a few moments past twelve, the shops are closed and anyway they are not close. There is cake and pie, but not even a “pertater” never mind meat for soup. Even her angel of a cook cant make something out of nothing. The distraught young housewife “with a womans instinct of leaning upon rugged masculine strength when deserted by feminine wit” discreetly speaks to her brother, who reflects upon it momentarily, and, brilliant man that he is, comes up with the solution.
“I understand! I have it! We’ll be fashionable for once. Set on sardines, cheese, pie, cake, claret and sauterne, and a dish or two of fruit. Make a royally strong cup of coffee to wind up with, and call it luncheon!” [Ms Harland’s italics]
Within fifteen minutes the guests are summoned to the dining room, where they are welcomed by the pretty hostess, in becoming demi-toilette. She presides over the collation, wisely realising that “A lisp of apology would have spoiled all, and she had tact enough to avoid the danger.”
Phew! Another social disaster avoided! Let that be a lesson to us all.
Had she had a few more minutes the cook could have used some of the cheese (thank goodness for cheese!)  to make the following “eatable compound” from Ms Harland’s book.
3 tablespoonfuls grated cheese.
2 eggs, beaten light.
1 tablespoonful melted butter.
1 teasponful anchovy sauce.
Pepper – cayenne is best
1 teaspoonful of flour, wet with cream.
Rounds of lightly toasted bread.
Beat the butter and seasoning with the eggs; then the cheese, lastly the flour; working until the mixture is of creamy lightness. Spread thickly upon the bread, and brown quickly.
This is a Dutch compound, but eatable despite the odd name.
Quotation for the Day …
One should never refuse an invitation to lunch or dinner, for one never knows what one may have to eat the next day. Edouard de Pomiane.


Anonymous said...

You didn't mention "nuncheon" - from the Middle English "noon drink" - which I'm fairly sure must predate lunch or luncheon, and which I've always assumed lunch(eon) was meant to emulate?

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Chaz - nuncheon was in the pipeline for today - so please check it out and enjoy.