Our quest for an increase in the number of daily meals continues, with inspiration and assistance from history. After our ‘dewbit’, first breakfast, and second breakfast, we have a serious choice: do we have ‘brunch’ or ‘elevenses’ before luncheon ? Brunch seems more of an idle, weekend affair, whereas ‘elevenses’ is for the working day, so perhaps we had better stick with the latter, it being Tuesday and all.
‘Elevenses’ (‘elevensies’ if you are a Hobbit, or a non-Hobbit with a penchant for puerile language) refers, as the word itself suggests, to food taken at eleven in the morning. Actually, the word applies not to the mere snack itself, but to the whole concept of a brief, healing pause in the crisis of the day. It is peculiarly British, and is rather more significant than its common definition of “a light informal snack” would suggest. It is, in fact, an institution, an inviolable right, a routine without which the British could not (would refuse to) continue with their working day. (Note to any country considering invading Britain: do it at eleven a.m. when everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere.)
Alan Davidson, in his wonderful Oxford Companion to Food, dates the origin of the word to the late eighteenth century. I have been unable to find any references before the early nineteenth century, but I do not pretend the wisdom and brilliance of the great man, so you must be content with my findings for now. The word (concept) sometimes appears as ‘elevens’ or ‘eleveners’, and there are certainly references in the 1830’s to ‘elevenses’. I was delighted to find that once upon a time there was also ‘fourses’ (or fourzes) - another lost meal to add to our collection – a similar snack and break from toil taken at that hour of the afternoon. From the OED:
1849 W. & H. RAYNBIRD Agric. Suffolk vi. 296 The name ‘fourzes’ and ‘elevens’, given to these short periods of rest and refreshment, show when taken.
Tea is essential to ‘elevenses’. Only Americans and other foreigners take coffee. The tea is accompanied by a sweet biscuit (a ‘cookie’ if you are an American) – not one of a novel or gimmicky nature, please, but a reliable and comfortingly familiar classic. Here is one such example for you, from Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (1870’s)
Rub four ounces of fresh butter into half a pound of flour, and add three table-spoonfuls of sugar, half an ounce of ground ginger, and one egg beaten up with a little milk, into a smooth paste. Make up into small round biscuits, and bake on buttered paper for eight or ten minutes; leave a little distance between each cake.
Quotation for the Day.
It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?