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LUNCH. Lunch, the most informal and unassuming of meals, defies easy definition. A relatively late entry into the cycle of dining, it is replete with socioeconomic forms and meanings. Though the notion of the lunch or luncheon is most often attributed to nineteenth-century Britain, the terms had long been in use in England, albeit in slightly different form. Descended from the Spanish lonja, referring to a slice of ham, as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, the term has been in use since the Middle Ages as a word for a small snack, often eaten in the fields during the workday and sometimes called nunchin. Dr. Johnson's 1755 Dictionary defines "luncheon" as "as much food as one's hand can hold." For many centuries, lunch or luncheon was precisely this: a hunk of food, a few hurried bites of sustenance, a snack.

The Evolution of Meals

The reason for this minor version of the contemporary lunch was simple: For many centuries, the cycle of meals in England was considerably foreshortened. Breakfast was taken when one rose with the dawn to begin work in an economy that remained largely agrarian and rural. The day's first meal, however, was not originally the elaborate affair that we now identify as the classic British breakfast, and by midday, the medievals were ready for a more substantial repast. This was dinner, the most serious meal of the day for rich and poor alike, involving as much elaboration as one's pocket could afford. For the worker, dinner was meant to help the body recover from the exertions of the morning and to power it through the afternoon's remaining labors. For the rich landowner, it was a marker of ease and privilege and often occupied quite a large portion of the afternoon.

Dinner was generally taken between 11 A.M. and 1 P.M. Dining hours in the medieval period were proscribed both by science and religion. Doctors determined when food might be taken, in what manner and quantity, and in what form. The church also played a role in determining dining hours. In the monasteries of the age, as in contemporary contemplative communities, the hours of the day were divided up according to cycles of prayer; and the monks restricted their dining to the period after prayers at the hour of none, nine hours after dawn. The dining hour in the monasteries moved about, depending on the hour of dawn across the year's cycle. It is from this habit of taking the meal at the ninth hour that the term "noon" is derived, and, thus, the concept of "nooning." Noun or verb, nooning was not unlike nuncheon : Though the meaning of the term shifted about, it referred to a small meal taken at or around the noon hour and was in use in this sense, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as early as 1652.

Not everyone in medieval society adhered to the edicts of doctors or priests, however, and the earliest manifestations of the meal we now call lunch seem to have appeared among the rich and idle. Erasmus's In Praise of Folly (published in 1511) describes hard-partying courtiers who slept late but observed the religious forms of the day by having "a wretched little hired priest waiting at their bedside [who] runs quickly through the mass before they're hardly out of bed. Then they go to breakfast, which is scarcely over before there's a summons for lunch." The accumulation of meals is telling: The notion of eating while one was still full from the meal before was thought to be particularly unhealthy, and meals were few and far between in part because the pleasures of dining were, in proper thinking, subordinate to the real occupation of the daythat is, work. By noting that his courtier eats a full meal for this snack, and eats it directly after breakfast, Erasmus emphasizes the morally and physiologically uncertain nature of the lives of the idle richand their distance from the strictures of the working world.

Urbanization and Industrialization

Over time, the hours of dining became increasingly flexible. Urbanization, industrialization, and technology all played roles in changing the dinner hour. Like much related to the English Industrial Revolution, the transformation of the noon-hour meal progressed at a glacial pace through the eighteenth century and then abruptly picked up speed at the turn of the nineteenth century. In the mid-eighteenth century, dinner was still eaten in the middle of the day. As Horace Walpole wrote in a letter to Richard Bentley in 1753, "[a]ll I will tell you more of Oxford is, that Fashion has so far prevailed over her collegiate sister Custom, that they have altered the hour of dinner from twelve to one. Does it not put one in mind of religion? One don't abolish Mahommedanism; one only brings it back to where the imposter left it." But after James Watt's invention of the steam engine, in 1765, life in England picked up speed in every possible way, and gastronomy was hardly excepted.

One of the most apparentand arguably most abruptof many changes in the socioeconomic landscape of the nation was urbanization. As northern rural land rented for centuries by tenant-farmers was transformed into factories and mines, as families of farmers who had worked common land for generations found themselves without means of support, and as the factory towns offered ever-growing possibilities for employment, a wholesale and unprecedented move to the cities took place across the nation. The mass migration affected every aspect of life, and meals were no exception. Men and women who had lived their lives according to the rhythms of the fields and livestockrising early to feed animals and work the land before the heat of the afternoon set in, dining heartily in the middle of the day, and taking a small supper (often indistinguishable from breakfast) in the early evening before retiringfound themselves faced with the artificial hours of the factory. In this age before any meaningful regulation of labor, men, women, and children commonly worked twelve-to fifteen-hour shifts on the great factory floors and in smaller, artisanal assembly works. Working days began and ended in darkness, and regularly scheduled breaks were unimaginable. Instead, workers took their food when they couldbuying breakfast from a cart on the way to work to maximize their sleeping time (and thus marking the dawn of fast-food culture), and eating a snacka nuncheon or luncheonbrought from home or bought on the street, in the brief breaks between stretches of work. The abbreviated meal might consist of bread and cheese, boiled bacon, or a bit of pie or oatcake. Like the monks of old, the workers often took this break during the none or noon hour, in the middle of their extended workday.

Urbanization, of course, was not limited to the poor, and the middle class, too, found its meal schedules profoundly affected by the rhythms of the city. The growth of middle management through industrialization brought legions of men into the factory towns of the north as well as into London: men of the newly reimagined middle classes, strivers seeking to better themselves and climb the social ladder by dint of hard work of the mind. Such men were also deeply involved in the labor of buying, selling, and transport. Britain's seemingly ever-expanding empire, Parliament's simultaneous embrace of laissez-faire capitalism and tariff laws, and such new technologies as canning created possibilities for widespread international import and export, so that London's docks teemed with firms promoting the buying, selling, and shipping of wholesale goods. In these firms, middle-class men sat on upper floors with ink and paper, working columns of figures and making deals in a new kind of labor of the mind, while working-class men dirtied their hands with the work of moving actual product around. Similarly, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the rise to new prominence of "Change Alley," home of the stock exchangethe near mythic locus where, then as now, where fortunes might be made or lost in an instant, and place of irresistible temptation for men of little fortune and much ambition. These, then, were the new proving grounds of the middle class: the spaces where strivers might push themselves into the upper echelons, by dint of hard work, good luck, and vast infusions of filthy lucre. The laborers were driven by coffee, often consumed in the coffeehouses of the city: Once the bases for political radicals of the Reformation, these purveyors of speediness and drive were the meeting grounds for movers and shakers. Coffee helped to distance the worker from his body: Divorced from physical fatigue, the entrepreneur and the city man were able to work efficiently and quickly, laboring entirely with the head, not the hand.

The world of the middle-class striver, then, was utterly distanced from the sun-dictated realm of the rural worker: Dawn and dusk became nothing more than markers for those who could work as easily by candlelight as they could by daylight. And as the striver rushed through his businesslike day, urgently buying and selling in the fast-paced world of commerce, he was increasingly unwilling to stop work for a heavy, mind-dulling dinner; nor was he willing to afford his clerks, rising young men themselves, the opportunity to eat and drink themselves into uselessness. Accordingly, the striver began to take his dinner after the workday was done, when the markets were closed and nothing more could be earned. Since coffee alone often proved insufficient fuel for the workday, he grew accustomed to taking a bite of something: a small meal at the coffeehouse or cookshop, a snack from a food vendor in the street, or a bite of bread and cheese, brought from home and eaten at his deska luncheon, or, as it was vulgarly known, a lunch.

Urbanization, industrialism, and class mobility, then, all played central roles in the development of a small, relatively casual noontime meal, taken at the once accustomed hour for dining, yet distinct from the more formal and substantial dinner. But the nineteenth-century trend toward lunching was not limited to the laboring classes, and the changing habits of the workingman, ironically, were the driving force behind the changing habits of the man and woman of leisure. In the country manors and fine town houses, too, the dining hour moved further and further up the clock, creating a substantial alimentary gap in the middle of the day. In some great families, of course, this move reflected the changing working hours of their own city men, lawyers and legislators (and, as the middle classes moved into the realm of the upper crust, the waiting of dinner for the arrival of the great man became increasingly commonhence the late and formal dinners held in the home of Charles Dickens's businessman Mr. Merdle in his 1854 Little Dorrit ). For others, however, the late dinner hour was a marker not of labor but of excessive leisureand, thus, of privilege.

City men, after all, dined late because they came home late from work; they swallowed their dinners and retired to bed soon afterward, ready to do it all again the next day. The elder sons of aristocracy and moneyed gentry, on the other hand, had no such demands on their time, and their schedules, like the fare on their tables, reflected this. For the rich, coffee was consumed at breakfast as an aid to recover from the depredations of the night before; similarly, it was swallowed after a period of after-dinner drinking, with only men present, so that card-playing, dancing, and other entertainments might go on until the wee hours. Dinner, a leisurely meal involving many dishes and, later in the century, many courses, was held late as a marker of sophistication and of wealth. An extensive dinner consumed in the hours of darkness, illuminated by expensive wax candles, was an occasion of glamour for those whose bodies were not bound by the demands of the clock. Let the ordinary working folk dine in full daylight and retire to bed early; those who need not work might gossip and intrigue round the table in the intimacy of candlelight, sup at midnight, and retire to bed in the wee hourspractices that were especially prized during the Regency period, from 1811 to 1820. Technology played a role here as well: While candlelight was certainly adequate for dining, it was hardly ideal for the labor of cooking and cleaning, and so dining at night was difficult for those not equipped with a large staff to deal with the work effectively and the means to light a kitchen well with many candles (or, later in the century, with gaslight). Dining late, then, was in and of itself a marker of means.

Because dinners were relatively public events, at which the rich (nouveau and old alike) displayed their wealth with quantities of heavy, preferably imported food and drink, they were, like every public display of wealth, competitive. The constantly shifting markers of true class necessitated ever-increasing demonstrations of deep pockets and cultural currency, one sign of which was the lateness of the hour. Accordingly, "half-gentlemen," as Jane Austen terms strivers, with pretensions to true gentility, held their dinners late as a means of classing themselves with the sophisticates of the upper echelons, and every time the hour of dining for such ordinary folk moved up, the sophisticates themselves, feeling the competition close in, felt the need to assert their class distinction by pushing their dinner hour later still.

The result of all this, of course, was a need for more meals to fill in the stomach-rumbling spaces between breakfast and dinneroften a gap of some twelve hours or more. The English afternoon or "high" tea evolved around the middle of the nineteenth century, as a genteel late-afternoon sop to the appetite (and, probably, a much-needed dose of restorative caffeine). In the noontime hour or a little afterward, the gentle classes began to take a refreshment that was more formal and more substantial than a tea, but considerably less extensive than a dinner. In the kitchens and servants' halls, this meal was referred to as lunch, and was taken as a snack, as it was in the factories. In the dining room, the repast was luncheon.

The French Influence on Lunch

The prestige of this upper-crust version of the British luncheon was helped along by French cachet. Though gentle Britain was extremely uneasy about the revolutionary developments across the channel, where the aristocracy had been jailed or beheaded, fashionable moneyed Britons nevertheless coveted all things French, and particularly all things French and gastronomic. Gallic chefs, sauces, and dishes were all perceived as both foreign and dangerous, and, thus, as the crucial markers of chic, up-to-the-minute elegance. Luncheon was no exception. Prosper Montagné's bible of all things gastronomic and French, Larousse gastronomique, attributes the development of dejeuner, the French precursor to the genteel English luncheon, to the Revolution itself, claiming that the long hours of the new Constituent Assembly, which sat from noon to six, brought about a particular alimentary transformation. According to Montagné, the members of the Assembly obligingly moved their dinner hour (diner in French) from one o'clock or so to six o'clock or later, but they soon found that they were unable to work effectively without food from breakfast (dejeuner ), eaten first thing in the morning, to dinner. To stave off hunger, the members made it a practice to eat a "second breakfast" before their sessions began, around 11:00 A.M. "This second dejeuner," Montagné notes, "was more substantial than the first and included eggs and cold meat." The practice caught on, and the first dejeuner (a meal of soup or coffee with milk) was soon relegated to the status of petit dejeuner. The term "lunch" or "luncheon" was introduced into France in the nineteenth century, generally referring to a cold buffet for a large group of people, eaten standing up.

While the French dejeuner was driven by the lofty labor of hard-thinking men, the genteel English version was originally a ladies' amusement: The twentieth-century "lady who lunches" had her cultural birth in nineteenth-century England. Women of fashion and leisure, left at home while their husbands tended to business or pleasure, soon found that delaying their dinner to eight o'clock or later left them hungry in the afternoons; they began taking a midday repast, generally at the same time that the servants and children had their dinner. This small luncheon soon turned into an occasion for entertaining, reserved nearly exclusively for women. Arnold Palmer in Moveable Feasts cites such luncheons, served at one o'clock in the afternoon, occurring as early as 1818, but notes that this is an aberration. By the 1830s, however, luncheons were increasingly common. The meal was dainty. By the 1850s the practice had spread to the relatively financially stable members of the striving classes, as women who were freed from the real labor of the home by servants filled their afternoons with visiting and eating. The middle-class meal was not always as elaborate as the luncheon of the rich, however: Frugal housewives might make a lunch of leftovers from the last night's dinner or the children's meals, though only when no company was expected. When guests were present, luncheon foods were lighter than the fare of other meals, and because visitors generally retained their bonnets and shawls throughout the meal, the food could not be cumbersome or messy. It was served elegantly but simply. Sara Paston-Williams writes in The Art of Dining that by the close of the century, the fashionable table was quite bare: All food except fruit was served from the sideboard by the butler, so that the meal was at the crossroads between utter formality of service and utter informality of appearance. Less dressed-up luncheons featured hot meats on the sideboard, cold sweets in a row in the middle of the table, and other dishes served by the hostess. By the late 1800s, formal luncheons as celebrations and special occasion meals were not uncommon.

As Palmer makes clear, this form of luncheon was generally shunned by men, viewed as a despicable product of daintiness, trendiness, and boredom, a bastion of gossip and irrelevancy. While women's luncheons developed into a full-fledged meal, men tenaciously clung to the original sense of the term, downing a bite or two of wine and a swallow of biscuit, with or without a bit of meat, in a chophouse, at a club, at work, or on the street. For city men in particular, luncheon was public, and thus associated with business; there was nothing of indulgence or leisure about it. As the middle class grew more stable toward the end of the century, however, the practice of the lengthy business lunch, generally held at gentlemen's clubs, gradually caught on.

Gentlemen of leisure, on the other hand, incorporated luncheon into their days in more relaxed ways. They may well, for instance, have taken their cues from French epicureans. Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, in The Physiology of Taste, describes the great pleasures of the "hunting-luncheon," a snack of bread and cheese, chicken, and wine taken beneath the trees, as the epitome of leisure, and thus brings the notion of the courtier's lunch back to the leisured classes, while retaining its implications as a light, unmeal-like meal.

The Acceptance of Lunch

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the regular luncheon meal had become, if not commonplace, at least commonly accepted among the fashionable. But the trajectory of the meal was by no means clear. Benjamin Disraeli, in his collected Letters, refers to luncheon as "my principal meal," at once marking his own sense of distinction by referring to luncheon and demonstrating his old-fashioned bent, by turning his luncheon, as it were, into dinner. Palmer describes writer Maria Edgeworth's oscillation between meal cycles as she moves from country house to country house, enjoying a full-fledged lunch of two courses and dessert one day, and reverting to the old-fashioned habit of midday dinner on the next. Lunch was sometimes amalgamated with tea, and taken in the middle of the afternoon. Sarah Freeman declares in Mutton and Oysters that "[l]unch as an occasion for entertaining was introduced in the late 1850s," but the first edition of Isabella Beeton's Book of Household Management, published in 1861, wastes little time on the meal. In her all-purpose guide for the up-to-date housewife, she makes mention of a light, sweet dessert known as a "luncheon cake" but declares it "seasonable at any time." And though she refers to luncheons in her survey of the well-bred lady's day as "a very necessary meal between an early breakfast and a late dinner, as a healthy person, with good exercise, should have a fresh supply of food once in four hours," she devotes scant space to its forms. In a brief section at the end of the book, she advises women to take

[t]he remains of cold joints, nicely garnished, a few sweets, or a little hashed meat, poultry or game . . . with bread and cheese, biscuits, butter, &c. If a substantial meal is desired, rump-steaks or mutton chops may be served, as also veal cutlets, kidneys, or any dish of that kind. In families where there is a nursery, the mistress of the house often partakes of the meal with the children, and makes it her luncheon. In the summer, a few dishes of fresh fruit should be added to the luncheon, or, instead of this, a compote of fruit or fruit tart, or pudding.

For Beeton, in other words, luncheon remained a meal for fuel, rather than an occasion for entertaining and social niceties, and leftovers or nursery food were more than sufficient. This easy dismissal of luncheon may be due, in part, to her focus on helping women become useful helpmates and mothers, rather than fashionable figures: Since luncheon was patently a women's meal in the home, it could occupy little space in the husband-centered Beetonian oeuvre. Breakfast, on the other hand, warranted a great deal of ink in Beeton's work, since this was a meal over which men did business, and at which the men and women of the household ate together. And it was substantial: It is easy to imagine that anyone who ate a breakfast of cold meats, broiled fish, chops or sausage, kidneys, eggs, fruit in season, and toast might find themselves not exactly hungry when the luncheon hour came around. Indeed, it is not unthinkable that the ladies' luncheon evolved in tandem with the lady of genteel appetites. As women's eating habits came under increasing scrutiny in tandem with the development of the medicalized and rigorously controlled female body of the nineteenth century (the precursor to our own cultural preoccupation with women's bodily shapes), any self-respecting lady would restrain her appetites, particularly for strong meats and organ foods, at a meal at which men were present. Thus, it is conceivable that the woman who ate breakfast with becoming propriety would find herself hungry by noon, while her husband, free to eat whatever was before him, could not conceive of such alimentary weakness.

However, Beeton's neglect of the meal also signals its still-precarious position in the pantheon of meals at midcentury. In mealtimes, as in the realms of work and fashion, nineteenth-century England seemed to exist in several periods at once: The old-fashioned dinner sat alongside the newfangled luncheon, and the two meals were sometimes taken, as Beeton notes, at the same moment by members of various echelons of the household (servants and children dined while ladies lunched). Participation in one regime or the other marked the eater: The luncher was urban or, at least, in touch with the latest London fashions; female; young or progressive in her style; and wealthy, or hoping to be taken as such.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the luncheon was well-established in English society; the 1899 edition of Beeton's Book, for example, gives a full seven pages to luncheon forms, etiquette, and menus. Even at this late date, however, confusion remained. Beeton introduces her section on luncheon by remarking that "[u]nder the above name come a very great variety of meals; for we have no other name for the one that comes between breakfast and dinner. It may be a crust of bread and butter or cheese, or an elaborate meal of four or five courses; it is still 'luncheon.' Also it may take place at any time. The lower classes lunch between 10 and 11; the upper, some three or four hours later." Everyone, it seems, found a lunch of some sort necessary by the close of the century: the chasms between rich and poor, man and woman, urban and rural had more or less closed on this point. And despite the confusion over the hour and contents of luncheon, the meal remained an informal one, generally lighter than either breakfast or dinner. Through the Edwardian period, lunch became a lighter meal, similar to contemporary imaginings of the repast, and more generally indulged in by both men and women.

The end of the century also saw the advent of brunch, a meal closely associated with the Oscar Wildeesque dandies of the period. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word was originally university slang; Punch magazine attributes the term to Guy Beringer, writing in Hunter's Weekly about a meal that combined breakfast and lunchand was presumably indulged in by university rakes and other men about town who slept through breakfast, exhausted by the exertions of the night before. In this, the brunchers improved on the medieval courtiers who ran from one meal to the next. A meal of absolute leisure, brunch obliterated the need for form and attention to hours, trumpeting the freedom of the brunchers from the tyrannies of the workday. It was an excellent means of marking the dandy as a creature entirely divorced from the middle class, and only when it was taken up as a weekend form, largely in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, did it transform itself into the respite from the workweek that we know it as today.

Lunch in America

Though the process through which lunch developed in America closely mirrored that of England, the timetable was much slower, as the country moved more gradually from rural to urban economies. The working classes began eating a quick meal known as lunchusually a brown-bag affair brought from homein the nineteenth century, but the practice of referring to the midday meal as dinner persisted in many rural areas through the 1940s. The development of the upper-class lunch also occurred much later. Harvey A. Levenstein in Revolution at the Table places that transition in the 1880s and attributes the later dinner hour not only to fashion, but also to the American work ethic. Even men who did not work, he claims, liked to be seen as busy during working hours, and so were loathe to sit down to dinner in daylight. Particularly, but not exclusively, among the privileged, "nooning" persisted in America through the nineteenth century as a term referring to a light midday meal taken at leisure, often in less than formal circumstances.

By the early years of the new century, the ladies' luncheon was common, and home-based luncheon clubs for ladies were proliferating. But since many men of the middle and upper classes ate their midday meal at home, luncheon in America had much less of a gendered character than the British variety. Through the twentieth century, as children came home from school to eat lunch, the meal was made to bear the weight of America's great nutritional edicts, so that homemade meals and the women who cooked them shouldered the responsibility for the emotional, physical, and intellectual well-being of the nation's children. Women of leisure took their midday sustenance in public restaurants, marking their distance from the labor of the home by combining lunching or luncheon, as they termed it, with shopping and other wealth-driven pursuits of pleasure.

In the public world of work, lunch in America was driven by the nation's speedy, progress-obsessed business culture. As Daniel Boorstin notes in The Americans, soon after the Civil War, the notion of the lunch counter evolved, modeled on the horrible "refreshment rooms" in railroad stations, where commuters in a hurry downed worse than mediocre food at top speed. The lunch counter, like the refreshment room, was based on the premise of moving patrons in and out quickly; the setting and the seating were less than luxurious, and the food was served up extremely quickly, encouraging rapid turnover (a business practice that Ray Kroc, the entrepreneur behind McDonald's, elevated to an American art form). Unsurprisingly, innovation-and efficiency-driven Americans also developed the concept of the lunch box, complete with divisions for various types of food and eating implements, for which patents were applied in 1864.

In its contemporary American incarnation, lunch continues to incorporate many of the class-and gender-driven connotations of its nineteenth-century manifestations. Office workers may eat a quick lunchbrought from home or ordered from a take-out or delivery restaurant, contemporary versions of nineteenth-century food carts and chophousesat their desks, or they may use their lunch hour, a sacred American twentieth-century institution, for leisure activities, shopping, exercising, or eating out at restaurants that devote themselves in some way to fast noontime service. People of real leisure and means eat lunches in restaurants, and the notion of the salad-eating "lady who lunches" still holds considerable currency. Though the notion of the business lunch, another midcentury American institution, has declined somewhat (and the legendary three-martini lunch has more or less disappeared, as a faster, meaner working world has evolved), lunch remains an important public meal for executives, who often use it as an opportunity for doing business, just as eighteenth-and nineteenth-century "Change Alley" businessmen once made deals in the coffeehouses of London. Business luncheons are more formal affairs, held for a larger number of people, and often involving a speaker. The term "luncheon" in general now refers, in the United States, to a formal affair involving a substantial number of participants, though in Britain it may also refer to a relatively formal repast for one person or a small group of people. For children, lunch is still seen as a particularly important source of nutrition, as the hot lunch programs in the schools attest, but as women have moved out of the home and into the workplace, the responsibility for this all-important feeding now rests with the schools and the public domain. Perhaps most tellingly, in the go-go American business environment of the early twenty-first century, the most important lunch is the one that is not eaten: As businesspeople seek to mark themselves as serious, driven, busy, they have come to see lunch as a sign of indulgence, even of weakness. Like their nineteenth-century London counterparts, ambitious workers often scorn lunch as a meal reserved for the weak, the slow, the unambitious, and the overly leisured. The best kind of lunch for the upwardly mobile entrepreneur is the one he or she has forgotten to eat.

See also Art, Food in: Literature; Beeton, Isabella Mary; Breakfast; Brillat-Savarin, Anthelme; Dinner; England; Etiquette and Eating Habits; Fast Food; Gender and Food; Household; Larousse gastronomique ; Places of Consumption; Restaurants .


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Wilson, C. Anne. Food and Drink in Britain: From the Stone Age to Recent Times. London: Constable, 1973.

Wilson, C. Anne, ed. Luncheon, Nuncheon, and Other Meals: Eating with the Victorians. Stroud: Sutton, 1994.

Gwen Hyman

Lunch Menus

Arnold Palmer quotes Edgeworth's satisfying luncheon of 1823 thusly:

"First course, cold; two roast chickens, better never were; a ham, finer never seen, even at my mother'[s] luncheons; pickled salmon, and cold boiled round. Second course, hot; a large dish of little trout from the river; new potatoes and . . . a dish of mashed potatoes for me; fresh greens, with toast over, and poached eggs. Then, a custard pudding, a gooseberry tart, and plenty of Highland creamhighly superior to lowlandand butter, ditto." He adds, "[f]or this, she was charged six shillings." (Quoted in Allen, p. 180)

Edward and Lorna Bunyard's The Epicure's Companion cites a day of ladies' meals in a great house, recorded in the 1857 Country Hospitality, or Lord and Lady Harcourt, thusly:

Lady Axminster and Lady Rachel had that morning breakfasted on a first course of fish-curry, followed by meat pies, preserves, eggs, chocolate, tea, coffee, and muffins. At luncheon they had reveled on hashed venison, stewed mushrooms, an immeasurable apricot tart drenched in cream, and a bottle of soda water with sherry, but both ladies now declared they felt "quite faint"a mountain of bread and butter now vanished rapidly, and numberless cups of tea were drained off (p. 422).

A luncheon (probably catered) held by Theodore Mander, a self-made industrialist, to celebrate the opening of the Higher Grade School in Wolverhampton, included the following (Paston-Williams):


Saumon et mayonnaise

Soufflés de homard à la Montglas

Dindonneau froid à la Grande Duchesse

Soufflé à la Marguérite

Aloyau de boeuf rôti

Cotelettes de mouton en aspic

Galantine de volaille

Pâté de gibier

Jambon glacé, Langues

Dindon rôti

Pièce de boeuf braisée à la Napolitaine

Faisans, perdreaux

Gâteau d'abricots

Gelée à la Russe, gelée à la Française

Charlotte à l'Alexandra

Pommes à la Princesse Maud

Créme à la Munich


Mrs. Beeton's Instructions for a Proper Luncheon

The 1899 edition of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management includes instructions for laying a proper luncheon table, guidelines for menu construction, and a warning to avoid extravagance at this most informal of meals. The book offers a number of menus for luncheons with guests, picnic luncheons, and "family luncheons."

On a Monday in summer, a family might lunch on "[m]utton cutlets and peas, cold chicken, ham, salad.Gooseberry fool, cold milk pudding.Bread, cheese, butter, biscuits." On a Saturday, the menu might include "Minced beef or any other cold meat, Russian salad.Macaroni cheese.Cake, fruit, bread, butter, biscuits." A winter family menu might consist of "Curried cold fish, steak fried, mashed potatoes.Tinned pine.Custard. Bread, butter, cheese, biscuits." (Note the marks of technology and of Empire: curries from India, generally stripped of much of their spiciness, became standard fare on British tables during the nineteenth century, and canned goods were at once economical and alluring in their factory-stamped newness.) A Thursday winter family lunch, on the other hand, might be based around a "[j]oint from servants' table with vegetables"incorporating both economy and good old English style, as the plain jointa well-cooked piece of meat without fancy foreign sauceswas the epitome of old-fashioned English fare. It could be accompanied by "[a]ny cold pudding.Cake, preserve.Bread, butter, cheese, biscuits." (p. 246)

An "economical luncheon" was much more limited, incorporating one main course, one simple dessert, and bread with butter, cheese, or marmalade; the main course might consist of "rissoles of cold meat" or "potato pie made from remains of cold meat" (p. 247). The inclusion of such recipes demonstrates the reach of luncheon through every class.


A luncheon for guests was somewhat more elaborate. The 1899 edition of Beeton lists the following menu for a summer repast for ten:

Cold salmon, tartar sauce, cucumber

Roast chicken, potatoes, green peas

Cold lamb, salad

Raspberry and current tart (cold), custard

Maraschino jelly

Strawberries and cream

Bread, butter, cheese, biscuits, &c. (p. 245)

In winter, Beeton's Guide suggests the following:

Clear soup

Fried soles, caper sauce

Hashed turkey, cold roast beef, beetroot, mashed potatoes


Sweet Omelette, stewed prunes and rice (cold), cheese, celery

Pears, oranges

Bread, butter, &c. (p. 245)

In 1934 Florence B. Jack's Cookery for Every Household offered a series of seasonal menus for "the luncheon proper, which resembles the French déjeuner in style" (p. 674). While noting that dishes might be added or subtracted depending on appetite and occasion, she generally proposes menus of four courses, including the following:

For spring: spring soup, mayonnaise of halibut, stewed pigeons, and French pancakes or eggs on spinach, cold beef with mixed salad, orange soufflé, and cheese cakes. For summer, fish salad, French beans à la maitre d'hotel, roast lab, and compote of cherries with custard sauce; for fall, grilled mackerel, minced chicken with spinach, bread-crumb pudding, and stewed prunes; and for winter, stuffed fillets of fish, Russian steaks, apple charlotte, and coffee eclairs.


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lunch / lənch/ • n. a meal eaten in the middle of the day, typically one that is lighter or less formal than an evening meal: a vegetarian lunch | do join us for lunch. • v. [intr.] eat lunch: he told his wife he was lunching with a client. ∎  [tr.] take (someone) out for lunch: public relations people lunch their clients there.PHRASES: do lunch inf. meet for lunch.out to lunch inf. unaware of or inattentive to present conditions. DERIVATIVES: lunch·er n.


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lunch and luncheon appear first towards the end of XVI in the sense ‘thick piece, hunch, hunk’; of uncert. orig. (perh. — Sp. lonja slice). The sense ‘slight repast between morning meals’ appears XVII, for luncheon, and first in the forms lunchin(g); the present use of lunch (XIX) is a shortening of this, whence lunch vb.


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lunch there's no such thing as a free lunch one never gets something for nothing; any benefit received has eventually to be paid for. Originally (mid 20th century) a US axiom relating to economics and finance.

See also ladies who lunch.


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lunch (luncheon) The midday meal (but in northern England the main meal is traditionally eaten at midday and is known as dinner).