Food diary: why brunch?

Ellie Duncan explores the role of brunch in history, culture and her weekend routine

Breakfast Pancakes Blackberry Summer Brunch

This isn’t the first time I have written about brunch for a hardhitting student publication. Given the task of explaining the wonders of hall food in my college’s most recent Freshers’ guide, I described the concept of brunch way as “a space for creating what you want”. As egotistical as it might seem to quote myself at the beginning of this article, the point I would make is this: brunch seems to have grown into a personalised art, where the vagueness of category permits a whole range of different possibilities. Every brunch experience is different, and this is something that deserves to be truly celebrated.

You only need to look on Instagram to understand the immense popularity of brunch and its aesthetic. There are hundreds of accounts devoted simply to documenting brunch in London or New York or Melbourne, and every photo is always beautifully presented. The same classics reappear over and over again, though often in innovative forms—eggs, bacon, pancakes, blueberries, and of course avocado. But there are also some more unexpected options out there to discover, like doughnuts, broccoli fritters, or a good fig and hazelnut babka. The hybrid meal of brunch is a delicious testament to the imagination.

Unsurprisingly though, the original settings for brunch were quite different from what we now might instinctively recognise. Brunch has blossomed into a widespread cultural phenomenon, but it started out as a meal for aristocratic hunters in England, wanting a hearty meal in between sojourns into the field, and the snappy name itself was first coined in an 1895 edition of the magazine Hunter’s Weekly.

Some believe Chicago is the true birthplace of brunch, as the morning stopover point for 1920s film stars travelling to Hollywood by rail who needed a sophisticated late-morning bite. An ironic connection for those of us in student journalism is that in the USA, the importance of brunch has been allegedly traced back to the traditional eating habits of a newspaper reporter. As with the eternal pizza debate, it would seem brunch is another institution where everyone clambers to take credit for creating this masterpiece of a meal.

Rightly then, Cherwell’s recent Food and Drink Awards included best hangover brunch as a category of its own. In my experience, nothing cures a hangover quite as well as a perfectly crispy and golden hash brown from an unnamed northern college. Certainly brunch is a strong point of the Oxford food scene, with countless great options like the Handlebar Café, Green’s Café and the winning George Street Social.

Finally, with its pleasingly unspecified time brackets, brunch is a meal that also offers a somewhat soothing relief from the often minutely scheduled timetable of university life. With an unending range of possible combinations, brunch can be tailored to any time or taste. And, just as it started out as a savvy response to culinary needs, the comforting and versatile spirit of brunch ensures its enduring popularity.

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