Sunday Oct 17th
Went to church all of us. Came home
at noon with Mr Ames and had a cup
of tea and lunch in the buttery
Catharine Middleton left this evening
and I paid her five dollars for the
three weeks that she has been here now
and one week some time since
This may be the first time that Evelina uses the word “lunch” in her diary. Usually, the meal in the middle of the day was dinner, and it was the big meal. But on Sundays, the routine was changed because, ostensibly, housewives didn’t cook. It was a Day of Rest. The women were at church and had no time to prepare a hot meal between services. Instead there was a cup of tea and a piece of cake at the parsonage or, in good weather, there might be a bread and fruit picnic on the lawn of the church, near the carriages. Early tail-gating, if you will. If a housewife were at home on a Sunday, as Evelina sometimes was, she might end up cooking, especially if she had houseguests. But the norm was no cooking.
Lunch, per se, was something different. The word itself was a shortened version of “luncheon,” which was generally accepted to be a small meal that might be held at any time of day, in between two larger meals. For most of the 19th century, luncheons were considered to be the province of middle- to upper-class ladies – hence the phrase, “ladies who lunch.” Cold meats, fruit, pastries and tea might make up the menu for the female meal.
Yet as industrialization of the workday took over, replacing the former agrarian practice of a substantial meal in the middle of the day, lunch as we know it became more accepted. Men took their cold meals to work, or warmed up a can of something over a stove or a radiator at the workplace. By the 20th century in America, lunch happened in the middle of the day and dinner moved to the evening.
In her diary, Evelina was only suggesting that the meal she and her husband shared at a scrub-top table in the pantry was no regular dinner. Little did she know that this simpler midday meal would one day be the norm.