Fifty years ago luncheon expressed the most desultory and haphazard meal possible to enlightened humanity. School children carried lunch-boxes and parcels in the corners of book-bags when they left home after breakfast. Picnic, berrying and nutting parties stowed away bountiful luncheons in baskets and hampers. There were three meals a day, breakfast, dinner and supper, or in New England, tea. Households in which people sat down, even upon "occasions," to a luncheon set forth in orderly fashion upon a table, to be eaten in courses with knives and forks, were as few as those in which afternoon tea was served.
The change that, by pushing the dinner hour nearer the close of day has made expedient, if not needful, a substantial noon-day meal, has come about naturally and gradually. The down-town of men workers and the up-town of homes have receded from each other until the head of the house can no longer spare time to dine at home at midday. And the stately sequence of soup, fish, meat and sweets is a tedious sham when there are no men to be cooked for. In the country the increasing army of commuters have but two meals at home during the week day. Wives, compassionately reminiscent of the hasty bit and sup that stays their stomachs during a day's shopping, assume that the respective Johns fare no better. John's breakfast is a touch-and-go affair. He shall have abundant recompense for that and the wretched sandwich and lukewarm coffee that mocked fainting Nature at the noon spell.
By these and others stages luncheon has become an American institution, and has come to stay. It is, to most women, the pleas-antest meal of the day, even when partaken of at home, with none present but "the children" and the grown women of the household. It breaks up the monotony of daily tasks; it is eaten without flurry or hurry, because with little ceremony. "Pick-up" dishes and accidental entrees figure conspicuously in the menu, things for which men, as a rule, care little and their wives and daughters much. Tea and toast, cake and preserves can be enjoyed without fear of bantering comment, and a harmless dish of gossip can be uncovered without provoking severe strictures. The Ladies' Luncheon, which has grown into one of the most important of modern social functions, will be considered later.