Summer just wouldn’t be summer without an old-fashioned picnic in the park. But what do you do when the mercury rises to unhealthy levels and your energy’s dipping? Or maybe it’s raining on your outdoor picnic or barbecue? Like many city dwellers, you just bring the party indoors!
Picnics have been a popular food rite for centuries. Food historians believe that they evolved from the elaborate moveable outdoor feasts once enjoyed only by the wealthy. The picnic’s roots can be traced back to England’s 14th century medieval hunting festivals, later evolving into Renaissance-era country banquets and Victorian garden parties. The fictional writings of the era by noted authors such as Dickens and Austen reflect their popularity. Painters Monet, Renoir and Cezanne have also been enthralled by the subject of picnics.
But what is a good old-fashioned picnic? Today’s versions often combine comfort foods and barbecue delights with chilled libations, games, and family and friends reunions. Picnics are “a celebration of human spirit, cultural diversity, and adventure” writes Walter Levy in The Picnic: A History. “Picnics are personal. We choose the foods we serve, our dining partners, and the venue.
Planned or impromptu, they are very different from public outdoor dining events; community feasts (New England Clambakes, Texas barbecues, New Orleans shrimp boils); al fresco dining (trendy waterfront bistros, central city cafes), and fair food.”
One of the things that make a picnic so special is the accouterments. Whether you are basking in the sunshine or cooling in the shade of your apartment’s air conditioner, you will still need the proper accessories to set the mood for your picnic. Start with a checkered print blanket or floral print tablecloth to lay your feast upon. Whether you’re taking it to the floor or draping it over a table, your “table” setting is the canvas upon which you paint.
Arrange some summer flowers like daisies or sunflowers in makeshift Mason jar vases. A few floral candles (also in mason jars) will add ambiance to the surroundings. You might even want to string some clear lights to give a twinkling star vibe to your surroundings. This is especially nice with a canopy effect if you’re planning a romantic date night picnic for two.
You can still use a picnic basket as a prop for food storage and a cooler is handy to keep wine, beer, or soft drinks chilled and within easy reach. Since you’ll be eating indoors and don’t have to carry anything too far from your kitchen, use real crystal glassware, china plates, metal utensils, and cloth napkins that will add a classic touch.
Green farmer’s markets are abundant in almost every neighborhood during the summer. It’s a perfect time to design your menu with simple, fresh, organic ingredients in mind. Your menu can be as elaborate or basic as you like. Many traditional picnic foods are those that you can eat with your fingers like your favorite fried chicken, sandwiches on crusty breads, deviled eggs, olives, pickles, crackers, fresh fruit, crudités with dips, and cookies or brownies. Fresh Cole slaw, potato, macaroni or pasta salads can also round out the traditional fare.
Personally, I like fuss-free entertaining, so I can enjoy engaging conversations with my guests. Here are a few of my go-to Mediterranean menu favorites:
A varietal cheese and charcuterie plate (complete with paté, salami, sausages and cured hams) accompanied by fresh breads whole grain crackers, and bread sticks is always nice for noshing. You can also include your favorite nuts and olives, as well as bunches of red and green grapes.
Basil pesto spread, red pepper hummus and Greek yogurt spinach dip bring healthy flavors to your breads, meats, and cheeses as well.
Greek orzo garbanzo bean salad is a great vegetarian dish. Simply mix together cooked orzo, a can of rinsed garbanzo beans, red onion, yellow peppers, fresh cucumber, and feta cheese dressed simply with lemon, oregano and olive oil.
Double fudge brownies or traditional chocolate chip cookies bring the sweets home.
Finally, serve drinks to satisfy everyone — Rosé wine, craft beers, sparkling water, and even a fresh watermelon-infused lemonade will quench thirsts satisfyingly. And it will be as gloriously fun as all outdoors!
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title to learn more.
A Year of Picnics
by Ashley English and Jen Altman
The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket
by Marnie Hanel and Andrea Sloneker
Picnics: 125 Recipes With 29 Seasonal Menus
by DeeDee Stovel
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