Summer may officially arrive on June 21, but everyone knows it truly kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. And that means it’s picnic season.
It’s time to dust off that picnic basket, even if these days, al fresco diners are just as likely to carry their goods in high-tech, insulated gear.
There’s nothing wrong with good, old standby picnic fare, the sandwiches and easy fixings that don’t require much planning. But to make it more memorable, A Year of Picnics: Dining Well in the Great Outdoors is a delightful book full of great ideas. Ashley English and Jen Altman provide recipes and charming photos, along with activities and games for extra fun. (Our favorite recipe: All-Natural Bug Spray.)
Check out A Moveable Feast: Delicious Picnic Foods by Sydney-based food writer and stylist Katy Holder. Rather than sorting recipes into main dishes or side dishes, the chapter headings cleverly separate “Flaky and Crumbly” recipes from “Fresh and Leafy,” “Mini Morsels,” and so on. For a vintage picnic vibe, Holder suggests using torn pages from old books as table mats or drink coasters.
Most everyone’s been guilty of leaving food out on the picnic table a little too long, or gobbling something before it’s fully cooked off the grill. The FDA has a handy refresher cheat-sheet for food safety. Here’s a great tip we hadn’t thought of: “Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. That way, as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish their drinks, the perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm outdoor temperatures.”
After enjoying that tasty food, served up beautifully (and safely), it’s time to relax. Your mind may drift and you may wonder about the history of picnics. It’s uncertain how the term itself evolved, although it’s likely French and may be a twist on the verb piquer, meaning pick or peck. Pique-nique.
Here’s an interesting tidbit, courtesy of wikipedia: “After the French Revolution in 1789, royal parks became open to the public for the first time. Picnicking in the parks became a popular activity amongst the newly enfranchised citizens.”
Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, a painting by Édouard Manet, created a scandal in 1863 for depicting a nude woman picnicking with two fully clothed men and a barely-clad female in the background.
The Pan-European Picnic was held in August 19, 1989, as a peaceful protest event that helped push toward reunification of Germany and dismantling of the Iron Curtain.
Understandably, some people may prefer reading about picnics to actually attending them. Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard is a sweet story. Spoiler alert: The author and her husband open an ice cream shop. For more reading, The Guardian assembled a list of the “Ten Best Literary Picnics.”
Whether you decide to face the traffic, bugs, and sunburn in search of the perfect picnic, or stay indoors with a good book and the A/C set on “arctic,” welcome to summer.