I am an avid cookbook collector. The more unique and obscure the better. So when I found a copy of an old cookbook, “The Picnic Gourmet” by Joan Hemingway and Connie Maricich, I knew it needed a place in my collection.
The idea of picnicking has all the elements of charm, whimsy and nostalgia this modern day homemaker can dream of. But the charm and whimsy is balanced with the experience with the pitfalls of picnics: bugs, unpredictable weather and tricky food-packing maneuvers.
At our home, we picnic often. On any given night you can find us in our backyard dining al fresco. Out come the quilts, the trays of food, the drinks, the napkins, the bug spray and the candles, where they are carted off to the backyard to be plopped down under the old maple for a meal. But just when I think I have a pretty good grasp on the fine art of packing a picnic, I read a 288-page book like “The Picnic Gourmet” and realize there is still much to learn and enjoy about this nostalgic pastime.
Picnic basket or cooler
Cups and wine glasses
Corkscrew or bottle opener
Salt & pepper
Bug spray or citronella candles
Packing & Picnicking Tips
• Remember that everything must be carried to the picnic site. Be realistic about the amount of food, drinks and décor you bring. Several hikes to the car probably isn’t an ideal way to start off a relaxing picnic.
• Pack crushable food (think chips) in zip-top bags filled with air to create a cushion.
• Pack the cooler in reverse order. Dessert first, main course second and appetizers third. This saves time and effort, and will keep items colder longer.
• An ideal ratio is 75 percent food and 25 percent ice.
• Pack salads and spreads made with vinegar instead of mayo, which will stay fresh longer.
• Use tightly sealed containers to transport food. Mason jars work for many things. Just wrap them in a soft fabric napkin before packing.
• Freezing water bottles and packing them in the cooler is a great way to conserve space, keep food cold and have cold water to drink during the outing.
• Foods that need refrigeration should not sit out longer than one hour. Keep them in the cooler before and after the meal.
It’s All in the Details
It doesn’t take much to pull out all the stops to set the mood for a special picnic. And although incredibly romantic, picnics need not be seen as only a romantic endeavor. Picnics with friends or family are some of my favorite memories and should receive the same attention to detail.
Set the tone from the ground up. Don’t just grab a drop cloth from the garage or an old sheet to picnic on. A large quilt sets the tone for a casual yet whimsical picnic, while a red and white checked tablecloth could easily give it an Americana feel.
Picnic décor shouldn’t be an afterthought. Fresh flowers, paper lanterns, votive candles, wicker baskets and wooden boxes all add ambiance and excitement to the casual picnic outing.
Depending on the distance you will walk to set up, consider trading in plastic and paper for glassware and flatware. Wrap flatware in a cloth napkin and tie it with a piece of twine, pack dinner plates and sturdy goblets for drinks. Again, attention to detail is key and adding an element of luxury to a picnic is worth the extra time and effort.
Simple, Yet Chic, Picnic Fare
Cheese and crackers
Wheat pita bread and hummus
Celery and carrot sticks
Thermos of soup
Country Ham & Cheese Quiche
This recipe is a staple in our house, and quiche is an easy dish to handle on a picnic.
• Baked 9-inch pie shell (homemade or store bought)
• 1/4 lb. country ham, medium sliced and diced
• 1/2 cup chopped white onion
• 3/4 cup shredded cheese (I prefer shredded Swiss)
• 4 eggs
• 1 1/2 cups cream
• 1/2 t. salt
• Pinch of pepper
Cook country ham until slightly browned on the edges. Scatter on the bottom of the pie shell.
Sauté the onion in the same pan until soft, then distribute on the bottom of the pie shell. Next sprinkle cheese on top of the onion. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, cream, salt and pepper together; pour egg mixture on top of the cheese.
Set the pie plate on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until the center is firm. Cool and then refrigerate until picnic time. Transport in a cooler.