Did you know that the word picnic is derived from the French word pique-nique, which is used to describe light meals taken outside. It was popularized during the French Revolution when the classes visited and mingled in parks and areas suitable for relaxation. Food was often simple but could be elaborate affairs depending on one’s budget. Today, picnics are enjoyed in much the same way but with a few, extra creature comforts.
Almost everyone has a childhood memory of eating sandwiches on a blanket spread out in the shade somewhere. Perhaps you can remember the taste of bar-b-qued hot dogs at the beach and soda pop. Simplicity seems to make it easier to enjoy being in the moment. And, fresh air seems to make everything taste better.
Your picnic basket is a moveable feast, so start with a location that is as inspired as the treats in it. Your group may want a perch with a view or, perhaps, to sit near water to calm the senses. Check online for some nearby locations that others may have posted comments about. A park with some shade trees is a perennial choice. If it’s raining, a picnic in the car or a covered amphitheatre can be a lot of fun. The idea is to find a change of scenery that lifts the mood and opens the senses.
If you’re sitting outside, bring a comfortable blanket to sit on. Avoid materials that might feel too warm such as fleece or wool, unless your picnic is in the spring or autumn when those choices would be appreciated. Small pillows can make the sitting on the ground more comfortable. Tradition states that an umbrella is a practical accessory.
A picnic basket isn’t required but it can make organizing the appurtenances simpler. An oversize beach bag is a good alternative and is sometimes easier to carry. Items that must be kept cold should be wrapped in foil and stored in an insulated container. A full-size cooler instead of a basket is a very good choice for a group and will do double-duty as a small table.
Pack the heaviest items on the bottom, such as bottles of wine or soda, and the lighter items on top. Aim to use fewer utensils and plates. Paper cups are fine for everyday picnics, but you may want to pack plastic or glass wine goblets if it’s a fancy affair. The hands-on nature of picnics is part of the fun. Bring extra napkins and some soap and water for washing up.
Create small portions of everything so they can be shared freely. Communal plates allow people to graze at will. Finger sandwiches and small bites of this or that lend themselves to the spirit of pique-nique, or to pick and peck at food. Mix up the colours, textures, and freshness of the foods. Green salads, red berries, crackers, and ancient cheeses contribute fresh variety. Take care to pack items that require refrigeration directly beside an ice pack to avoid problems with digestion. Vegan mayo doesn’t contain eggs, which is a usual suspect in improperly chilled food. If you’re hosting an autumn picnic, a warm pumpkin soup dispensed from a thermos is a welcome treat.
Classic picnic desserts are too numerous to describe here but some favourites are fresh carrot cake with cream cheese icing, and of course, slab treats such as brownies and Nanaimo bars. If there is a campfire, roasted marshmallows or s’mores will delight guests of all ages.
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