Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Picnic Time!

The other thing is quality of life; if you have a place where you can go and have a picnic with your family, it doesn't matter if it's a recession or not, you can include that in your quality of life.
~ Jim Fowler

Picnic is a word that evokes a wide range of memories - of lazy Sunday afternoons, of trips to the country, to the park, to the beach, to an outdoor concert, or only as far as the backyard; of sandwiches, cold meats and lemonade or of wine, bread, cheese and patés; of special baskets (I recently located a vintage '50s basket like that of my childhood!) and blankets (old, wool Indian blankets were popular in my childhood, although now I love plaid ones); of hide-and-seek in the woods or flying kites and blowing bubbles; (of flies, bees, and ants, also!); and finally of exhaustion and a sleep in the car on the way home.

The origin of the word is clouded in mystery. It first appears in France in the late 16th century as "pique-nique" but was not adopted in England until after 1800. At first, the idea of a picnic meant a social event for which each guest provided a share of the food. Later this became an outdoor excursion to a place in the country where again friends could meet and provisions be shared. Around the middle of the 18th century, picnics were arranged by the English and French aristocracy. Servants, chairs, fine china and crystal along with baskets of wonderful delicacies were loaded into carriages for a trip to the lush woods where the festivities took place.

The Great American Picnic springs from European foods and cooking techniques introduced by the founding fathers (and mothers!) in combination with the rich native methods of the American Indians. The first Thanksgiving was actually a picnic. Hidden deep in the history books are descriptions of other memorable early American picnics. Pioneers held such celebrations, such as Fourth of July picnics, on the banks of many lakes or rivers under canopies of tent cloths supported by Conestoga wagons or of virgin forest leaves, serenading themselves with "The Star Spangled Banner" while consuming bread, boiled beans and salt pork, bacon, pies, and peaches.

During the 19th century, my Indiana ancestors held large annual family reunion picnics, of which a few now-faded photos exist:

My mother and mother-in-law, both in their late eighties, still speak fondly of the foods prepared for these annual extravaganzas: Aunt Edna's banana cake, Aunt Tash's Wellesley fudge sheet cake, Grandma Flora Belle's lattice-topped cherry pies, Babcia's "special dressing" on fresh sliced tomatoes, Aunt Commie's ice-cold, fresh lemonade...

Below are a couple of my own favorite picnic recipes - would love to hear about your picnic memories and special recipes!

Old Bay Seasoned Maryland Fried Chicken

1 cup flour
1/4 cup Old Bay Seasoning or more to taste
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp. water
2 cups cooking oil
2-3 lbs. chicken parts

In a large plastic bag, combine flour and 1/4 cup Old Bay Seasoning. In a shallow dish combine egg and water. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Dip chicken in egg mixture, then place a few pieces in plastic bag and shake to coat. Fry about 20 minutes per side turning frequently. If desired, sprinkle with additional Old Bay before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Maryland Cucumber & Sour Cream Salad

1 cucumber
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp. onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. vinegar
chopped pimento optional

Pare and slice cucumber. Add salt and chill. Press out as much water as possible with a paper towel. Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add cucumbers and toss gently. Chill. Arrange in salad bowls lined with lettuce. Sprinkle chopped pimento on top if desired.

I've liked lots of people 'til I went on a picnic jaunt with them.
~ Bess Truman

1 comment:

  1. I've some wonderful memories of picnics when I was younger but they never came up to the standard of the Sunday Picnics after church on the Little House on the Prairie programmes - I always wanted to go on one of those!.

    I always loved the taste of the tea coming out of a flask - always nice and strong and it was great to be able to drink from the plastic lid cup of the flask. Egg and onion sandwiches that had been wrapped in tinfoil were always my favourite with that strong tea.


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