Not just road food anymore!
I love a picnic. I was brought up on picnics and road trips, whenever days off and the weather allowed. As an adult, I have chosen not to let the weather dictate my picnics. I’ve had them in every season and in a lot of unconventional places. I even have them at home, inside and outside. City parks and state parks are good options for ‘eating out’. Off-season I’ve used more than one well-placed (near a plowed parking lot) public gazebo or other sheltered structure. I’ve had picnics near hiking trails, at campsites, on the beach, at the fairgrounds, in pastures,on a boulder in the middle of the river, in cars in the rain, on trains, on lake docks, in canoes and ferryboats.
I’ve picnicked on the front porch of the Star Island Hotel at the Isles of Shoals and on a wraparound porch in a thunderstorm at the Shelburne Inn. When options were limited, I’ve spread a blanket in cemeteries (not on graves but in grassy spots near the entrance) and in England when we were lost, miles from nowhere, on a back road, and starving, my mother and I just pulled to the roadside and spread a cloth. When I’ve had vehicles with tailgates or the equivalent, I’ve used those and some folding chairs to set a table in parking lots. Food always seems to taste better eaten outside. If we’re on the road, I have no objection to using paper products, although at home I try to limit as much as possible, the use of disposable dinnerware etc. At home, I like to use my oddball assortment of tinware to serve on and eat from. This gives any event an old-fashioned picnic feel. I have a few picnic baskets, in varying sizes that I choose from when we are ‘eating away’. I also use them at times at home to hold items like an assortment of breads or pies etc. I often use an old-fashioned picnic theme for cookouts and other informal meals at home as well. The metal plates hold up well and add an interesting element to the table. Other items that lend themselves to this style of entertaining are: pint-sized milk bottles used as drink glasses, quart sized milk bottles that hold flowers, woven dish cloths as napkins and placemats, tin cups and half-pint wide mouth canning jars serve as bowls for desserts and side dishes.
Small canning jars can even be ‘pre-filled’ with jello salads or other compact salads like slaw or potato, and carried in the cooler as individual portions, just remove the lid, inset a spoon and serve! Summer picnics can be all cold foods; salads, chips and fruit are good choices, or cold fried chicken, with lemonade and iced tea in large canning jars, loaded with citrus fruits, ice and sweet herbs. If the picnic is in the evening and there’s access to a fire, (even a microwave or an oven if at home) s’mores make an awesome finale. Home-based picnics are also a good opportunity to have ice cream topped with fruit sauces for dessert. Autumn picnics can be sandwiches on whole grain breads with thermoses of hot soup and hot mulled cider to drink with a variety of fudge for dessert. A winter picnic is the time to pull out all the thermoses, pack an easy to eat casserole or stew or chowder, with substantial bread and cheddar cheese. Include a thermos of cocoa, spiced tea or coffee and add gingerbread or brownies to finish the meal. Springtime picnics can include a selection of breads, cheeses and fruits. Add smoked meats in if you like. Juices on ice and flavored water make good drinks and cookies are a nice ending. I keep a picnic basket with the basic in the trunk of my car, along with an insulated cooler bag. These are my preparation for road trips, ‘just in case’ a picnic becomes a spontaneous possibility and we decide to stop at farmer’s markets, road side stands, food markets, bakeries, delis etc. and pick up picnic items as we go. My children and I spent a lot of road trips this way. Always ready, that’s my motto ! I think the scouts borrowed that from me !
Single flat sheets make great picnic tablecloths. Yes, I collect tinware, old flatware, picnic baskets and glass milk bottles, but I use them all frequently. That’s my rationalization… When time allows, in warm weather, I freeze some of whatever drink, like iced tea, in the bottom several inches of a large canning jar. Then I add the drink and a few ice cubes and it all stays pretty cold and does not become overly diluted as the bottom melts. When hiking in or aiming for a spot that makes hauling a lot of stuff, coolers, baskets etc., inconvenient, I use a cooler/backpack combination that holds all the basics. One easy trip and I’m there !
Memories of picnicking as a child with my parents in our 1933 straight eight wood- sided Packard, high in the Green Mountains of Vermont, are so special, I have recreated the scene in miniature, using polymer clay to create the food items.