Taste Buds: The Anatomy of a Picnic
The picnic as we know it in the United States is probably not a new concept, although the term “picnic” didn’t make it to the country until sometime in the 19th century. It is derived from the French term, “pique-nique,” although it likely took many years of regular usage for the French to accept the word into dictionaries.
Andrew Scott Pyle is a writer with a Ph.D. in French. He says “piquer” means “to pick” (specifically at food) and “-nique” is an old French word for “little thing.”
“So, it would appear to be French for ‘nibblin’ things,’” he wrote in a message, although he said “pique-nique” also was originally a word for a communal meal (like a potluck).
Etymology aside, humans likely have been dining al fresco since we’ve been eating, but picnicking is a specific event involving a planned, leisurely meal, eaten outdoors, typically on a blanket or tablecloth spread on the ground.
It evokes thoughts of straw hats, sundresses and naps. Here is a quick guide to building a perfect summer picnic.
Consider the weight of the meal, food safety, and the stamina needed for the walk or hike to the picnic spot when selecting a basket, cooler or bag.
Remember to pack a blanket or tablecloth and tableware such as plates, eating utensils, napkins, a knife for cutting bread or cheese, and serving spoons. A corkscrew or churchkey might be handy for a wine, beer or sodas.
If you haven’t far to walk, or your bicycle can handle a large basket, this is the romantic ideal. Fill a large basket with an assortment of your choice of fruits, vegetables, salads, fried chicken, cheese and crackers. Wine, good beer, fancy sodas, water or lemonade are nice additions. Baskets are handy for holding lots of different items. Some new options include slots for silverware or a corkscrew.
A cooler offers food safety options most baskets do not. If a picnic involves creamy salads or soft cheeses, keeping items cold is necessary for food safety. Water bottles frozen in advance can offer extra temperature control for travel to the picnic spot and cold water for the journey home.
If terrain, length of walk or ride, or physical stamina make lugging a basket or cooler cumbersome, consider a backpack. Some backpacks even come with insulated compartments to help keep items cool. For a long hike or bike to a favorite spot, pack easy-to-consume items such as trail mix, whole fruit, neat sandwiches, and water. Baguette and cheese are also lightweight and easy to carry.
Anything handheld and shelf-stable is a good option: brownies, cookies, cookie bars, slices of pound cake are all nice options. Of course, whole fruit is always a nice dessert, especially ripe peaches or plums, blackberries, or cold grapes.
Games for a couple or for groups can be a nice addition to a picnic. Consider packing a deck of cards, a Frisbee, a kite, or bubbles and extend outdoor time with an activity.
Great dates for a picnic
June 19 – Juneteenth – Celebrates the abolition of slavery in the United States on the anniversary of the date abolition was announced in Texas, June 19, 1865.
July 4 – Independence Day – Celebrating the Thirteen Colonies’ Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776.
July 10 - Teddy Bear Picnic Day, likely named after the 20th-century song.
July is National Picnic Month. Find a public park or a spot on your own property to enjoy a packed meal al fresco. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources website offers a searchable map of the state for viewers to find parks and park amenities. http://dnr.maryland.gov/Publiclands/Pages/parkmap.aspx.