The Picnic—A Movable
Copyright © 1996 Tarla Fallgatter. All rights reserved.
When enjoyed out of doors, just about any meal seems to taste better. Whether in an olive grove in Greece
or simply your own backyard, a picnic is one of the great warm-weather pleasures.
Originally the word "picnic," from the French pique-nique, meant "a fashionable social
entertainment in which each party present contributes a share of the provisions." (That would be the
modern meaning of "potluck.") Today's definitions update the word "picnic" to mean "a pleasure party in
which all partake of a repast out-of-doors," or "an outing or excursion, typically one in which those taking
part carry food with them and share a meal in the open air."
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.
American Style Picnics
The Great American Picnic springs from European foods and cooking techniques introduced by the
founding fathers in combination with the rich native methods of the American Indians. The first
Thanksgiving was, after all, a picnic.
Hidden deep in the history books are descriptions of other memorable early American picnics. Pioneers held
one such celebration—a Fourth of July picnic—on the banks of the Platte River under a canopy of tent
cloths supported by four wagons. The group reportedly serenaded themselves with "The Star Spangled
Banner" and munched on wheat rolls, boiled beans and salt pork, bean broth, bacon, pies, peaches, stewed
and dried fruits.
Through the years the possibilities for picnics in America have become as diverse and enticing as the
regional cooking created by immigrants from every corner of the globe—French-heritage Creole foods of
Louisiana, Spanish and Mexican influences in the Southwest, the Oriental flavor in California, hearty
German-inspired Pennsylvania Dutch farm fare.
Such international roots expanded into a vast repertoire featuring the natural produce of our continent—
from mouth-watering New England clams to the Deep South mainstay of fried chicken; from the smoked
salmon Northwest Indian-fashion to tender Iowa corn fresh from the field; wines from the vineyards of New
York and California; loaves of pumpernickel and rye from great city delicatessens and home-baked goods
from country stores; and all the lush seasonal vegetables and fruits that seem created for picnicking, not to
mention that original outdoor treat, the watermelon.
A Variety of Picnics
A Hikers' Picnic
Prepare an easy-to-make meal that can be carried in a backpack. Using a boulder as a table and the
sunshine as a lamplight, relax along the trail and enjoy lunching "in the fresh." Trail mix-style chocolate chip
cookies travel well in a backpack. Just add granola and dried cherries to your favorite chocolate chip cookie
recipe or make these:
Granola and Dried Cherry Chocolate Chip
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla
1-1/2 cups granola
1/4 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (6 oz.)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a bowl. Cream the
butter and sugar together in another bowl until lightly and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until well combined.
Add the vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients, granola and finally the dried cherries and chocolate chips.
Drop the dough by rounded tablespoons 2" apart onto buttered cookie sheets and bake in the middle of the
oven 12 to 15 minutes or until golden. Cool on racks.
MAKES: 36 cookies
Breakfast on the Road
Setting out on a trip that requires an early-morning departure? Rather than taking time for breakfast at home,
prepare a picnic you can eat en route or once you reach your destination.
Fourth of July Potluck
The Fourth of July is one occasion when far more Americans dine outdoors than in. Some traditional
favorites are fried chicken, potato salad and homemade fresh strawberry ice cream. Divide it among three or
four families for a sparkling potluck supper in the park before all the fireworks begin.
While watching a professional baseball or soccer game or your own youngsters play, every sports fan
knows that the excitement of cheering from the sidelines builds a ravenous hunger in no time at all. A
portable party can be a nice change from entertaining in your dining room or back yard. Just invite friends to
someplace that's different, such as a park, for a game of softball and supper afterward, the beach for a game
of volleyball or a nice long run and dinner al fresco, a hillside clearing for a hike before lunch or a football
game with a tailgate picnic before going into the stadium. When you have a picnic, it's important to go away,
even if it's just down the hill.
Requirements For a Picnic
The first consideration is location. The site
should be comfortable, with nearly restroom facilities if possible and some shelter from the sun, whether
trees or beach umbrellas.
Other necessities include:
The most important part of a picnic, though, and what gives it flair, is the food. So, direct from the picnic
basket once everyone is settled, a first course of pickled shrimp with crisp baguette slices is surely the order
of the day.
- Cushions and quilts.
- Plenty of ice in a big hamper.
- Utensils from home: serving bowls, sharp knife, forks, plates, spoons, napkins, corkscrew, matches, a
small salt and pepper set, can opener, etc.
- Trash bag or grocery sacks for easy cleanup. A roll of paper towels will come in handy, too.
- If you're bringing your dog, don't forget the dog food, water and a water bowl. A hungry dog is not a
After all, it's summertime—and the living should be easy.
Pickled Shrimp on Crisp Baguettes
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. English-style dry mustard
1/4 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 tsp. mustard seeds
1/4 tsp. coriander seeds
1 cup olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1-1/2 lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. fresh dill or Italian parsley
1 thin La Brea Bakery baguette, cut into 1/2" slices and lightly toasted in a 350 F oven for 2-3 minutes on
Whisk together the vinegar, pepper, salt, sugar, mustard, red pepper flakes, mustard and coriander seeds in
a bowl and add the oil in a stream, whisking. Whisk until emulsified, then stir in the garlic and bay leaf.
In a large pan of boiling lightly salted water cook the shrimp for 1-2 minutes or until they turn pink and are
cooked through. Drain them well and add them to the marinade. Let the mixture cool slightly, then stir in the
onion and lemon slices. If desired cover and chill overnight. Stir in the minced dill or Italian parsley and
transfer to a portable container. To serve, spoon on baguette slices or dip slices in the mixture and scoop up
MAKES: 8 servings
More Picnic Links
Tailgate Picnic Homepage
Plaid Picnic Rug
Picnic Baskets by J
& J Ventures
Tarla Fallgatter is a well-known Orange County caterer, chef, teacher, restaurant
consultant and kitchen tool manufacturer. She trained at Paris' Cordon Bleu, La Varenne, and Ecole
Lenotre cooking schools, and was the first foreign woman to cook in the kitchens of Maxim's. She has
traveled to over 60 countries throughout the world, "sampling" the local cuisine. She markets her "Tarla"
all-copper rolling pin in fine cookware shops.