Letter From the Editor: picnic trivia

Small Home Gazette, Summer 2015

Letter From the Editor: picnic trivia

You should get out of your bungalow. Not permanently, of course, but you should definitely get out for a day or an afternoon—to have a picnic. If you do, you’d be taking part in a tradition that was not only popular during the bungalow era but has been popular for centuries.

This webpage on picnics—www.foodtimeline.org/foodpicnics.html—will soon have you entertaining your picnic-mates with fascinating bits of trivia.

vintage picnic basketDid you know, for example, that the word picnic may have been in­vented by the French, who coined the phrase “pique nique”? It was used to describe a meal, usually eaten indoors, in which everyone who came brought some food, and a fee was charged. Sounds like a pot luck, except for the fee.

In England, the earliest picnics were probably medieval hunting feasts. But it was the Victorians, commonly viewed as stuffy and formal, who truly popularized outdoor, informal (relatively speaking) dining.

“Dickens, Trollope, Jane Austen all found pleasure in introducing this form of social event into their fiction…” wrote author Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food. “Painters have also been drawn to the subject…Monet, Renoir, Cezanne…”

But what about those who built our bungalows? They loved to picnic, if scores of vintage publications are to be believed.

Jane Ellis, in her 1922 book, What Shall We Have To Eat?, includes a chapter on picnics. She offers a list of types of sandwiches that borders on the absurd in its length and variety. Standards such as corned beef, watercress and tomato, and minced chicken are included. But the list also suggests such sandwich oddities as lobster and chopped egg, shredded pineapple, caviar, celery and uncooked cabbage, and Canton ginger (fine crystalized ginger).

In her 1924 book Mrs. Allen on Cooking, Menus, Service, Ida C. Bailey Allen opines, “From time immemorial the outdoor meal has been a real fete; probably because in the earlier days there were not so many large buildings as now, so when groups were to get together it was necessarily to occupy the out-of-doors.” Hmmm. Maybe.

But at least Mrs. Allen suggests menus that still sound appetizing today. If you’d like to re-create an authentic vintage picnic, here’s what your bungalow’s first occupants might have enjoyed during an al fresco meal:

Menus for Informal Outdoor Meals—Park, Roof or Piazza
Cold broiled chicken, potato salad, pickles,
bread and butter sandwiches, apple pie and cheese, coffee.
Sliced meat loaf, potato chips, sliced tomatoes,
nut bread sandwiches, jelly doughnuts, peaches, tea.
Boston baked beans, buttered bread sandwiches,
tomato and lettuce salad, peach ice cream, coffee.