Today picnics are considered pleasurable outings at which a tasty meal is consumed outdoors. But the tradition of outdoor feasts has its roots back in medieval England.
In Europe during the 14th century, the earliest picnics were medieval hunting feasts in England. The main foods that could be found at such feasts were ham, baked meats and pastries.
It helped to have battalions of servants, of course, to organize the starched white linen and polished silver, the sparkling crystal glasses and the decanters of fine wines. Looking at a painting of these age-old picnics, I had the impression chandeliers would have been taken along too, if there had been anywhere to hang them.
Nowadays, the perfect picnic requires planning, and servants aren't usually at hand to remember everything for you. So here are a few tips on how to prepare for your outdoor dining experience:
Make a list on the computer of everything you might need for a picnic and tape it to your refrigerator. Then as you pack, check off the items that you really need. Save the list for the next picnic or camping trip, and when you return, add items that you wished you had taken. Eventually, you'll have the perfect list.
The most important item is a good food chest or cooler to keep food hot or cold. If you only go on picnics for two, a large cooler is probably unnecessary, but if you usually picnic with a large group, you may want to bring in a couple of coolers that will easily accommodate the food.
Blankets and tablecloths are always convenient, even if you plan to eat on the ground. Towels, napkins and wet wipes also come in handy to clean sticky hands and faces.
Don't forget plates for appetizers, a soup perhaps, a main course and dessert, coffee cups, water glasses and wineglasses if you're feeling sophisticated. Bowls and serving pieces, a bottle opener, corkscrew and can opener can all make life easier. Bring along a cutting board and a couple good knives. You'll be surprised how often you will use them, especially if you are without a picnic table.
Consider adding folding camp stools to your arsenal, as they are comfortable, inexpensive and compact. With these, you can stop anywhere and have a comfortable picnic. Even in the best park, these stools beat a picnic bench.
Thermos cans are great for keeping soups and hot drinks warm as well as cold drinks cool.
A radio and recreation items are also fun to take along. Frisbees, sports balls, a pack of cards and board games are good ideas too. If you plan on barbecuing don't forget a portable grill with lighter fluid and lighter.
Garbage bags are a must to leave the place clean after you leave.
And a camera, of course - to record all the fun!
Don't forget the golden rules:
Make a menu ahead of time and check off each dish as you pack it into your basket. There's nothing worse than arriving with everything except that one important sauce or salad dressing.
For great salads avoid adding the sauce or vinaigrette when making the salad. Keep the dressing separate and add it only when you're ready to eat the salad.
If you have freezer packs, remember to place these in the freezer the night before and add them to the bag or box when packing the picnic food.
Include fruit in your picnic basket. It keeps well, it's nourishing and it's refreshing. Freezing half the fruit of a fruit salad keeps the dish cold along with any items packed around it.
Bring plenty of liquids. Active kids playing in the hot sun need to be reminded to drink. Add a few ice cubes to the thermos to help keep cold drinks cool. Bottles of frozen mineral water do double duty as ice packs.