If you look at the calendar, it’s not exactly picnic time yet.
But given that it’s been one of the warmest winters in years, and spring is here before anyone ever had a chance to break in their new snow boots, blower or salt spreader, maybe we should celebrate the official beginning of spring (which was last week) with a picnic.
What is it about a gathering of friends, a spread of classic cuisine and a few coolers of brews and sodas that makes people glad to be alive and outdoors?
Picnics are a great equalizer. You need food, beverage, a halfway-decent reason for getting together and a place to do it. That’s it. How plain or fancy you go from there is up to you. Personally, I’ve gone the fancy route with good dishes, glasses, flatware and baskets of fine food. I’ve been to picnics in parks, at beaches, motorsports events, polo matches, in national forests, on Civil War battlefields and in cemeteries (not as macabre as it sounds). I’ve done picnics for two, and for two hundred. I’ve arrived on site by foot, bicycle and car.
Picnics are like a restaurant buffet, but not quite as polite and restrained. There’s tasting, sharing and the best part, the constant refills of new platters and containers as picnickers keep arriving. You can eat what you like, as much as you like, yet you find yourself hesitating, in case something else really good shows up.
There is one thing that’s always bothered me about picnics, and no, it’s not the mosquitoes. I admit to being anal retentive enough to suggest that some folks should label their creations to warn the rest of us. It’s not so much about food allergies. It’s more about diving into something that looks good, only to find out it’s the kind of gelatin-marshmallow-coconut-fruit concoction you’ve been avoiding since you left the Midwest decades ago. Oh no, I hear you say. Picnics are the perfect time to experiment and try new things. Why spoil the surprise by labeling things? Because there are just some edible surprises I either stopped eating years ago, or just never want to get involved with on any level.
But a good picnic, with or without fun games for the kids, with or without music, is still a thing of joy. Whether it’s a feast of fried chicken and fixings, or a seafood boil, or the classic burgers and dogs, a picnic is still an economical and fun way to get together, feed a crowd, and converse the old-fashioned way.