On Your Table: A perfect day for a picnic

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Today is International Picnic Day — a great day for meal in the fresh air

By Cathy Branciaroli,  Food Correspondent, The Times


Ashley Tidwell and son Cayden are all set to enjoy healthy fruit and salad before he takes off to play in the park.

This week we celebrate one of the greatest ways to enjoy the summer season – dining al fresco with family or friends, enjoying delicious food, games and outdoor activities.  International Picnic Day is today and families around the world, and here in Chester County will be packing up their gear and heading for open ground.

Eating outdoors free from the usual dining etiquette requirements is a tradition dating back to medieval times.  The Victorians particularly enjoyed picnics as important social occasions, with elaborate spreads including poached salmon, chicken, meat pie, sandwiches, fruit and all kinds of baked goods.  But the word “picnic” seems to have originated from the French “pique-nique”, meaning to pick (pique) at food and referring to something small of no value (nique). 

I take exception to thinking of picnicking as having little or no value.  While a very simple pleasure, enjoying food outdoors allows you to take in a beautiful landscape such as a park, a lake or a spot with an alluring view.  While these can be family-oriented events they can also be an intimate occasion between two people or a large get-together such as a church social.

My friend, Chef Anthony Stella of Chef Anthony’s Italian Market in Glen Mills takes the romantic view.  When I solicited his views on the subject he described picnics as a way of reconnecting with a special person.  “From a guy’s perspective, it’s a perfect date,” he told me.  “It reveals your romantic side and shows that you are attentive by the effort you put into preparing the dishes and securing a perfect location.”

While Wednesday June 18th is the official day to dust off the old wicker basket, grab some cutlery, and head to the local park, any sunny day during the summer months provides a great occasion for dining outdoors.

So what makes a picnic special?  In my opinion it’s location, location, location – remember that alluring view — and edible delights for all to share.  There are so many opportunities to make a picnic a memorable story.  A blanket to sit or recline on is absolutely necessary although many will opt for a nice dry picnic table upon which to spread the repast.  While a picnic can be combined with a cookout, many folks prefer finger food, fresh fruit or salad, cold meat and ice tea or lemonade.  Of course, a case of icy cold beer or a chilled bottle of wine are always great accompaniments.

Here are some tips for having a great time no matter where or when you decide to enjoy dining outdoors.

DO pick a spot that offers shade or at least bring lots of sunscreen if you like a sunny location.

DO bring a damp cloth or two in a sealed plastic bag.  The parents of your kids’ friends will thank you.

DO bring cups and utensils that are unbreakable and easily disposable.

DO be efficient in packing.  Think about carting all that stuff back to the car when the picnic is over.

DO make sure to read about what is allowed wherever you are going in advance.  Some parks prohibit alcohol or glass.

DO bring a bag for trash and dispose of it properly so that the next person will enjoy the park as much as you do.

DON’T forget that blanket.

Anthony's basket cropped

Chef Anthony Stella of Chef Anthony’s Italian Market suggests a romantic basket of Italian treats for your next picnic.

Chef Anthony is putting together ready-to-go picnic baskets with an Italian theme this summer which are sure to warm any date’s heart.  They can include crusty rolls, good cheese, cured meats, some fruit, nuts and biscotti to end the meal.  Please call ahead and he will make up your basket to order at 610/459-5900.

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