How We Came to Picnic

This Labor Day weekend has been perfect here in the Pacific Northwest. The skies have been blue, humidity has been low, temperatures have been in the mid 70′s. It has been the quintessential example of what, I believe, a summer Holiday weekend should be.

For me there’s only one true way to celebrate, nay, indulge, on days such as these: it’s time to pack a picnic.

The idea of a picnic, essentially a feast held outdoors, has been around for ages. Not surprisingly, it was the wealthy/elite who turned the idea of eating outside into a grand event, with records going back as far as the 1300′s in England.

At the same time, the French had an event, at first held indoors, where people would bring food that had little value, and share it with others who had done the same The phrase “pique nique” dates from the end of the thirteenth century. The phrase, if Larousse Gastronomique is to be believed, comes from the French piquer means which means “to pick at food”, while in Old French, nique meant roughly “something small of no value”*. As far back as 1729, Abel Boyer wrote a book entitled Le dictionnaire royal François-Anglois et Anglois-Français, a French/English dictionary, which had defined pique-nique as a club for dinner or supper. In essence, it would have been akin to a pot-luck club.

Sometime in the mid 1700′s, the two ideas melded into one, slowly. By the time the Victorian era was upon us, it had turned into the event we recognize today – where we take easily made foods and create a social experience with them out of doors. Here in the States, this meant taking food that traveled and stored well. Back in the day, that would have meant cured meats, breads, and even fried chicken. Today, with the preponderance of grills in parks throughout the country, raw meats can be brought and cooked on site, while mass produced chips, dips, and salsas are setting next to baked beans and potato salads.

There is something to be said in eating outdoors. It brings something new to the equation, regardless of whether your supping over an amazing view of nature, or participating in an annual volleyball tournament at the local park. Pinics, as with many events with meals, are a time to celebrate friends and loved ones.

* Note: Nowadays, nique has an entirely different connotation in French, one akin to the English word “fuck”. So use with care.

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