Tag Archives: picnics

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.

Picnics and Science


It’s one of the mysteries of the culinary world. It’s mentioned in hush breaths at cafes throughout the world and has baffled scientists who have eaten their fried chicken at the park. Even the lowly hot dog takes on a certain glamour at the baseball park. So answer me this: Why is it that food tastes so much better out doors?

Tara and I ate out of doors last night. We purchased some fish and chips (or in my case, clam strips and chips) at Anthony’s Fish Bar on the pier here in Seattle, and walked down to the closest park to enjoy the view of the Elliot Bay. It was there that we indulged in our deep fried foodstuffs. A little malt vinegar, a little tartar sauce, and some Heinz Ketchup and we were in a world of battered goodness.

Upon reflection, it’s not as if these were the “BEST FISH AND CHIPS EVER!!!”. In fact, as we had to walk some ways from the Fish bar to the park, that had cooled down a bit. And although warmed chips are good, they are still not as good as piping hot chips. But we both finished our meals, not wasting one bit of the crispy critters.

My thinking is that it’s the aerated atmosphere. Indoors (according to my Sharper Image Catalog that sells the ‘Air Purifiers’), air can become dull and listless. Without the continuous replacing of fresh air, you eventually find your self sitting in a room full of air that is lifeless.

Out of doors, you find yourself with an unlimited supply of fresh air. With all of the new oxygen around, it helps re-invigorate your taste buds and allows you to enjoy meals that, eaten indoors, normally taste like food from TGIFridays.

This sounds right to me. But I should note that I am not, nor have I ever been keen on science. When Tara mentions some scientific theory that she has been reading about, I normally nod knowingly and blurt out the phrase “Chaos Theory”, in hopes that it proves how wichkledly keen I am on science. Lately however, that tact has been proving less and less effective. And the fact that I use a Sharper Image Catalog to prove a half-baked hypothesis also doesn’t help lend to my credibility as a science enthusiast.

But I do have an idea to put this indoor/outdoor theory to the test. I’m goign to take some crappy food (say, any meal from Denny’s or a Holiday Inn restaurant), eat it indoors. The next day I will take , take the same item to the park and eat it outside. Sure I may find myself eating several meals from Chili’s or Subway. But this is a sacrifice I should make for the name of science. And if worse comes to worse, I can always go back to Anthony’s Fish Bar. It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan.