What's in Your Picnic Basket

“Origines de la Langue Françoise de Ménage” (1692) defines “pique-nique” as “each pick a bit.”


Picnic: Originally a 17th century French term, “pique-nique,” its meaning then as now is a social gathering where each attendee brings a share of food. For most of us, the word evokes memories of summers past, perhaps as a kid with sandwiches and Kool-Aid on a blanket spread out in the backyard under leafy trees and dappled sun, or as an adult sitting at a picnic table with family and friends, an array of potluck summer goodies before you.

Deviled eggs, hot dogs, burgers, potato salad, baked beans and home canned pickles (See “Pickles, From Sour to Sweet,” KP News, Aug. 2020) all rank high on my personal list of must haves, along with freshly baked pie. Others might choose Dagwood sandwiches, fried chicken, bratwurst, watermelon, corn on the cob, brownies, cookies or other family favorite recipes, handed down from grandparents to parents and now to you.

Whatever your must-haves might be, the lazy days of August are the perfect time to dust off old recipes, search cookbooks or the internet for new ideas, all with the goal of making time to celebrate summer with a picnic.

No picnic is complete without homemade baked beans. This is a family favorite worthy of any picnic table.

Edna’s Baked Pork and Beans

Soak two pounds of small navy beans overnight. In the morning, simmer in water for an hour. Drain well.

6 to 8 cups of water
1 medium size bottle ketchup (I use Heinz)
1 tablespoon salt
2 medium onions, diced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 or 2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons molasses
1 pound salt pork, diced

Mix ingredients into a bean pot or Dutch oven. Bake at 325 for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary.

Over the years, I’ve tried many recipes for potato salad and have settled on this as a favorite. A shout out to my niece Sue for sharing her method of making this savory summer dish.

Sue’s Potato Salad

Approx. 5 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes
½ small sweet onion, diced

2 teaspoons yellow mustard
3 stalks celery, diced
1 to 1½ cups mayonnaise
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

Boil potatoes uncovered starting with cold water until just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse, cool, peel and cut into 1-inch chunks. Put mayonnaise and mustard in a bowl, add chopped eggs and mix, mashing egg chunks into mayonnaise. Add onion, celery and salt and pepper to taste. Gently mix in cooked potatoes, being careful not to mash. Top with another hard-boiled egg, sliced thin. Sprinkle with paprika if desired. Chill well and serve.

Finally, a picnic isn’t a picnic without desserts. From ubiquitous brownies to homemade pie, the possibilities for the grand finale on an amazing picnic are endless. Here are two long-time favorites.

Quick and Easy One-Pan Brownies for a Crowd

1 cup unsalted butter
¾ cup cocoa powder
2 cups sugar
4 eggs at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9-by-13 inch pan. Melt butter in a large saucepan. Remove from heat. Add cocoa powder and mix thoroughly. Add sugar and mix well. Beat in each egg separately, mixing well after each addition. Add flour and salt, mixing until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour into prepared pan and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, until the brownies start to pull away from the side of the pan. Don’t over bake. Cool and frost if desired.

I prepare pie crust in my ancient Cuisinart but you can also mix by hand.

Simple Pie Crust
(adapted from Julia Child)

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening or leaf lard (I use Crisco)
½ cup ice water

If you are using a food processor, add the flour and salt and pulse once to mix. Add the butter chunks, pulsing five or six times to break up the butter. Then add the shortening or lard, pulsing a few times again, until it resembles coarse crumbs. Now add the ice water, pulsing until you have a cohesive dough. It should hold together when you press it with your hand. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and form into two discs. If you are mixing by hand, use a pastry cutter to mix in butter and shortening, adding ice water with a large fork to mix well before forming into discs as above.

Wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes before using. Otherwise freeze until needed. Thaw out about an hour before rolling into a pie crust, using your favorite pie filling. Bake according to the recipe you choose. I’ve found one disc makes enough dough for a 9-inch two crust pie. Be sure to roll out thin for the flakiest crust.

Once you’ve mastered this recipe, you will never buy pre-made crust again.

Before more of summer disappears, start planning your next “pique-nique” with family and friends, and of course include the food that makes summer special to you.