Picnicking is more than a titillating renaissance painting. It’s more than Edwardian haircuts, white linen and wicker baskets. It’s more than a Truffault movie with bicycles, love triangles, bottles of wine, bread and cheese. Of course, it is all that, and more, but a picnic is a state of mind. It’s event and escape, a mix of the senses. I see picnics as outdoor gesamtkunstwerk: total gastronomy pieces set in the outdoors. Sometimes you plan them, other times they are random performances that happen to you.
If you can’t get behind that, you probably shouldn’t picnic. Or, you should leave the picnic to professionals. In the spirit of giving, I have planned three imaginary picnics you can try to do on your own. Each one is a set piece involving place, time, food, music and literature.
Fantasy Picnic #1: Walk all day to the end of Cape Split. Pull out a reed mat and sit. Eat raw molluscs. The ocean washes through your earbuds. Listen to Boris or some other Japanese noise rock, while shooting back fresh sea urchins, holding their prickly shells gingerly in your hand. Wrench open some littleneck clams and suck out the salty bivalve. Complete mollusc metal meal by drinking cold sake and reading some Black Mountain poets.
Fantasy Picnic #2: Five minute picnic. Walk through a steaming parking lot eating a jumbo veggie hot dog with mustard, mayo, ketchup, sauerkraut, synthetic bacon bits and hot peppers. The rubbery dog squelches against your teeth. You hear Bachman Turner Overdrive pumping from a Pontiac Sunfire in front of Canadian Tire in August. Sit on the hood of your car, experiencing a full-course plastic suburban meltdown. A dogeared copy of Our Band Could Be Your Life, owned by an older cousin whose musical taste you respect, sits in the front seat of your car.
Fantasy Picnic #3: Put Canned Heat‘s “Going to the County” on repeat in your portable music player. Eat cold fried chicken, potato salad, salted radishes and carrots on a checkered tablecloth by a slow moving river. Read Harry Crews to a tattooed lover while you both eat and drink your way through lunch with a washtub full of ice cold beer. Maybe some Ram Jam would go down well to complement the sound of fat asses locking themselves into the black holes of inflatable inner tubes. Finish the day by tubing down the river.
My latest (real) summer picnic.
For the type of picnic I recently experienced, you will need to go to a green spot by the ocean, or with a view of the ocean. Maybe Needham Park or the Dartmouth Common or the park by the Dingle. We went to a little beach near Hubbards. Our friend Larry, a legendary home cook, prepared a picnic basket for Jenny and me. When we arrived at his house, the picnic was already packed into a hamper. They disassembled it, broke down the contents, then repacked it with efficiency of a kind (retired) SAS soldier, whereupon a friendly amount of money changed hands to compensate the cook for his time and goodwill.
The meal was superb. It caught the traditional romance of a British picnic. We should have listened to a Zombies or Kinks boxed set and brought along some badminton racquets. Reading could have included Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. But we didn’t do any of that.
We relied on randomness of other people, just as we did with our meal. What happened was a performance piece. As we tucked into this meal, an extended family of 20 to 30 surrounded us. They unpacked their hibachi. They pulled out giant watermelons. They had a dozen bags of chips. A Price Club sized jar of Miracle Whip and Cheese Whiz sat on their picnic table. We sat on the grass, in a small imaginary bubble so becoming to the blogger, as children and seniors watched our folly. Feeling a firm sense of the absurd that only a food snob could feel as the fourth wall of picnicking caved in on top of us, I felt the yawning chasm between art and life. It was like a salty breeze blowing a sand in your sandwich.
In other words, these people were completely essential to the moment. I loved it.
Larry’s picnic menu:
- Hot Smoked Salmon and Dill Mayonnaise Sandwich: Home smoked.
- Roast Chicken and Curried Mayonnaise Sandwich: picnics need chicken.
- Cheese and Onion Tartlets: Pastries at picnics are essential, too.
- Fruit Salad with Lunenburg Fruit Wine Dressing. Apples, blackberries, strawberries and raisins (soaked in rosewater) in a Lunenburg pear wine and ginger syrup dressing.
- Fresh cheese and Oatcakes Crispy, thin oatcakes. Fresh, homemade cheese. Salty and sweet.
- Golden Cupcakes filled with Chocolate Grenache: Eaten in the car on they way home.
- Homemade Lemonade: Pink lemonade infused with mint. Like Rollins says, Do it.