Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pittsburgh Dads, Kennywood Park, and School Picnic Memories from Cleo Coyle

It came! The first “coatless” day of spring. (Thank goodness.) My husband, Marc, who refers to our winter parkas as “space suits,” is not only cheered by the return of warmth, he’s downright nostalgic. 

I first met (and fell for) Marc here in New York City, but we didn’t grow up here. Our childhoods were spent (much like our amateur sleuth Clare Cosi) in small towns outside of Pittsburgh, PA, which gave us a common denominator of memories, including the culinary kind. 

Some of you may recall my past posts about recreating the Ohio Valley's Eat'n Park Fresh-Glazed Strawberry Pie or “Pittsburgh-style” Chipped Ham Sandwich... (Check out the comments on the Chipped Ham post and you’ll see a discussion that includes a bit of Pittsburghese.) 

My copycat Eat'n Park Strawberry Pie
For the recipe click here.
Well, when you grow up in Steelers’ country, the first warm day of spring usually means two things: excitement over the end of the school year and the annual picnic at Kennywood, a beautiful little amusement park that's been owned and run by the same family for over 100 years. (Along with New York's Rye Playland, Kennywood is one of only two amusement parks listed in the National Register of Historic Places.)

If you’d like to see what our annual
“school picnic” ritual looked like in this
adorable, landmark amusement park, watch
the “Pittsburgh Dad” comedy video below,
which was filmed on location at Kennywood… 

To play the video, click the little white arrow
in the center of the image below...

For those of you who grew up in the Ohio Valley, the comedian in the above video will have you falling off your chairs. I fell off mine and so did Marc. Although we didn’t grow up together, we both grew up with “Pittsburgh Dads,” and the video above looked very much like our school picnic with one exception—the food...

When we were young, we couldn’t wait to stuff ourselves with cotton candy, chocolate dipped ice cream cones, and bright red candy apples. Our parents, however, weren’t about to watch us turn green from riding roller coasters all day with a system full of nothing but sugar.

Their answer was the “picnic” part of the school picnic. They brought big coolers full of homemade food, and Kennywood provided beautiful shaded groves with old-fashioned wooden picnic tables for families to enjoy their own noshes. 


Cleo and her partner in crime writing,
her husband Marc. Together they write
The Coffeehouse Mysteries.
Speaking of nostalgia: Remember when you could plunk a big old basket down on a picnic table, spend a few hours on the park’s rides, and come back to find your food untouched, even the soft drinks still there? Okay, so the "good old days" weren’t always good—but the part where you didn’t have to lock every little thing down to keep it from being lifted? Well, I do miss that! 

As for my recipe today, it’s one of the items Marc’s grandmother always made for their family’s "school picnic" basket. With Easter dinner leftovers still sitting in fridges across the country, I hope this ham salad recipe comes in handy. If you make it, I sincerely hope you will... 

Eat with joy,

~ Cleo 

Cleo Coyle's
"School Picnic" Ham Salad

On school picnic day, the heavy steel cooler in Marc's family was packed with cold fried chicken, deviled eggs, potato salad, and (for dessert) homemade fudge. There was always another tasty treat in that cooler, ham salad and crackers for snacking. Here's our favorite recipe, based on Marc's grandmother's.

Too retro for you? No problem. Just call it "American Pâté" serve it with a glass of wine, and garnish those ham-salad topped crackers with slices of jalapeño and cured, pitted olives seasoned with Herbes de Provence. (Ooh là là!)

To download this recipe in a PDF document that you can print, save, or share, click here.

3 cups ham, fully cooked
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
2 heaping teaspoons dill relish (you can swap in sweet)
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 green onion, chopped (or 1 T. chopped shallots)
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard (or yellow if you like)
1/2 cup mayonnaise


Grind your ham slices with a blender, food processor, meat grinder, or (use the method of Marc's grandmother), a pastry blender! (See our photo.) Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Chill and serve on your favorite crackers or slices of crusty baguette. 

Eat with joy!
~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Friend me on facebook here
Follow me on twitter here.
Visit my online coffeehouse here.


The Coffeehouse Mysteries are bestselling
works of amateur sleuth fiction set in a landmark
Greenwich Village coffeehouse, and each of the
12 titles includes the added bonus of recipes. 

To learn more, click here. 


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name
Alice Kimberly

To learn more, click here.


  1. I din't know yinz guys were from Picksburgh n'at! Ya comin' to da Festival of Mystery next month? Jeez, it's hard to write in Pittsburghese. But I can speak it with the best of them!

    We used to have our school picnics at West View Park. Before we rode anything we'd go to the Penny Arcade and win some of those little green parachute guys and throw them off the first hill of the Dips.

    Your ham salad recipe is a lot fancier than my mom used to make. She used an old-fashioned meat grinder and used ham, a little bit of "jumbo", relish, and homemade mayonnaise. None of that store bought stuff.

    1. Our school picnic was at West View Park, too. My aunt baked her hermit cookies and brought them. I'm coming to the Festival of Mystery! See you there!

    2. Belated thank you, Joyce and Janet!

      The Festival of Mystery is a wonderful thing, and Marc and I look forward to going next year. We're under the gun this year with writing deadlines (that would be crime-writing so "under the gun" is all too appropriate :)).

      Given that the Mystery Lovers' Bookshop is in our native city, we hope to get back there soon for a signing, and I hope we'll get a chance to meet both of you one day! Yinz guys are special in Someplace Special, yinz know all about pop and jumbo and gum-bands and even redding up!

      Finally, I have to share: after I tweeted this post, the Official Tourism Office for Pittsburgh favorited the tweet. For a girl from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, that is absolutely awesome.

      ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
      Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  2. Cleo, you two are adorable! and the photo of the ham salad on cracker with jalapeno slice is making my mouth water!

    My father-in-law used to go to the honey-baked ham store and buy bits and pieces of ham for his salad. Never looked as appealing as yours! xo

    1. and ps, now I wish I'd accepted more ham leftover from the Easter dinner party we attended!

  3. This post made me LOL, because my husband is from the Pittsburgh area, and they always had school picnic days at Idlewild.

  4. Ham salad How did you know? I was just thinking about that recently--its presence in my childhood and absence in my adulthood. I remember my mother (or grandmother) having the butcher grind the ham for her. It could only be done on certain days because the grinder had to be well cleaned before use after that. We also "made due" with canned deviled ham.
    Thanks for the memories.

  5. The two of you are so cute! And I love the picture of you behind the camera!

    We had a similar amusement park close by, but they tore it down a few years ago after a horrific accident. Oddly enough, there was a restaurant across from it where we always had strawberry pie just like the one in your picture.


  6. What a sweet set of memories. And I love the picture of you behind the camera, too. Darling.

    Hello to Marc.

    Daryl / Avery

  7. I love this post, Cleo! Thanks for the peek into your romantic history and the fun food. I really enjoyed the pix of you and Marc too.


  8. "Yinz guys" are the best! :)

    Thanks for the happy notes, everyone. This was a fun post for me with that trip down memory lane--and for me and Marc, that lane was literally in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (yes, Fred Rogers grew up near Pittsburgh, too).

    I'll drop back shortly with some individual replies and answers to questions, but I wanted to give a quick wave and warm thanks for the nice comments...

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

    1. I met Mr. Rogers on an elevator once. And hubby met Mr. McFeely dahntahn last week--and got an autographed picture.

    2. LOL, Joyce, I loved those guys!

  9. Les will be so happy to know I can finally make this recipe. We have been looking for "chipped" ham to no avail here in Mittenland so this will be a great substitute! Thanks! I'll be using sweet relish...my mom used to make a similar spread using Yale Bologna which is only available in Yale, MI. It is a realy treat that I haven't had in quite some time...hmmmm. Alas there is no Kennywood but we will see a lot of cows on the way!