Sunday, July 4, 2021

Around the Kitchen Table with Picnics + #Giveaway

MADDIE here, delighted to be chatting with my fellow MLK bloggers on US Independence Day! In the United States, some celebrate the 4th with parades, picnics, and fireworks. Others find the holiday bittersweet, remembering all who didn't actually gain their independence on that day in 1777. And of course, several of our bloggers here are Canadian.

But one thing a Sunday in July might have in common for anyone in North America is a picnic. At the beach, at the park, by the lake, in your back yard, at the top of a mountain, wherever you enjoy it, a picnic is a great way to get out of the heat of the house and enjoy a meal outdoors.

So let's talk around the kitchen table about picnics. Do you bring and serve only finger food? Do you worry about mayonnaise in salads spoiling? If you're also celebrating the 4th, do you use a red, white, and blue theme? Do you have a favorite cloth to sit on or bring a portable table and tablecloth? Or have a kitted-out picnic basket? Do you have a memorable picnic memory - good or bad?

One year I made a flag cheesecake for the 4th with local berries, but that was for an at-home picnic. It wouldn't have transported well! I recreated it two weeks ago here, in fact.

My favorite non-July picnics were these: for some years, as my sons were getting ready to go off to another year of high school or college, we would gather on a beach north of Boston in late August with a few close friends for an end-of-day swim, games, and picnic on the sand. I roasted spiced chicken parts ahead of time. I threw together a mayo-free potato salad. Friends brought other offerings - excellent olives, rosemary crackers, a platter of sushi, a quinoa salad, a plate of brownies, a bowl of strawberries, as well as a bag of Cape Cod potato chips (always). 

We sipped wine and beer. We stayed until the sun set and we got too cold. One year we even played Scrabble on the cloth, and we always brought the bocce balls and a football.

From our outing in 2010


LESLIE BUDEWITZ: I grew up in a neighborhood with 6 or 8 girls within a year or two of my age. We christened ourselves the Dahlias, after our street, and did odd jobs for the neighbors -- shoveling snow, raking leaves from the shrubbery, and other grunt work. At 25 cents a girl hour, we accumulated a bit of a treasury and that summer -- I'm guessing I was 10 or 11 -- we made plans to treat ourselves to a big picnic at Pioneer Park, more than two miles away by bicycle. (One girl had a three-speed -- so fancy!) We planned our menu -- all I remember are the hot dogs, potato chips, and s'mores -- and went shopping. Packed our bicycle baskets and wobbled down the hill. A couple of the dads drove to the park to light the fire and keep an eye on us. Hot dogs haven't been on my menu for decades, but I know that one tasted so good! We splashed in the creek, played kickball and other games, and rode our bikes home by headlamp, though no doubt a dad was driving behind us. (Did I mention the hill? It seemed so big then. Turns out, it really IS big!) Looking back, I know our parents must have been amused, but they were all in, letting us make the plans, work out the money, and maybe overreach a bit. It seems rather tame by today's standards, but that picnic was pure joy. Girl power.   


LESLIE KARST: Why is it that food tastes so much better when eaten outdoors—whether it’s a Salade Niçoise at a sidewalk café, a hotdog at a baseball game, or a cucumber sandwich from a wicker hamper set upon a perfectly manicured park lawn?

My most memorable and tasty picnics have been in France. There’s nothing like shopping for your fresh cherries, tasty olives, creamy cheeses, succulent cured meats, and crunchy baguettes at the local outdoor marché, then taking your goodies to a nearby park and digging in, whilst watching the world go by. And a bottle of chilled rosé doesn’t hurt, either... (These two photos are from a lovely picnic we had some years ago at the Musée Rodin gardens, in Paris.)


MOLLY: Can you smell the hamburgers and hotdogs? They'll taste even better than they smell because of the good old picnic tablecloth. 

We had wonderful picnics in the backyard on weekends when I was a kid. Dad built an outdoor fireplace out of bricks and made a picnic table out of a huge sheet of plywood and a couple of sawhorses. All eight of us could sit around it, or on the edge of the sandbox he made out of railroad ties, or in one of the treehouses (yes, multiple treehouses!). On special days - Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day - neighbors joined us for the burgers and dogs, corn on the cob, Jay's Potato Chips, and watermelon. We had two identical tablecloths to put over the plywood. Now my brother Jack has one and I have the other. Everything tastes THE BEST when you use the picnic tablecloth. 




LUCY BURDETTE: I'm trying to think of why no picnics are coming to mind--I figured out that it might be because everything was a picnic of sorts last year. We never invited anyone to eat in the house because of the virus. We bought a nice picnic table for out on the patio and invited two older friends whom we hadn't seen in a long time. We served grilled bratwurst and salads--the wind was howling and we had to add layers of clothing. We were so happy to see them in person that no one cared!


MAYA CORRIGAN: These days my picnics are similar to Leslie Karst's--bread and cheese, raw veggies and fruit, and wine. The ones that stick in my mind from the past occurred on cook-out day at the camp where I was a counselor for five years as a teenager. It was a day camp in Queens, and once in every two-week session, we went to a park's picnic area where fires were allowed. We showed the kids how to make a fire and find good sticks for hotdogs and marshmallows. Their fledgling attempts at cooking over a fire was always exciting both for the counselors and the campers. They were city kids. Their parents didn't have backyard barbecues. Some of them deliberately burned their marshmallows in an attempt to make torches of them. They always got a replacement marshmallow so they wouldn't miss out on making s'mores. 

One character in S'more Murders, my 5th Five-Ingredient Mystery, has happy memories of campfires with that treat and gives the book its title. 

The history of s'mores will be the subject of my post for tomorrow's Potluck Monday, I'll also link to recipes that combine chocolate, marshmallow, and graham crackers.


PEG COCHRAN/MARGARET LOUDON: Both of my parents grew up in New York City so they weren't overly fond of outdoor pursuits like picnics when I was a kid.  As an adult I discovered that picnics can be fun! Every year the Grand Rapids Orchestra hosts the Picnic Pops--three Fridays in July of music at the local ski spot (a large hill really.)  I think we've gone with the same three or four couples for at least five years and unbelievably, we never got rained on! We'd take turns bringing appetizers, entrees and desserts and we each brought our own beverage of choice. The food varied from simple sandwiches to Ina Garten's salmon salad.  One couple had a low portable table for the food and we'd all bring our own camp chairs. It was always so much fun--even the one year in July when it got so cold we had to put on jackets!  


Hello from TINA KASHIAN! I was almost born on Fourth of July. I was a breech birth, and my mother went to the hospital on the Fourth of July to deliver, but her doctor was at a party. He arrived just after the holiday to deliver me and I was born on the Fifth of July at 12:30 am. When I was young, my father would lift me up on his shoulders and we would watch the fireworks. He’d tell me the fireworks were to celebrate the country and my birthday at the same time. Then we’d have a party with family which ended with a birthday cake. Nowadays, we have a Fourth of July picnic and still have a birthday cake. We joke it is to still celebrate our U.S.A. and my birthday. Here’s a picture of the Fourth of July fireworks we took one year at Disney World.



Vicki Delany: I'm sorry to say, I haven't been on a real picnic for years.  I'm old enough that we didn't have air-conditioning when I was gowning up, so as a child we regularly went to a lake-side park with a picnic lunch or dinner to beat the heat. I have some very fond memories of those picnics. Usually my mom would pack some sort of chicken, boiled eggs, potato salad, sliced vegetables, cookies for dessert. My parents owned a small portable table-top grill and sometimes we'd go all out and bring hot dogs or hamburgers to cook in the park. I also remember cooking hotdogs and marshmallows on sticks over an open flame. For the record, I like my marshmallow burnt black. 

At my daughter's wedding a few years ago she planned s'mores for people to cook over an open fire.  Instead there was a burn ban so we had to make our treats over tiny gas lighters.  Not exactly the same! 

I'm getting nostalgic (not to mention hungry) just thinking about that. Maybe it's time for me to organize a picnic outing. 




Thank you, Edith, for choosing this topic. It’s perfect for this time of year, when some of us can get together outside and have fun again. Like every family, we have our traditions.  We almost never have a party without that old standby, Deviled Eggs.  Sure they have slipped in and out of fashion over the years, but they’re always in style in our gang, regardless of your age and whether you’re in the backyard or at picnic table by a river.  We party like it’s 1956! Yesterday, these eggs made an appearance at our uncle’s 91st birthday, a relaxed outdoor event by the river.  They are portable (if you play your cards right) and easy to make. They may be cheap and cheerful but there are never any left.  I’ll be sharing the easy-peasy recipe this coming Thursday on Mystery Lovers Kitchen. Enjoy today, however you are celebrating!  

CLEO COYLE: My husband and I will always have a deep appreciation for this country and a great love for its diverse people. Like Tina (Happy Birthday, Tina!), I love July Fourth fireworks for more than one reason. One of my great uncles, who emigrated to Western Pennsylvania from Italy in the 1920s, would recall the date without hesitation. His boat docked in New York on the Fourth of July. In fact, he was sure the fireworks were heralding the entrance of his ship to Ellis Island. Not until later did he realize the Roman candles and colored lights were meant to celebrate the anniversary of this country declaring itself independent of an imperial and oppressive power. 

Throughout my childhood, our Italian-American family celebrated July Fourth with wonderful backyard “melting pot” cookouts. HOT DOGS shared the plate with macaroni salad; bocce balls were thrown along with horseshoes; and the night would always end with ITALIAN COOKIESFLAG CAKE, and us kids twirling little sparklers. Living in New York, I still enjoy a backyard BBQ, but now my husband and I have a front row seat for one of the grandest displays of fireworks in the world. Happy Birthday, USA! If you’re celebrating, too, we hope you have a joyful one. ~ Cleo

Click here for Cleo's
Fireworks Flag Cake Recipe.


Readers: What's your favorite picnic food?

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  1. What a fun posts! As a kid, most of our picnics included hot dogs, chips, and homemade peach ice cream. As an adult, I tend more toward bread and cheese, thank you for the chance to win Dmskrug3 at hotmail dot com

    1. My mom made homemade peach ice cream, too, Daniele. Yummy!

  2. We had backyard barbeques when I was a kid, but not picnics. My husband enjoys picnics and will sometimes surprise me with a special picnic meal. He almost always includes his special deviled eggs, so I would have to say they are my favorite picnic treat.

    1. You can compare his recipe to Mary Jane's next week!

  3. I love cold pasta salad.
    clarksrfun at gmail dot com

  4. I grew up in NYC. No picnic here. Lucky for me my grandparents lived near Saratoga Springs NY. They would have everyone over and everyone brought something. The one dish I remember is baked beans to go along with hot dogs and hamburgers. My birthday is also Juky 5th but I was always told the fire works were me. Lois -

    1. Of course they were for you. Happy birthday!

    2. Joining Edith in wishing you a Happy Birthday, too, Lois, just like our Tina! And thanks for the reminder on the baked beans. I forgot how tasty they are with hot dogs. Now you've got me craving them. Happy Fourth, everyone!

  5. I loving ha e meat, cheese, a baguette, and some type of dessert for a picnic.
    Kitten143 (at) Verizon (dot) net

  6. My favorite picnic food would be fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans and chocolate chip cookies. 3labsmom(at)gmail(dot)com

    1. I haven't had fried chicken in a long time. So good!

  7. What great memories of picnics from everyone. Leslie, I especially enjoyed your Dahlias story! What a charmed childhood.

    Fried chicken and potato salad, definitely. But even "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou" will do.

  8. My favorite picnic food growing up was fried chicken and fried pies. Both were finger food friendly, made with love and oh so good. I grew up when there were no paper plates and a picnic meant work for some before the event and lots of work way after the event. Now that I'm older, I greatly appreciate all the work that went into having a picnic back them.

    As an Army brat summers were vacation time back to the south to see relatives which always meant picnics. Two picnics stand out in my mind. One was at my grandparents. I had an uncle that loved to fish. Granny enjoyed fish but didn't want the lingering smells in the house. So we would meet up at the lake with all the stuff needed to fix a fish dinner with my uncle who was loaded down with fish. I can almost taste how fresh it was just talking about it, but also realize all the hard work it took to have that picnic. I was included in washing the dishes after we got home in a #3 washing tub. :) The second one was at my aunt and uncles. This was back before they had designated fire pits or grill areas. Dad pulled in and parked and we started unloading only to start to smell burning rubber. Seems the front tire of the car was on the exact same spot as the last group there and instead of putting out their charcoal pit they had just thrown sand over it. Dad rushed and moved the car. The tire was strange looking but operable. In fact, we actually drove most of the way from OK back to CA before it had to be changed. Tire store thought it was a very strange looking tire. We all laughed but Dad always looked at where he had parked to check for leftover coals after that.

    Have a fabulous 4th whether have a picnic or eat at home! For those in the USA please remember the reason for the holiday and be thankful for all those that have made it possible. Now I think I'll go take out some chicken for supper.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. Great memories, Kay! I forgot about fried pies (hand pies, if we're thinking of the same treat). They are delicious. And thanks for the reminder of remembering all those whose sacrifices made our freedoms and opportunities possible, including those serving today. Happy Fourth to you and everyone!