Waiting on a sunny day for picnicking

Planning's the key to ensure the perfect picnic - with a hand from Mother Nature

Planning's the key to ensure the perfect picnic - with a hand from Mother Nature

June 10, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

A basket brimming with food, plus good company and blue skies, might add up to a great picnic, but "the main ingredient of a perfect picnic is fun," says DeeDee Stovel, author of "Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus."

"My favorite picnic image is of an antique market basket with a loose bouquet of fresh flowers poking out of one corner, a bottle of wine protruding from another, a fresh tablecloth covering fresh loaves of bread, garden vegetables converted to savory servings, chilled meats and cheeses, a luscious dessert, and steaming coffee," Stovel wrote in her book's introduction.

But a "picnic is more than eating a meal, it is a pleasurable state of mind."

In addition to Stovel's long family history of New England clambakes, the Williamstown, Mass., resident ran a summer catering business before closing shop to begin writing cookbooks, she says. Storey Communications Inc. published the newest edition of "Picnic" in 2001.


The book contains a variety of recipes and picnic ideas for all seasons. Stovel says picnicking is the best way to entertain because all the work is done before the party starts - but planning is key to a picnic's success.

"It is not necessary to become neurotic about details, but planning ahead helps you bring all the things that will be the perfect background for enjoying your friends, the place and the food," Stovel says. "When picnic season begins, I check out my picnic supplies, and have everything ready so I'm not running around the house looking for picnic utensils, plates and that cute little vase that must be somewhere."

It's also important to have a backup plan in case of inclement weather, she says. Porches and pavilions offer shelter - but even the living room floor will do in a pinch.

"Think about an alternative spot as you check The Weather Channel and be prepared to be flexible and not disappointed," Stovel says. "The food is prepared, the friends are invited, so let the party go on."

Recipes ranging from cold fried chicken, iced cucumber soup and savory red potato salad to marinated flank steak and steaming grilled vegetables are suitable for picnic spreads - as long as picnickers take adequate health precautions by keeping cold food cold and warm food warm en route to the picnic site, Stovel says.

Today's picnic enthusiasts can choose from a variety of food-toting paraphernalia - from traditional gingham-lined baskets and coolers to elaborate backpacks equipped with every imaginable picnic gadget.

Whichever type of carrier you choose, according to Stovel, pack it "with as much food, drink and excitement as it will hold."

Picnic planning tips

Picnic cookbook author DeeDee Stovel and the Backyard Gardener Web site offer the following tips for planning a successful picnic:

  • Keep a basket with essential items packed and ready to go.

  • For larger picnic groups, make a list of what everyone is bringing to avoid duplication.

  • Use vinegars, lemon juice and acidic ingredients in recipes to help prevent bacterial growth.

  • To avoid soggy sandwiches, wrap bread in plastic bags and pack fillings separately.

  • Avoid carbonated drinks, which can get shaken up in transit.

  • Consider decanting glass-bottled drinks into lighter containers to lessen their weight.

  • Wrap cold food in layers of newspaper and place on ice in the cooler.

  • Create ice blocks by freezing water in throughly cleaned milk jugs.

  • Keep meat, poultry or fish that's to be grilled frozen and let it thaw in the cooler en route to the picnic site.

  • Avoid foods that will sweat.

  • Take bags for rubbish and dirty plates and cutlery.

  • Use a hamper or basket to keep picnic items orderly and prevent breakage or crushing.

  • Pack something comfortable and waterproof to sit on.

  • Take some string in case you're near a river or stream and can dangle bottled beverages in the cooling water.

  • Separate the load so everyone can help carry it.

  • Remember sunscreen and insect repellent.

  • Use citronella candles to keep insects at bay.

- Sources: "Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus" and

Packing checklist


  • Plates, cutlery and glassware

  • Cutting board, knife

  • Ground cloth

  • Napkins

  • Tablecloth

  • Corkscrew for wine

  • Bottle opener

  • Paper towels or wipes

  • Garbage bags

  • Insect repellent

  • Sunscreen

Nonessential but nice:

  • Candles, candle holders and matches

  • Flowers and vase

  • Wine glasses

  • China, crystal and silverware

  • Rattan or paper fans

  • Umbrella

- Source: "Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus" by DeeDee Stovel

Red Potato Salad with Fresh Peas

2 pounds small red potatoes, washed and cut in halves

1 medium Vidalia or sweet onion, chopped

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup plain yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Freshly ground black pepper

4 leaves chopped fresh mint or 1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

1 pound fresh peas, shelled

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook for 15 minutes or until tender when pierced with sharp knife. Drain potatoes and place them in large bowl with onions, 2 tablespoons vinegar and salt. Gently stir to combine ingredients. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit unrefrigerated for 30 minutes to blend flavors.

In small bowl, whisk together remaining vinegar, yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard and pepper to taste. Pour dressing over marinated potatoes and stir to blend. Sprinkle mint or dill over salad and scatter peas over all.

Store salad in two covered one-quart containers and chill.

- Source: "Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus" by DeeDee Stovel

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