chase—an outdoor meal centered on the spoils of the hunt.
But as the Oxford book also notes, picnicking blossomed in the Victorian era, nudged on by the works of
such authors as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
“It was a big deal for the wealthy to be outdoors,”
says Francine Segan, an author and food historian who
has lectured on the history of picnics. “They’d bring
tables, they’d have beautiful china, wicker baskets.”
Naturally, it was the servants who’d head off early
to do the setup, and the cooks would prepare the
food—the more elegant the better.
“In the Victorian age, they wanted you to be neat,”
Segan says. “They chopped up everything, and it
would be perfect: fig and nuts and cream and cheese,
watercress, egg salad—and a lot of pickling.”
Sounds an awful lot like picnics today, except without the servants.
ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES
Still, there’s no reason the modern picnicker can’t have
someone else do the prep work.
“A lot of people are on the run and would rather
spend time going to the picnic than making the picnic,”
says Ellen Yin, the owner
of Fork:etc., a specialty
foods shop in Philadelphia where people pick up
picnics packed in woven
baskets with flip-top lids
and walk over to the big
lawn in the block of Independence Park, between
Chestnut and Walnut and
Third and Fourth streets.
In the spring, a Fork:
etc. basket might include
a spinach-artichoke dip
with crispy pita chips and
a smoked salmon sandwich on multigrain bread,
served with edamame
and a fresh radish salad
or perhaps an orzo salad
with scallions, fresh herbs
and pine nuts. For dessert, lemon bars.
When the weather
cools down in the fall, Yin
might pack a roast turkey,
bacon, avocado and man-chego sandwich alongside
some charcuterie like salami and prosciutto, with
cheese and fresh pears,
grapes and heirloom apples. For dessert, something
chocolate—perhaps a brownie.
“We all work so hard cooped up in our offices, so
any beautiful day is worth having a picnic,” Yin says.
Blue Ribbon Bakery Market in Manhattan helps
New Yorkers take to any park in style with cheeses,
cornichons and brick-oven breads on which to spread
duck confit and pate. With 24 hours’ notice, they’ll
pack up a feast for four and hand it to you in two very
totable canvas bags.
At the Birchwood Inn in the Berkshires, you can
wheel your picnic—complete with table, chairs, glasses,
silverware and cloth napkins—to the hill you find has the
best view. And
Pa., $30 gets you
a picnic lunch for
two to pair with
the Spring Wine,
a light, crisp and
A table-in-a-bag is available from
Crate & Barrel for $40.
You’ll also find
such as blankets
and linens. Find more
picnic info at