I love going on picnics, which take on many different forms for me. When I am in Europe on holiday I always find a local cheese shop and fill a basket with crusty bread, cheese, fruit, an assortment of sweets and sparkling water. I’ve been known to pull over while driving the English countryside and have a little picnic right there on the side of the road. However and wherever you decide to have a picnic it’s important to be Picnic Savvy.
Picnic Paraphernalia: Picnic equipment can be as simple as paper plates in a brown bag, or as elegant as a wicker hamper specially fitted with flatware and china. Picnic enthusiasts tend to accumulate equipment over a period of time, and to collect the supplies that suit the kind of picnicking they do most often. Let’s consider the paraphernalia you can use to transport, insulate, cook, and eat your picnic feast – whether it’s a backpacker’s basic lunch for two or a feast for eight.
For Transporting Food: If you’re not traveling far and your provisions aren’t perishable, you can carry your picnic in a brown grocery bag – that’s part of the casual spirit of picnicking. Buy why rough it, if that’s not your style? Other options offer you more packing space, easier carrying, better insulation, or simply more charm than any paper bag ever could.
Baskets: Import stores, gourmet shops, hardware stores, and gift emporiums carry baskets of straw, wicker, bamboo, woven rope, and even vinyl-covered steel wire. These baskets may be open or have hinged lids, and they may be lined with gingham or other brightly colored fabric. They may come empty or be outfitted with removable trays and/or picnic gear such as plastic plates, cups, flatware, and cloth napkins. The ultimate is an English picnic hamper – a large, costly wicker chest, its inside surfaces fitted with straps that hold a complete table service for several people.
When you’re shopping for a picnic basket, look for a sturdy, roomy one. If it has handles, they should be strong and durable, especially on larger models. Whether or not the basket should have a lid is a matter of personal preference. A lid can provide a handy cutting or serving surface, but food can be covered just as well in an open basket if you line the basket with a pretty tablecloth and then fold it over the contents when the basket is full. Try this technique, too, with a brightly colored plastic laundry basket and a tablecloth in harmonizing colors.
Coolers: For perishable picnic foods, a cooler (ice chest) is a better choice than a basket. Foods that spoil quickly, such as meats, fish, mayonnaise, and most dairy products, must be kept cool to prevent bacterial growth and the possibility of food poisoning. Even inexpensive Styrofoam coolers can keep foods fresh and cool for hours, though they’re less durable than insulated metal or heavy-duty plastic models.
When purchasing a cooler, look for sturdiness; strong, easy-to-hold handles; and tight lids that lock in place. Many coolers have lids that are hinged so they don’t blow away or get lost, or that they are indented to hold glasses. Some contain trays that keep food away from melting ice. Another useful feature is a leak-proof drain.
Besides the large chest style coolers, you’ll find newer, lighter models that are carried by one handle at the top, and smaller versions that you can carry with a strap.
Bags: Designed especially for carrying foods and beverages and keeping them cool, “refrigerator bags” are usually insulated with fiberglass, covered and lined with vinyl, and fitted with wraparound handles and a zipper that allows the flat top to be opened on three sides. I’ve also seen refrigerator bags with canvas exteriors rather than plastic.
You can use refrigerator bags for hot foods, too as they will maintain a given temperature for several hours. If hot food is in a very hot container – particularly glass or metal – you would be wise to protect the vinyl bag from heat by wrapping the container in newspaper first.
Nylon or canvas duffle bags used for sailing and for carrying athletic equipment also make good picnic carryalls. They are roomy and strong, with sturdy straps and reinforced bottoms. Fishing tackle bags are useful too.
You might also think about using old luggage for picnic toting. Anything from a small carry-on airplane bag to a large, lightweight suitcase may do beautifully. Backpacks are convenient carriers, too. A light day-pack works well for small meals, a larger frame pack for more ambitions picnic projects.
Any kind of cloth, straw, or woven bag may also fill your needs. Or you can simply wrap your picnic in a tablecloth or other ground cover, bring the corners together, and knot them, like a Japanese furoshiki. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2suAPvcm6I. You can also use this technique with oversize cloth napkins for individual picnic meals.