My husband and I are preparing for our ninth wedding anniversary this week, and since I’ve never been one to go for the traditional gift items (9th is leather? really?), I’ve decided that #9 must be the year of the picnic.
It can’t hurt that I recently got my hands on a copy of one of the most beautiful cookbooks I’ve ever laid my hands on and it is completely devoted to the art and practice of picnicking. I say art because picnicking is one of those things that can be taken to the nth degree — you can do it easy and pick up sandwiches and head to a park or you can create the most exquisite spread possible with the kind of finger foods that make your guests ooh and ahh for hours on end. Either is perfect any time, but for us, this year, we were going for the latter.
The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket was written by my Portland friend Jen Stevensen (of Under the Table with Jen, food stylist Andrea Slonecker and magazine writer Marnie Hanel, all founding members of the Portland Picnic Society. These women really know how to do it up, and have shared their knowledge from almost half a decade of picnicking through Portland’s long summers in a book of exceptional loveliness with illustrations by Emily Isabella. The book is essentially a how-to on approaching picnicking as a high-style art, but it is approachable and has options for both casual plein air diners and the more practiced picnic style-setter. It’s divided into the categories: 1 From Basket to Blanket, 2. Bites 3. Salads 4. Plates 5. Sweets and 6. Sips.
On a recent trip to Pennsylvania, where I grew up, my mother gifted me with my great-grandmother’s actual picnic basket, the same basket that sat on the top of our refrigerator for my entire childhood. I’ve been cleaning it and displaying it on my own fridge for the past month, eager to get it out. It has these gorgeous hand-carved handles that just break my heart.
We had high plans to get to a nearby park and wear seersucker and really do it up, but we found ourselves with a late morning without our two kids in the house and huzzah! a backyard primed for a blanket. For harried parents I can’t think of a lovelies solution than the backyard when the house is empty!
I could eat from every one of these recipes every day, but I chose a selection of recipes inspired by the book.
Beet hummus with crudite
Classic deviled eggs
This is the point at which I should mention that I could eat a deviled egg every day of my life and still not have enough. This book has not one but 12 different options! for deviled eggs, including eggs with caviar, horseradish and other bitey alternatives. But the big win is the suggestion to fill the eggs ON SITE using a piping bag or simply a twisted sandwich bag. This was the highlight of the picnic — so fun!
Hawaiian poke salad on cucumber
This is another one you can assemble on site to great effect. The book suggested a smoked salmon on cucumber finger food, but I’m a giant poke salad fan so I decided to try that instead. There’s nothing like eating raw fish out in the open.
Chocolate cakes with bourbon ice cream
The best part of this book is how it offers simple picnic hacks to elevate the experience. One of my favorites was 99 Uses for a Mason Jar. I decided to bake some small chocolate cakes directly in a Mason jar (using Orangette’s Winning Hearts and Minds Chocolate Cake recipe from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. Then I plopped a scoop of Bourbon vanilla ice cream on top.
I’m starting to think that with a July anniversary every year should be a picnic year. Now I have the basket, I have the company, I have a killer chenille blanket and have the inspiration for the next one. Next time we might actually make it to the park or to one of wine country’s picnic-worthy vineyards.
If you’d like to meet the creators of The Picnic: Recipes and Inspiration from Basket to Blanket and even picnic with them, the Portland Culinary Alliance is featuring the authors and the book tomorrow night at the Altabira City Tavern. It’s going to be a giant potluck on a stunning 58-acre farm. Read more about the event here.
How about you? What’s your favorite go-to picnic recipe? My plan is to become the Queen of the Deviled Egg.