picknicking: tradition goes vegan
Picnics are traditionally centered around meat. They began as feasts from medieval hunting expeditions when the wealthy felt like hunting things. Then, a few hundred years later the French Revolution happened (in 1789, to be exact) and royal parks were opened up to the public. That meant picnics for the people!
Meanwhile, back in England the Victorians threw huge picnics with servants, fine china and their best linens. In 1859 the seminal book on manners was published: Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, and it told Victorian Brittish society how to do a picnic right. Here's the menu: a joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, two ribs of lamb, two shoulders of lamb, four roast fowls, two roast ducks, a ham, a tongue, two veal-and-ham pies, two pigeon pies, six medium-sized lobsters, one piece of collared calf's head, salads, biscuits, bread and cheese, and 122 bottles of drink – plus champagne.
Holy bajeezus. Granted that's for 40 people, but do you really need to pack the tongue? It must have looked like someone blew up the farmyard.
Anyhow, shoot forward another hundred years or so to the American 1950's picnic: meat, meat, spam and meat. From the cookbook pamphlet Let's Eat Outdoors (more appropriately named Let's Eat Dead Things Outdoors) you could take your pick of these sumptuous options: "Spam-aroni Picnic Salad," "Beenee Weenees Western Style," or "Patio Pups." But my favorite (if you need some greens) is "Jellied Salad-ettes" which, I gather, is a mini salad that has been gelatinized in a dixie cup. In case you're thinking this is a vegetarian option, think again: the gelatin is made from boiling tendons and bones. Yum.
And here we are 60 years later to 2014 where picnics are back in style and consist, primarily, of – you guessed it – meat. When I google "picnic recipes" here's what I get: "Apple Bacon Coleslaw," "Ham and Pepper Stacks," "Corn Dogs" or "Triple Fried Chicken." The only way to avoid recipes that include mounds of meat is to type in "vegetarian" or "vegan picnic." Which strongly suggests that meat is the norm.
In any case, not to preach (too much), my point being: with all this meat being consumed on picnics, I wanted to tip the scales to the side of home-cooked, healthy, non-harmful outdoor noshing. So I made some sweet potato and vegan cheese sandwiches on baguettes (yes, it's true that baguettes and most old-world breads are vegan – who knew?), sliced cucumbers from the garden, corn on the cob and my favorite picnic beverage (invented by Lars): water with frozen berries thrown in.
I packed it all up with some silverware and napkins (I brought along my handmade screen-printed ones to make it feel even more homemade), threw a tablecloth on top and hit the back yard with Lars.