Spring Picnic: Old School vs. New School

“We’ve been enjoying some very fine weather!” – Margaret Dashwood

As we enter the umpteenth week of social distancing here in New Jersey, we’ve been brainstorming some ways of connecting with each other and enjoying recently improved weather outdoors. We decided to put on a picnic in each of our respective backyards. Echo dug through some old photos and recipes to bring back the “old school” ways of her mother’s picnics during the 1970s. Caroline took inspiration by taking the cover off of the firepit in her backyard for the season and has brought forth some “new school” ways of enjoying the comforts of a 21st century picnic.

Mother (3rd from right) and her family enjoyed an annual trip to Fox Lake in Wisconsin every summer. In addition to swimming and fishing, there was a picnic every day! I believe this photo was taken around 1939.

Here at Blue Willow Kitchen, from time to time, we plan to post menu ideas using our recipes and give our tried and true entertaining advice for planning the whole “event.” Both the Old and New School Picnic menus below have links to our recipes already posted here at Blue Willow Kitchen.

Old School Spring Picnic

I come from a long line of picnickers. Every year, we would gather with family friends and make the meal a day-long affair. Early in the morning, Daddy would take over the kitchen and start frying pounds and pounds of chicken. He breaded it himself, shaking everything up in a brown grocery sack filled with flour and his own special seasonings. When the chicken started going into the Dutch oven to keep warm, Mother would pile us kids into the car, along with all the picnic equipage and ferry us over to the public park where we would stake claim to a table in a prime spot and squat until everyone’s arrival.

Fried Chicken (take out)
Baked Beans
Barbara’s Potato Salad
Texas Sheet Cake

As the oldest, I was the de facto babysitter. Mother would drop us all off and return home to pack up the hampers. Imagine doing something like that today! As long as I had a Nancy Drew book or my Encyclopedia Brown , I was good to go. Since Daddy never wrote down his chicken recipe, his secrets are gone to the grave. All I’m left to do is visit the Colonel for a bucket of take out.

The recipe for these baked beans is among my most requested. Bessie’s Baked Beans are very sweet and loaded with bacon and brown sugar. Mother made them with pineapple tidbits, but I like using crushed pineapple in my version. This recipe comes from Bessie Bangerter, who was my 4-H sewing teacher.

Mother always asked her friend Barbara to bring her Potato Salad for our annual Fourth of July picnic. At first glance this looks like a typical “German potato salad” but the dressing does include mayonnaise. It is a hybrid of the traditional version that graces many an American picnic table, and makes a great side dish.

My daddy’s family includes a long line of Texans. His cousin Shirley is a lifelong daughter of the Lone Star State and naturally her recipe is the real deal. When mother shared this recipe with me many years ago, she wrote, “This is to die for!” on a sticky note that is still affixed to the recipe.

New School Spring Picnic

Picnics aren’t always to the park at my house. Sometimes it’s a picnic basket and a blanket in the back of the wagon on a trip to the boardwalk. Sometimes it’s a cooler and the dog on a trip down the river in our boat. Sometimes it’s not going anywhere at all, just two Adirondack chairs by the firepit in our backyard. This menu goes well with any kind of picnic.

Waldorf Chicken Salad Croissant Sandwiches
Homemade Seasoned Potato Chips
Peanut Butter Cookie S’mores

I like to avoid knives and forks as much as I can when planning a meal to go — whether it’s a picnic or lunch on the beach. I love to make this Waldorf Chicken Salad Croissant Sandwich. Rather than wake up at 3am to start laminating my dough, I get my croissants from my favorite local bakery, Hammerbacher in Egg Harbor City.

I’ve read that Waldorf chicken salad is typically made with mayonnaise, lemon juice, and S&P in the dressing, but I have become a little sensitive to tart or sour things in the last few years so I opted for orange juice instead. The result is a slightly sweeter version of the classic Waldorf. The best part, though, is the crunchy, candied pecans (I often add extra!)

My aunt gave us this super lux picnic basket as a gift at my wedding shower (goodness has it already been four years?) For the two of us, it’s perfect. Here is a similar one I found that’s blue and white (so Blue Willow Kitchen, n’est-ce pas?)

When I made these chips and tried one while on FaceTime with Mom, she heard the crunch of the chip and she stopped her train of thought to say, “Ooooh!” These chips are paper thin and fry up in 60 seconds flat.

These cookies work well even when you just nuke the marshmallow in the microwave (and might we also suggest doubling up on the marshmallow?) Chocolate, peanut butter, fluff, YES!

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