One of our favorite things about Spring is moving mealtime from inside to the outdoors. Whether that means hauling a table and chairs to the back patio, catching some brunchtime rays at our favorite bistro, or eating lunch in a park instead of cooped up in the office, any meal enjoyed al fresco feels special.
In his story “A Portuguese Picnic,” food photographer Filipe Lucas Frazão invites friends to go on a picnic adventure in a small village outside of Lisbon, Portugal. Invigorated by the fresh air, the group enjoys a walk followed by a delightful picnic meal. If you have picnic aspirations, here are our tips for packing a beautiful and practical spread.
The Picnic Basket
Baskets have become the de facto picnic vessel because of their sturdy structure, which keeps food containers in firmly place, and their folding lids which allow things to stay hidden from pests while you’re setting up. There are tons of elaborate picnic basket sets out there, complete with matching plates and cutlery, but these can be expensive and overwrought. Spend a bit of time poking around a thrift or antique shop, and there’s a good chance you will find a charming vintage model or a similar basket to do the trick.
A picnic basket also doesn’t have to be a basket at all – an insulated bag, canvas tote or back pack can work just as well. Especially if your picnic outing involves a hike, bike ride, or any other semi-strenuous activity, a classic basket could prove impractical or uncomfortable anyway.
The most iconic picnic blanket of them all is a Woolrich, a beautiful slice of Americana (many of their blankets are made in the U.S.A.). Established in 1830, this Pennsylvania-based company has a history as rich as their timeless patterns and superb quality construction. Because wool is a natural fiber, it’s comfy to sit on and holds its shape quite well. Though there are a number of handsome classic plaids and colorways to chose from, we’re partial to the Original Buffalo Check Rough Rider – trends may come and go, but we’ll never tire of that black and red lumberjack combo. Another great option is the lighter weight Soft Wool Plaid Blanket, made with 100% fine grade soft wool. No matter what Woolrich you choose, you’ll be enjoying a picnic blanket that will likely become a family heirloom.
The Wrap (for breezy evenings)
Sure, a dingy old sheet or blanket will suffice if a cool breeze kicks up, but a nicer textile will be so much comfier and make you and your guests feel more special. The organic cotton, hand-loomed Turkish woven pestemals from Cuttalossa are perfect for snuggling up: lightweight (because after all, it’s not winter anymore), durable, and easy to wash. Measuring 40 by 70 inches, one will wrap cozily around two people, which is a nice touch if a romantic picnic is what you’ve got planned. The range of hand dyed colors is simply gorgeous, and the pestemals can be used for lots of other things, like towels, oversized scarves, or baby care.
Glassware is the most romantic, but again, a slightly impractical measure due to weight and breakability. Stainless steel bento boxes work amazingly well, as do run-of-the-mill plastic to-go containers (check those seals!) and food storage bags.
If you’re not going far, canning jars make excellent picnic containers. The Bnto canning jar adaptors from the excellently named company Cuppow! work beautifully for storing salad dressings, dips, or any other condiments. Made from food grade recycled plastic, the little 6 ounce cups fit snugly into wide mouth canning jars.
Bringing cheese and bread? Don’t even think about wrapping those fine hunks up in plastic wrap or tin foil. Make like a cheesemonger and use the specialty Cheese Paper (made in France, distributed by Formaticum in Brooklyn) to keep your cheese fresh and untainted, should there be spills from other food, while allowing it to breathe. Cut bread or baguette up ahead of time and carefully wrap the slices in cloth napkins. This saves more plastic, helps keep the bread protected, and no one will mind shaking a few crumbs off their napkin come mealtime.
Sitting out in the sun and eating well seasoned foods like salads, cheeses, and olives means everyone will work up a generous thirst. Whether you prefer lemonade, iced tea, water or wine, beer, or a pre-mixed cocktail, you’ll want it to be cold, and a regular plastic or glass bottle isn’t going to cut it. Upgrade your picnic beverage situation with Klean Kanteen’s 32 or 64 ounce insulated growlers. These fully stainless steel vessels have double walled insulation that will keep drinks cold for up to 30 hours, and help to maintain carbonation levels. The swing top seals tightly to prevent leaks, and the mouth of the bottle is large enough for ice cubes.
Pack It Up
First, organize all your food containers in the bag or basket. If there are delicate items like cheese, bread, cake, or crackers, put those aside for for the moment. Leave a bit of room between the containers. Position the beverage(s) near things you want to keep cold (assuming the drinks are cold), and slide in a small ice pack so it’s in contact with those items.
Use melamine or plastic plates to create walls around the inside perimeter of the basket or bag, creating structure around the food. If you don’t want to deal with dirty dishes, pick up some environmentally responsible disposable plates, cups, napkins and cutlery. Susty Party makes really cute compostable stuff. If you’re bringing real silverware, wrap everything up in a cloth napkin and put that bundle in the back of the basket.
Weave your picnic blanket, assuming its lightweight enough, through the spaces you left between the food containers, to keep everything snug and padded inside the basket. If your blanket it too big to do this, cloth napkins will also work. You can also tuck in a few wadded up plastic bags or trash bags that you’ll want on hand later for clean up. Make sure all of the items in the basket are packed in tightly – you want to avoid things moving or shifting while in transit. Finally, place the bread, cake, or anything else, on top of the other items and carefully close the lid.
Enjoy your springtime picnicking! If you have other picnic tips to share, let us know in the comments!