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Make some memories with picnics

Prairie Fare: Summer is picnic season and we should all enjoy this tradition

I remember the picnics of my youth. I looked forward to visiting a picnic site at a lake or park.

Preparing all the food, loading the food in coolers and packing the lawn chairs in the trunk was part of the adventure.

As a little girl, I thought that picnics required blankets, so I usually grabbed one and stuffed it in the trunk. When the ants found me on the blanket at the picnic site, I retreated to one of the lounger lawn chairs with green strapping. If you sat incorrectly, the lawn chair collapsed and swallowed you in its jaws like a large, green alligator.

Actually, I liked making my lawn chair fold up until I was told to “sit nicely.”

We always had homemade lemonade with slices of lemon floating on top. I remember the sound of the ice sloshing in the beverage cooler as we drove and the refreshing flavour of ice-cold lemonade in the warm sun. We usually had potato salad, chips, hotdogs on the campfire and watermelon.

As I explored my personal history of picnics, I pondered the origin of picnics. Turns out, books have been written about picnics, and their history goes back hundreds of years.

In Victorian times, picnics were elaborate outdoor feasts enjoyed by the wealthy. Photos from the mid-1800s show families in their finest clothing dining outdoors with white tablecloths and stemmed glasses. The photos show large wicker hampers placed near the less-than-giddy guests.

In the early photos, men in suits and women and girls in long dresses stood like statues with sober expressions. Back then, the subjects of photos waited for the blast and puff of smoke indicating the photo had been taken. No one had a “selfie stick” to attach to their cellphone for impromptu picnic photos or videos to stream live online to all your friends.

I hope the early folks were smiling after the photograph was taken, or these were grim events. Because picnics were outdoor celebrations for the wealthy, their servants probably were scurrying about getting the food ready.

The word “picnic” first appeared in English dictionaries in 1748, but the history has been traced back to hunting feasts of the 1400s. Originally, picnics were more like “potlucks,” where everyone brought a portion of the meal to share in an outdoor setting. The menus served at early picnics varied from elaborate multi-course meals to simple fare, such as bread, cheese, fruit and wine.

Now we enjoy these casual outdoor meals anywhere, usually with simple foods on the menu. We can pick up food on the go and take it to the site without lifting a finger in the kitchen. If you decide to pack a picnic, keep a few tips in mind:

  • Grab a cooler or two. Ditch the old-fashioned wicker picnic basket; instead, bring a large cooler that can store all your foods at a safe temperature. Be sure to keep all perishable items, such as salads, cut fruit and vegetables and meats, cold.
  • Have a separate cooler for raw meat to avoid cross-contamination. Put ice on the bottom and around the sides of the cooler. Larger blocks of ice melt less quickly than cubes.
  • Ditch the high-calorie fare. Because mayo adds unnecessary fat to your picnic spread, try alternatives such as vinegar-and-oil dressings, avocado or pesto spreads, honey mustard or hummus. Pack some apples, oranges, melons and grapes. Whole fruits are less perishable than cut fruits.
  • Try simple, healthful options such as replacing the potato or macaroni salad with fresh fruit or veggies. Try apple slices and peanut butter dip, carrots and peppers with hummus, sandwiches or wraps, or hard-cooked eggs.
  • Use reusable containers instead of plastic baggies to reduce waste. These limit garbage, simplify storage, are eco-friendly and help keep our beaches, parks and pavilions clean.
  • Try soda alternatives such as water. If you have a sweet tooth, add a little fruit juice or lemon slices to your water bottle for a punch of flavour.
  • Make sure you have a good source of shade to protect yourself and your family from the harmful rays and dangerous heat that the sun may bring. In addition, always remember to pack some sunscreen.
  • Have fun. Plan activity ideas such as hiking, Frisbee, a scavenger hunt, bocce ball or a variety of other games best played under a blue summer sky.

Earlier this summer, I treated my family to the flavour of freshly squeezed lemonade sweetened with a simple syrup. The pitcher of lemonade disappeared quickly.

This recipe is easy to scale to the amount you need. It’s a 1:1:1 ratio for water, sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice. On average, one lemon has 2 tablespoons of juice, depending on the size of the lemon, so you would need about eight lemons to make this recipe.

For an old-fashioned flair, serve this refreshing beverage in pint-size canning jars with ice and lemon slices.


Homemade lemonade

  • 1 c. water
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 8 c. cold water
  • 2 c. ice cubes
  • 
Lemon slices
  • Mint leaves (optional)

Rinse lemons, then cut in half and squeeze. Remove seeds. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add sugar. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool in refrigerator. Mix lemon juice and remaining water in a large pitcher or other container, add sugar-water mixture and stir well. Add ice. Garnish with fresh mint leaves if desired. Serve.

Each serving has 80 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 
0 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate and 0 g fibre.

Fresh-squeezed lemonade adds flair to a picnic.
photo: Rob Bertholf/FlickrBertholf/Flickr

About the author

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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