Good Day for a Picnic: Simple Food That Travels Well

Good Day for a Picnic: Simple Food That Travels Well

by Jeremy Jackson


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060726805
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/03/2005
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 7.37(w) x 9.12(h) x 0.81(d)

About the Author

Jeremy Jackson is the author of The Cornbread Book, the first cookbook devoted solely to America's bread of breads. A graduate of Vassar College and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Jeremy has written about food for the Chicago Tribune and is also the author of two novels, Life at These Speeds and In Summer. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

In His Own Words. . .

Though I was born in Ohio, I grew up with my family on a farm in the Ozark borderlands of Missouri. We raised cattle and hay and had a garden the size of Texas. At various times we had horses, cattle, a pig, sheep, chickens, ducks, and a pony. We ate a lot of these animals, but not the pony. We also had wild blackberries and persimmons and walnuts on our farm. And a pear tree. And we caught fish in our ponds. We ate some of them, too.

For some crazy reason, I headed off to Vassar College, thinking that I would become a writer. Unfortunately, I did. It was all downhill from there, though the sex was good. From Vassar I went straight into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where I wrote brilliant stories about bunnies, marbles, and a talking mailbox named Ruth. Then I spent a year writing a novel and a screenplay. Then I went and taught English back at Vassar for two years. Being a professor was a mind-numbing experience, though the sex was good. I quit that job and started being a writer full time, which was very much like being a writer part time except that it took a lot more time and I felt much more guilty when I didn’t write anything. I moved from Poughkeepsie back to Iowa, which is kind of like moving from the outer circles of hell to the Garden of Eden. I bought a house here. It's a nice Craftsman-style bungalow. Plus there's a sauna.

In addition to The Cornbread Book, I'm the author of Life at These Speeds, a literary novel. There isn't any cornbread in the novel. Right now I'm writing a second novel. And my next cookbook, Desserts That Have Killed Better Men Than Me, is already on the way. There isn't any cornbread in it, either, mostly just butter and heavy cream.

Read an Excerpt

Good Day for a Picnic
Simple Food That Travels Well


Gorging Outdoors

I tried this thing the other day, this experiment. (Or, as my nephew would have called it when he was four, a "conspirament.") First, I arranged a modest assortment of appetizing foodstuffs on my kitchen counter. Then I stood in front of this small smorgasbord, if you will, wearing casual attire and with my hair still slightly askew from having slept on it the wrong way. (That's right, it was lunchtime and I hadn't combed my hair. But I am a writer, after all.) And then I smacked my lips, rubbed my hands together gleefully, and began.

I picked up a slice of orange. It was a colorful and floral wedge of citrus. I ate it and it was good and a bead of orange juice ran down my forearm and dripped off my elbow. Then I picked up another slice of orange and -- pay attention here -- stepped outside and strode three paces away from the door. There, in the warm autumn sunlight of my side yard, I ate the second orange slice. Again, the orange was good and a bead of juice ran down my forearm, etc. Then I asked myself a question. Did the second orange slice taste better than the first? In other words, does food taste better outside? Well, does it?

Picnics used to be the norm. Really. Think about it. Didn't our ancestors all eat outdoors? I don't mean our great-great-grandparents. I mean our biological ancestors -- monkeys and whatnot -- nibbling on berries. Or, to look at it another way, didn't Adam and Eve enjoy the fruits of Eden outdoors? When God booted them out of the garden, I think it's fair to summarize his message to them in this way: "All right, guys. Picnic's over."

Time, though, as it is wont to do, trudged onward. And someone discovered that caves were nice to sleep in. And someone invented architecture. And the next thing you know, some visionary was saying, "Hey, I got an idea: let's eat inside." Thus ended the first great age of picnics.

This isn't to say that people stopped eating outside. Think of the shepherds eating in the mountains and pastures for thousands of years in the Middle East, in North Africa, in Europe. Think of the caravans on the Silk Road, the native hunters in the dark forests of North America, the pilgrims trekking toward Canterbury or Mecca, the soldiers of countless kings and emperors and lords, the slaves building the pyramids, tilling the fields, clearing the land. Didn't all these millions of anonymous people eat outside frequently, if not daily? The Bible has all kinds of outdoor consumption going on. Just consider the Jews on their long journey from Egypt to Israel. Weren't they sort of picnicking the whole way? (Or would it be more accurately described as mobile noshing?)

But as I often say, eating outdoors does not a picnic make. So when was the modern idea of a picnic born? Nearly all the outdoor eating described above was done either out of necessity or convenience, though obviously it is at least partially related to today's picnic. But I wanted to know when the idea of a leisurely, slightly festive, possibly intimate outdoor meal was conceived. Perhaps the seasonal religious feasts and festivals of people all across the globe should be mentioned. But even more significant are the pursuits of the privileged classes. These were the people who had the luxury of dining inside all the time if they wanted to, which meant they could dine outside when they felt like it. The Frenchman Gaston de Foix described an outdoor hunting feast in 1387. And Jean Froissart, the French chronicler and poet, wrote this passage around the same time:

Clear and fresh was the morn, and we came to a thorn-bush all white with blossom; lance-high it stood, with fair green shade beneath. Then said one, "Lo! a place made for our pleasant repose; here let us break our fast!" Then with one accord we brought forth the meats -- pasties, hams, wines and bakemeats, and venison packed in heath. There was my lady ruler of the feast; and then it pleased her to say for the comfort of my martyrdom, that she retained me for her own; whereat my heart opened a fathom wide.

When I read this, I was so pleased I screamed like a little girl and nearly got myself kicked out of the library. What this passage showed was not only a pleasure outing, but a romantic pleasure outing. This indeed was a picnic. If I had had a big red stamp that read "PICNIC," I would have branded this passage right there in the library. Of course, our modern idea of romantic love and courtship was created in large part by writers like Froissart, Petrarch, and Dante in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and therefore it isn't surprising that Froissart described one of the first romantic picnics, or that the French were doing it first.

We can also blame the French for giving picnics a name. Pique-nique is a simple compound word that appeared in France in the late 1600s. Picorer means to pick or peck at something. Nique is something of little value, some trifle. And the French were good at it. By the 1740s, the word had crossed over into English -- perhaps via the German picknick -- though to be fair, Londoners had been dining in outdoor pleasure gardens for decades already.

One of the most famous English picnic institutions, founded in 1800, was the Picnic Society, a group of stylish Londoners who met periodically to dine together. Each member brought a preassigned dish or beverage, which to me makes it sound as though the Picnic Society was really just a fancy potluck club, especially when you consider the fact that the Picnic Society actually met and dined indoors (in the Pantheon on Oxford Street, to be precise).

Good Day for a Picnic
Simple Food That Travels Well
. Copyright © by Jeremy Jackson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Gorging Outdoors1
Drinks, Starters, and Small Bites19
Salads, Sides, Two Soups, and a Bread55
A French Interlude: A Letter from Laura Calder with a Picnic Menu95
Sandwiches and Substantial Courses105
Sweets Galore155

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Good Day for a Picnic: Simple Food That Travels Well 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Another outstanding cookbook from Jeremy Jackson. A lot of seasonal summer recipes in this book that I'm really looking forward to, like his 'Strawberry Plum Tart' and his 'Peach & Bleu Cheese Crostini.' The recipes are straightforward and original. I've made a few already: I made 'Pine Nut Butter' and 'Roasted Grapes,' and served with some french bread, they tasted like a very decadent and grown-up peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I highly recommend this and his other cookbooks. His writing is so charming and engaging. Even if you don't make a recipe - which seems like a very unlikely thing to do - you'll enjoy the good read.