Just because it’s September doesn’t mean we have to stop the summer fun; it’s still warm out, so why not soak in the last rays of summer with a great time perfect for the whole family – a picnic! It’s got everything: delicious food, great company, and a gorgeous setting to boot. Picnicking can be tremendously rewarding and super easy, if you have the right tools and know-how, and a day with family and friends spent enjoying nature can form happy memories that last for years to come. While it may come off a little intimidating to start with, a little prep and planning goes a long way towards a really successful picnic.
Picnicking actually got its start in the medieval feasts that happened as a part of a hunt. Now, while subsistence hunting is mostly about stealth and skill, the Medieval hunt was a much livelier and highly ritualized affair, and it was less about actually killing something rather than the show of killing something. Lords, their family, and their retinue would venture out into specially protected lands to hunt for game like deer and wild boar, usually making a grand show of the whole thing. It was also a way for young noble lords to practice their skills at commanding men and horses as well as navigating the wilderness and staying in a group, which would have been crucial training for men who would likely spend a good portion of their adult life commanding some sort of army. At some point in the hunt, often before everything got started, everyone involved would gather in an idyllic natural setting, a table would be laid, and everyone would pause to drink and be merry before going back to tromping through the woods. It was also around this time that the wealthy started throwing lavish outdoor banquets for other nobles at their country estates, which helped to establish the outdoors as an acceptable setting for a sumptuous meal. The earliest real picnics (as in, people had actually started calling them “picnics”) consisted of large groups gathering together and eating potluck-style, with every person bringing something to share; however, by the 1860’s modern picnicking had evolved to be simply a group of people eating outdoors together, and the concept managed to stick.
While we may not a have a bunch of horses, burly men, and a few dozen dogs to think about, there’s still some necessary planning that is essential to a successful picnic. Some things are obvious, like food and items to eat it with or water, but some aren’t quite as obvious. What kind of facilities will be available, if any? How long is the walk in and out? What kind of local wildlife should you be aware of? Lucky for you, we’ve thought through all the twists and turns of planning a picnic, and we’ve assembled some of the best advice we can muster!
Get Your Research On
The best way to make sure nothing spooks you, especially if you’re going to be hiking out into the wilderness, is to do the legwork ahead of time. When you’re picking out the perfect picnic spot, first see what kind of terrain you can expect. Look for trails leading in and out, and make sure to check the difficulty of each before settling on your route; most state parks make their trail maps and guides readily available to the public, so take advantage and use them. Look for trails that aren’t too steep or rocky, and make sure you allow enough time to safely hike out, have the picnic, clean up, and hike back. In the same vein, you will want to research what kind of wildlife you might encounter during your time in your spot. Encounters with animals like bears, bobcats, and mountain lions can have deadly consequences, so learn what lives nearby and plan accordingly. Bears are particularly tricky, in that they will literally rip apart cars and tents and anything else that gets between them and your food. Keep your food out of reach and un-sniffable both before and after your picnic.
If you’re planning on visiting a state park, always check what kind of facilities are available. Things like bathrooms, running water, and trash receptacles aren’t always a given when you’re heading out into nature, so find out ahead of time what you can expect from a particular park. Areas that are not parks are going to be even more unlikely to have any sort of accommodations, so consider who is coming to your picnic and what sort of needs they have before selecting a location. You may have the perfect meadow selected, but if your ninety-year-old grandma is planning on coming and there’s nary a bathroom for miles, it might be good to rethink things.
Checking the weather may sound like a no-brainer, but nothing ruins a picnic quite like a freak thunderstorm or unexpected heat wave, so it’s definitely important to keep in mind. Do check in the days preceding your picnic excursion, and check again in the hours leading up to your picnic as well. Weather can change fairly quickly and sometimes without warning, so if you notice that you have even a chance of bad weather, plan like it’s going to happen. Best case scenario, you get to complain about bringing an umbrella and a parka when you didn’t need them; worst case, you may just saved everyone’s bacon, literally! Check the temperature too, especially if you’re planning a picnic that will take the whole day. Pack plenty of water and sunblock for hotter days, and bring extra layers of clothing and warm drinks for cold.
Pack It In & Pack It Out
You may have heard the saying “take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints” before, but if you haven’t, you have now and all your littering excuses are gone! These are words to live by, but especially when you’re planning on bringing a meal into nature; everything that comes in, from trash to blankets to toys, must also go back out. Leaving anything behind can not only be harmful to the environment but also will spoil the natural beauty of the place for the next person there. Packing up everything is key to ensuring that these beautiful spots are preserved for generations to come.
If your picnic spot provides trash cans, plan on bringing an extra trash bag anyway, just in case you have more garbage than will fit or in case there is something you can’t dispose of safely using the receptacles provided. If they don’t provide cans, bring at least two trash bags, one for compostable garbage and one for recyclables. Using reusable or even biodegradable cutlery and dishware can help to drastically cut down on the amount of waste your picnic produces, and any Tupperware containers used can simply be transported out the way they came in. Use rocks or other heavy objects like water bottles to weigh down lightweight items like napkins to prevent them accidentally becoming litter too. Additionally, it might be tempting to just chuck food waste out into nature before you leave, after all it’s going to degrade naturally, right? While this may sound like a great idea, food waste can be harmful to local wildlife and can also attract wildlife like bears to the site, making it unsafe for other picnickers. Save food waste to compost at home instead!
Assemble the Essentials
Everyone knows you need a blanket and basket, but it’s what goes in the basket that makes all the difference. Whether it’s dishes and cutlery or a can of bug spray, everything you bring goes towards making your picnic a more rewarding experience for everyone involved. Supplies-needs may change slightly from location to location, but here are some of the basics to get you started:
- Trash Bags – Bring at least one, if your spot has garbage cans, or two if they don’t. These will be for any food scraps, garbage, and recyclables. Remember to separate your garbage and be environmentally friendly!
- Flatware & Dishes – Like we said, bringing reusable or compostable items to eat on can go a long way towards preventing waste. For a compostable option, go for unwaxed paper plates and bamboo or wooden utensils, they’re cheap to buy and will break down lickety split in a compost bin! You can also find entire picnic kits, which come packed with adorable, picnic-sized sets of plates, cups, and even cutlery. While these may be a little expensive for someone who rarely picnics, they can be a great shortcut for the frequent picnicker and easy way to cut down on waste.
- Food Prep Tools – Even if you make everything ahead of time, there still may be some minor cooking that needs to happen on the fly. A paring knife, a small cutting board, and some scissors are great for cutting fresh fruit or veggies, divvying up sandwiches, or even breaking down food to carry back.
- Hand Sanitizer – With everyone eating and no guarantee of running water, a little bottle of hand sanitizer can go a long way to keeping everything clean and safe. Go for an all-natural option that won’t damage the environment, and make sure you bring enough to share!
- Coolers & Ice – Yes, this is kind of a given, but hear us out. Keeping food cool is key to preventing food-born illnesses, but it’s hard to keep food cold with people constantly opening and closing coolers. To combat this, bring one cooler for items like snacks and drinks that grabbed frequently and one for items that need to stay very cold. Also, opt for ice blocks as opposed to ice cubes, they’ll melt a lot more slowly and keep everything colder longer.
- Bug Repellent & Sunscreen – The benefits of these guys go without saying, but it’s surprising how often they get forgotten. As always, we suggest an all-natural version.
Think about the space you’ll be having your picnic in when packing, as well as how many hands to have to help, whether or not you can drive a car up to the spot, and if you’ll have a table or will have to eat on the ground. All of this will be impact what you need and want to bring, but above all, be practical and if forced to pick between something fun and something necessary, go with the latter.
Bring Us the Food!
Finally, last but definitely not least, FOOD.
Let’s start with obvious – everything you bring in must also go back out, so make things easier on yourself by limiting the number of containers you need to bring. Fresh fruit makes a great, sweet treat, and the best part is that you don’t need to pack them in anything. A bag of apples, tangerines, or even a whole watermelon make healthy snacks, and once you’ve eaten them, they’re one thing you don’t have to carry back with you! Sandwiches are another classic, self-contained meal. Bring a medley of different sandwiches to jazz it up, or make a big batch and keep it simple. Pack them in a traditional brown paper bag or all together in a large container to cut down on waste and stuff to carry. It’s also important consider how you’ll actually get everything in and out. Sure, watermelon is delicious, but taking a watermelon on a five mile hike isn’t exactly the picture of ease and relaxation. Know who’s coming, and don’t be afraid to delegate carrying to everyone in the group.
Look for foods that don’t need to be kept ice cold. Veggies that won’t wilt easily and meat and cheeses that can sit at room temperature without spoiling are a must. Tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and radishes are hardy and not likely to spoil even in heat; on the flip side, preserved meats like salami and hard, aged cheeses are made to handle a lack of refrigeration and will stand up well to being kept at room temperature. Pasta salads will also stand up well to being left out, and they’re an easy way to eat lots of vegetables without having to cart them all along with you. All that being said, keep food in the shade to prevent rapid spoiling. Even the hardiest carrot will wither and rot if left in the sunshine long enough.
The art of picnicking is a fine one, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inaccessible! With just a little planning, you too can put together a picnic that’s the source of joyful memories that last the rest of your life. This week, picnic like a pro and check the awesome deals we’ve got going at Oliver’s; we’ve hunted through our stores for exactly what you need to make your next picnic great, and we’ve stuck ‘em straight in our ad! Happy picnicking!
For great recipes to use at your next picnic, click HERE!