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From Annette Bromley on Expertscolumn:
Novels, short stories, even community histories talk about picnics and how the common picnic has served folks and brought people together through the ages. A picnic, according to the dictionary is “a meal taken in the open air (outside) for pleasure or excursion (people traveling long distances bringing a meal to eat with them to be eaten somewhere outside along their journey path.)”
Today we talk about cook-outs, barbecues and tailgate parties but a picnic is not a word as commonly used in today’s society, and yet all three of these technically are a picnic even if we give them another name. A picnic is a good thing, fun and filled with memories that last a lifetime.
Picnics are no new thing. They have been around for eons of time. The shepherds in the fields enjoyed their meal in the open air while they watched their flocks. Perhaps they had cheese, fruit, hard bread and probably wine of some sort and water from a nearby stream or spring. They may have even cooked a stew of wild herbs and vegetables and maybe wild game that was prepared over an open campfire, (what we might call a cookout today.) The pioneers and homesteaders of the westward movement did much the same, gathering around the campfire to cook their evening meal under the stars.
Cowboys, wranglers all had picnics when they gathered around the chuck wagon for a meal of whatever “Cookie” through together over their campfire. Coffee grounds boiled in water and then set aside to cool long enough for the grounds to settle. That coffee was strong but good. There were probably beans seasoned with salt pork and molasses or a stew made of root vegetables and various herbs and spices and hard bread or biscuits as well as probably ale or hard cider or a jug of liquor passed around; and of course water from a stream or spring, fresh and cool.
Farmers often had their noon meal right in the field where they were working rather than coming back to the farmhouse to eat and having to return to the field. It saved time. They often brought leftover meat, bread, cheese, fruit, cookies, jugs of lemonade or cider and jugs of water with them that they carried to the field in a covered basket packed with ice to keep the food cold that they left nearby in some shaded place. Come noon the farmer and his field hands would gather in the shade for a picnic and to rest awhile before returning to their fieldwork….