Party Pointer: History of Picnics

Picnics usually evoke a pleasurable state of mind. The history of picnics and eating outdoors can be seen in many famous European paintings—by artisits Peter Brueghel, Claude Monet, Edouard Manet and others. These show the popularity of this activity throughout time.

“Historically picnics were meals to which each person attending contributed something. This idea of a “potluck” meal goes back to the Greek word syncomist, which means ‘ brought from different places and put together.” A syncomist initially was a coarse bread made of the by-products of flour. Syncomist was expanded to designate a meal in common to which everyone brings something, or a picnic. These communal meals spread throughout the continent and were enjoyed by Scandinavians, Germans, and French.

The picnic as an English institution was first described in the early nineteenth century as a fashionable social entertainment to which everyone took something. The institution evolved to include excursion parties to the country, where either everyone contributed food or one person provided the entire picnic. In the early 19th century, the English has a Picnic Society devoted to entertainment and theatricals as well as dining, where each member contributed something. The English, French, and other Europeans continue this tradition of outdoor dining”. (Pages 2-3)

“Our present-day concept of a sandwich is often associated with portable meals or picnics. The idea of a sandwich as a snack goes back to Roman times, Scandinavians perfected the technique with the Danish open-faced sandwich or smorrebrod, consisting of thinly sliced, buttered bread and many delectable toppings.

These elaborate concoctions are not as portable as their sturdy American counterparts but can be constructed on-site and are highly suitable for an elegant picnic. The Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, the eighteenth-century gambler who was known to have sat at the gaming table for twenty-four hours with nothing more than roast beef placed between two slices of toast for his nourishment, is the person to whom we are indebted for putting a top on the sandwich.” (Page 4)

From Picnic: 125 Recipes with 29 Seasonal Menus by DeeDee Stovel. North Adams, MA: Storey Books, 2001

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