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The History of the Picnic

picnic1The calendar says July and we are feeling the heat. On a sunny day, we feel the urge to get outside and relax. Of course we will probably find ourselves hungry so we might want to take along some food for a picnic. Where did the term picnic originate?

That is not such as easy question to answer. Most historians agree that picnics evolved from the traditions of outdoor feasts the wealthy classes entertained. There were medieval hunting feasts, banquets in Renaissance times, and garden parties in the Victorian era. In America picnics only go back as far as the middle of the nineteenth century.

Earliest picnics in England were medieval hunting feasts. The convention of having a feast before the hunt started as early as the fourteenth century. Participants would have eaten foods like hams, pastries, and baked meats. Picnicking outdoors, as we know it, became popular during the Victorian era. There are many examples of picnics in the writings of Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope and Jane Austen. Likewise, European painters such as Monet, Cezanne and Renoir depict many scenes of picnics.picnic2

It seems likely that the French invented the word picnic. The French word piquenique combines the French verb piquer which means to pick and the word nique which means something that is worth little or has no value. By1800 the word appears to be widely accepted throughout Europe. The term picnic originally meant a contribution by every guest for a meal. Every invited guest was expected to show up with a dish. The success of the social gathering depended on everyone bringing food. We use the phrase “pot luck” supper to describe such a gathering in America today. Over a period of time the word picnic’s meaning shifted to a gathering that was always held outdoors in a peaceful setting rather than a a meal in which everyone needed to make a contribution. Today a picnic means an excursion that includes sharing a meal outdoors in a pleasant area like a park or garden. A picnic might include two people sharing wine and cheese or a picnic basket with sandwiches and fruit or pastries and home baked goods. It might even be a large community event like a church social or town community day. What distinguishes it from a barbeque is the fact that the meal is already prepared and ready to enjoy outdoors not one that requires the cooking outdoors.

No matter which of these outdoor pastimes you prefer, here’s hoping that the summer will bring us many opportunities to enjoy sharing food with family and friends in the beautiful countryside. Bon Appetit!

Barbara Ann Mojica,

http://www.littlemisshistory.com/