You maybe surprised to find the word picnic has its roots in the late 17th century. It was first coined as ‘pique-nique’, a French word, in a publication called “Origines de la Langue Française de Ménage” in 1692. At this time it was referred to as the recent practice of taking your own wine to a restaurant to accompany a meal. It was over 50 years later that the word picnic appeared in any English literature when the term was used to describe a drinking card playing party; the word was also used at this time in Germany and Sweden. So at this time the common link appears to be the accompanying of wine or other drink to food rather than the practice of outdoor eating, as we know it today.
The connection of the term to an outdoor eating event evolved around the start of the 19th century. The custom of villagers each providing an item of food to a grand outdoor banquet had been around for many years and a ‘potluck’ of food was served. Fashionable Londoners started to use London’s parks for organised picnics, much as their French counterparts used their Royal Parks. Members of London’s Picnic society met on Oxford Street, each bringing their food and drink contributions before setting off for a park. Transporting the food plates and utensils in a basket became the most convenient way and so the picnic basket was born.
The interest in the formal picnic societies waned in the mid 1800’s and as wealth spread to lower social classes the picnic became more of a family and friends affair. The advent of the motorcar at the beginning of the 20th century allowed the picnic to become more mobile, yet the picnic basket remained the prime method of food transportation. Now that the formality of the picnic had waned the family picnic provided not only the chance to eat outdoors but also to relax. There was no competition to provide the ‘best’ food anymore as in the organised formal gathering, and a single cook was more often the sole provider of the food and drink. The more intimate gatherings now sat on a cloth or blanket lain on the ground whilst children play.
Due to its mobile nature picnic foods tend to be ‘finger food’. Sandwiches are easy to make, transport and eat. Most picnic food is eaten cold, such as cold cut meats, sausages and met pies with any cooking preparation being undertaken beforehand. Deserts are often cakes, again as functionality demands.
So you have your perfect location, fine food, excellent wine and entertaining guests, what could go wrong? Well, usually one of two things. A sharp downpour or a swarm of insects! Enjoy your picnic!
If you wish to stage a picnic for your dolls, then we have a free pattern for a knitted picnic blanket on our Ravelry store