Updated: May 19
Growing up in France we learned how to create pleasure and elegance around daily events and this is the hard part — we learned to take time to enjoy them.
As the weather gets warmer and the days longer, I find myself longing for the pleasures of meals eaten en plein air, but it’s the picnics of my childhood that I yearn for.
The long car trips from Paris to our grandparent’s home in the South of France are filled with memories of stops on the side of the road for unhurried picnics. The tastes of the food, combined with the scents of the outdoors and the warmth of the midday sun, enveloped us in a sleepiness that we indulged before getting back into the car and continuing on our journey.
The food was not elaborate; on the contrary, it was mostly bought at local markets: bread, saucisson, pâté de campagne, cheese, fresh vegetables, salads, fruits and a good bar of chocolate. To drink, there was always a bottle of local wine and spring water. The setting, a beautiful tablecloth laid out on the ground with glasses, silver, plates and other accoutrements for the occasion. They were all items you would use to set a dining table at home, but by the side of the road they were magical.
It was the incongruity of mixing the beautiful accessories, with the simple foods, in such unexpected settings and the leisurely pace, that created le picnic that I loved so much.
Recipes for Le Picnic . . .
Setting the mood
A beautiful tablecloth or two to accommodate the food and your guests. If the ground is damp I start with cloth waterproof shower curtains and then place the tablecloth on top.
Lighting: Candles and candleholders. These can be anything you like, but remember if it is windy you are better off with a votive in a glass to protect from the wind.
Glasses: I like wine glasses with stems; they add to the elegance and contrast of the environment.
Dishes: One beautiful china plate per person.
Everyone should have a fork. Several butter knives to cut the pâté and cheese.
I always use cloth napkins. They are good for the environment and perfect to protect your dishes in the basket.
Cutting board for serving
Bread: Baguettes are the perfect bread for a picnic because you don’t need a knife. Simply break off the pieces as you need them.
Butter: Enough room temperature butter for each guest.
Meat and Cheese: An assortment of sliced saucisson, pâté de campagne and cheese.
Vegetables: Radishes thinly sliced and placed on a slice of buttered bread and finished off with a sprinkle of salt. Fava beans, removed from their pods and then each bean needs to be peeled again to get to the wonderful flavor. Place the bean on your slice of buttered bread sprinkle with salt. Bring the pods to the picnic and let everyone shell their own.
Salads: Tomatoes cut in half and thinly sliced. Add salt, pepper one tablespoon olive oil to two tablespoons wine vinegar and let it marinate in a container unrefrigerated. The tomatoes will give off their juice and create a wonderful sauce. Serve it with a slice of bread to soak up the dressing.
Carrot salad, grate 4 or 5 large sweet carrots. Season with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Fruits: Fruits that are in season are full of flavor and are perfect for any picnic, but if you want to do something really elegant peel and cut up peaches or nectarines and store them in a container. For dessert serve the fruit in the wine glasses with a teaspoon of sugar and red wine.
Chocolate: Every picnic I remember ended with a piece of chocolate from a good chocolate bar. Resist the urge to get a fancy dessert. Keep it simple with a plain chocolate bar . . . the perfect ending to any picnic.