The History of the American Picnic
"As American as apple pie," picnics are deeply entrenched into American culture. American summers are filled with sandwiches at the beach, potato salad at the park, and watermelon eating contests near the lake. Whether it is a picnic for two, or a huge community potluck - picnics are versatile and flexible. The joy of eating outside - whether seated on a gingham blanket in the grass or at a picnic table - is a tradition that is practiced from coast to coast.Origins of the Picnic
The picnic was born in the 14th century when hunting parties were served an intricate medieval meal outside. This tradition was a favored activity by the nobility during the Renaissance and Regency eras, and picnics became highly formal and elegant as a result.
Picnics were even an inspiration for painting masterpieces, such as Francois Lemoyne's Hunt Picnic, and Claude Monet's The Picnic. These two paintings also show the transition from the casual picnic setting to more elegant feasts. And what would a Jane Austen novel be without an elaborate manners-driven picnic to move the story forward?
The written word, "picnic" was derived from the 17th century French word "pique-nique" - meaning an outside eating celebration where everyone brings a dish of food to share. It was very similar to the modern day "potluck," but these "pique-niques" were usually very elaborate and could last for multiple days. Though picnicking was certainly practiced well before this date in England and throughout Europe. The Oxford English Dictionary didn't admit the word "picnic" into the English language until 1748.Picnicking in America
The "grand picnic" concept so loved in Europe is not the tone of the American picnic tradition. Much more "homegrown" and less formal, American picnics are filled with regional cuisine, family favorites, and often food that is easy to transport.
Picnicking became very popular in the United States in the mid-1800s. Local churches and towns are to thank for spreading the picnicking trend. Townspeople seized this opportunity to socialize, share food, and foster a sense of community.
Now, the picnic is seen as a staple of summertime - Americans love to pack up their baskets, grab a blanket, and set up an outdoor meal amidst the beauty of nature.A Joyful American Tradition
Picnics are far more than just grabbing a quick bite to eat while outside - picnics are a time of celebration. Ranging from decadent and indulgent formal affairs, to a simple lunch of PB&J and juice boxes in the park with your toddler - picnics are forever knit into the fabric of American culture.