The Perfect Picnic

The Weekend Cook

My Mother's Potato Salad
My Mother's Potato Salad. Linda Larsen

A picnic is the perfect way to celebrate a weekend. Summer just shouldn't pass by without at least one meal eaten outdoors. Sitting on a thick quilt, eating a meal with friends as it slowly grows dark, listening to the crickets and watching fireflies appear is just wonderful.

There are so many places to hold picnics. Your backyard or porch may be the perfect spot. But think about making it even easier on yourself and pick a spot away from home.

Parks, creekside, out on a boat, at a playground, or near a lake are all wonderful locations. Choose the spot with your comfort and your guest's in mind. Make sure there are tables if the people you're inviting aren't comfortable sitting on the ground. And always have a contingency plan just in case the weather is stormy on your picnic night.

There are logistics to consider when you are packing a movable feast. Food safety is number one. Anything left out of refrigeration should be thrown away after two hours (one hour if it's really warm), or placed back in the refrigerator. Don't count on your cooler to keep food safe after you've eaten, even if you still have plenty of unmelted ice. The cooler isn't mean to re-chill food, only to keep it cold after it's been chilled.

So you don't forget anything, make a master list several days before your picnic. Check it over again in the next few days.

You will probably think of things to add. Pack your picnic basket carefully, remembering to cross items off your list as you add them. Lots of big napkins, salt and pepper and other condiments, serving and eating utensils, moist towelettes for cleaning hands before eating, paper or plastic plates and cups (or use china and glassware if you really want to be fancy), and a big bag for garbage are the bare minimum.

I learned about a great tip for cleaning up after a picnic - cleaning people, not dishes! Rinse some big, thick face cloths in hot water, squeeze to drain and wrap in foil, then place in a heavy duty plastic zipper bag. You'll have warm, damp towels to pass around after everyone has eaten. That's a real luxury!

Pack your cooler carefully, and wrap food very well. The most perishable foods should be on the bottom, where it's coldest. Make sure you have plenty of ice in heavy-duty plastic zipper bags, and layer them throughout the cooler. Or freeze those freezer packs and use lots of them. One great idea is to freeze water in plastic bottles, leaving some headspace for expansion. Then put the bottles in your cooler. The ice will gradually melt, and you'll have ice water to drink as a bonus! All the foods here are prepared ahead of time. As always, substitute, add or subtract ingredients to your taste. Follow the directions carefully, be sure to bring a huge thick tablecloth or quilt to sit on or to cover the picnic table, and enjoy your weekend getaway.

The Perfect Picnic

  • The Best Lemonade
    Simple syrup is the secret to perfect lemonade. If you want your lemonade to stay cold and never get diluted, make some extra and freeze it in ice cube trays to add to glasses.
  • Potato chips
  • Ciabatta rolls
  • Sandwich meats
  • Mayonnaise, mustard, relishes
  • Lettuce and tomato for sandwiches
  • My Mother's Potato Salad
    This perfect recipe for potato salad takes a bit of time, but it's so worth it. This is the best potato salad I've ever eaten.
  • Melon Salad
    The combination of honey and lemon juice with sweet and tender melons is really fabulous. If Farmer's Markets are open in your area, go there for the best produce selection.
  • My Mom's Oatmeal Cookies
    And this is the perfect picnic dessert! Drop cookies are the classic portable dessert, and this chewy and delicious recipe is the best.