Saturday, July 4, 2009

Writer/designer Deborah Gaslin's Fourth of July Picnic Essay and Recipes

Summer time is here and this presents us all with the perfect opportunity to pack up our meals and head outside with friends and family for a picnic. What is the allure of eating outside? Nostalgia for the days of the cave or some civilized triumph over nature that we bring our indoor dining outdoors. Whatever the case, Americans of all backgrounds embrace the idea of the summer family picnic.

And these families are not what we see in those glossy gourmand food & lifestyle magazines. I personally feel out of touch looking at those slick choreographed families. Everyone is so neat and tidy and the children are wearing white! The “homemade” picnic is presented like sculpture as if everyone had a personal chef. Let’s get real. That’s not what family summer picnics are really like.

Family picnics are like hog piles. Everyone arrives en mass to the agreed meeting place bringing their picnic contribution. And so begins a mixing of tables, linens, baskets, and coolers as everyone negotiates a spot. Most everyone has picnic traditions within their family that get passed down and on from older generations to newer generations. These traditions take the form of classic recipes, seasonal beverages, kitschy picnic linens, picnic baskets of all kinds, and favorite summer games. Throw in the odd assortment of lawn chairs, lounge chairs, stadium stools and various blankets spread all over the ground for the young and old to lounge around on while meals are being prepared.

There is no rhyme or reason to this activity and no need for any. Everyone makes their way around and we all know as the day wears on, sated by food and drink, picnickers get mellow and relax. Picnics have no rules. Picnics are where you can let it all hang out. Let your inner goof loose and play tag with the kids or endless rounds of Corn Hole. Or maybe this will be the year you beat your grandpa at cribbage. Picnics allow for people to do the things they do not give themselves the time for during their everyday lives.

The heart of the picnic is the food. When I picnic with family, I look forward to eating lots of bratwurst, beans and weenies, deviled eggs, potato salad, & ambrosia. Mind you, I never eat this fare or feed it to my family at home. But take us to a summer picnic and we are all over these delicacies like white on rice. This is the picnic food of our family’s generations before us– a mix of Norwegian, English, Austrian, Scottish, and Irish palettes. When sharing stories at friends’ picnics, I have learned of food and meals for summer picnics that have passed down from their familys’ generations before them. Mouth-watering offerings of whole-roasted BBQ pigs cooking in oil drums for hours, dolmas on the BBQ, chicken curry salad on saffron rice in large metal camping bowls, and tamales in a Dutch oven over a campfire.

Learning of others’ picnic traditions has inspired me and my family to “borrow” those ideas and bring them into our summer picnic repertoire. We’re sure our children will continue to share our family summer picnic traditions to future generations. America is forever a continuous melting pot of people, ideas, culture, and, best of all, food.

Gaslin Urbane Farm Potato Salad
(This is a make-a-day-ahead salad)

6 medium potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
2 stalks celery, chopped small
4 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped fine
1/3 cup scallions, chopped – just the green parts
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
2 tsps Dijon style mustard
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
6 hard cooked eggs, peeled and chopped.

Cook potatoes in boiling water until just tender (20-25 minutes). Drain well. Peel and cube. In a large bowl, combine celery, bacon, scallions, mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add potatoes and eggs, (after they have cooled slightly). Toss to mix. Cover and chill for 6-12 hours. Makes 12 (1) cup portion servings.

Stuffed Burgers for the Bar-B (Adapted from Rachel Ray’s Kid Food Cookbook)

1 lb lean ground beef
Onions or scallions to taste Makes 4 burgers
4 shakes of worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp allspice
½ tsp cumin
Pepper to taste
Cheese - choose what you like – the stinkier the better – cut into chunks
1 tomato
Burger buns or Kaiser rolls or ciabatta

Mix beef, onion, Worcestershire sauce, allspice, cumin and pepper in a bowl. Choose a patty-size of beef and form it around the cheese chunk. Patties should be no more than ¾” thick. Repeat for a total of 4 patties.

Cook burgers on medium hot BBQ for 5-6 minutes each side. Meat should be cooked thoroughly and cheese melted. Tell children cheese will be hot! Salt to taste. Put in buns or rolls and top with tomato, lettuce and condiments. Serve with chips, potato salad or green salad.

No comments: