Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Pic-Nic Supper.

A picnic is an outdoor, sit-on-the-ground and ignore-the-ants-and-snakes kind of meal, isnt it? Well, it wasn’t always so. Once upon a time (surely one of the happiest phrases of all time), it was a social entertainment of the theatrical kind. A group called the Pic-Nic Society was formed in London in 1801 whose raison d’être was to provide and enjoy private theatricals and other social entertainments. I must find out more about this society – its aim was laudable, and we should perhaps revive it in our modern society which often seems deficient in the laudable aims department.

At some time or other it also came to mean a social event arranged around eating. I am not myself familiar with any other sort of social event, but perhaps there may have been some in the history of the world. Anyway, originally, the main feature of a pic-nic was that ‘each person present contributed a share of the provisions.’ An article in The Times of 1802 explained it.

As the expression of a Pic-Nic Supper is become so fashionable, though much oftener used than understood, it may be necessary to explain it for the information of many of our Readers:-
A Pic-Nic Supper consist of a variety of dishes. The Subscribers to the entertainment have a bill of fare presented to them, with a number against each dish. The lot which he draws obliges him to furnish the dish marked against it, which he either takes with him in his carriage, or sends by a servant. The proper variety is preserved by the talents of the Maitre d’Hotel, who forms the bill of fare. As the cookery is furnished by so many people of fashion, each strives to excel: and thus a Pic-Nic supper not only gives rise to much pleasant mirth, but generally can boast of the refinement of the art.

We have considered picnics before in this blog. We have had a story with a cast that starred Mole and Rat (from Wind in the Willows) and Mrs. Beeton, a story about an Australian picnic in 1867 for the Duke of Edinburgh that went dreadfully awry, and we have considered the sort of picnic one has on a motoring excursion. We are yet to seriously ponder the serious nationalistic-linguistic issues around the word picnic, but I am sure we will get around to it one day - a day when I am at home and not struggling with erratic internet access.

In the meanwhile, I think we should participate in a virtual picnic, but with more of the pot-luck variety of catering. Here is my virtual contribution – Is it a curry? Is it a savoury jelly? Is it a jellied meat salad? It is all of the above, it is Tipperary Curry from Modern domestic cookery, by a lady (1851)

Tipperary Curry.
Boil 4 chickens, and stuff 2 of them when cold with a forcemeat made of crumbs of bread, a few slices of ham or tongue, sweet herbs, and a shalot well pounded and mixed with the yolk of an egg. Stuff the other 2 with boiled rice, lay them in a mould or dish, with 8 hard-boiled eggs cut in half, a few mushrooms, a little pickled lemon cut in thick rings. Pour over the chickens a gravy made as follows:- Fry an onion in a little butter, add a tablespoonful of curry-powder, 1 of vinegar, 1 of mushroom-ketchup, a little salt, and little more than a pint of good veal broth; if the broth does not jelly, isinglass must be put into it to make it do so. When cold turn it out on a dish. it is a great improvement to bone the chickens, the bones helping to make the gravy.

Quotation for the Day.

Anti-alcoholics are unfortunates in the grip of water, that terrible poison, so corrosive that out of all substances it has been chosen for washing and scouring, and a drop of water added to a clear liquid like Absinthe, muddles it.
Alfred Jarry.


Ken Albala said...

I LOVE the water quote. And I had absinthe just a few hours ago. But maybe I'm muddled, it's already Tuesday where you're writing! Normally I cite WC Fields to the effect aht I never touch the stuff. You know what fish have been doing in that? Actually he was much cruder. Gulp

Shay said...

I was just reading a new acquisition (Modern Priscilla magazine circa 1922) last night and there was an article on motoring picnics. The supplies list included a hatchet, and a shovel and basket or pail to take advantage of "chance finds."

Nothing like trespassing and digging up a total stranger's garden.

The Austerity Kitchen said...

What a wonderful post. I too think pic-nic suppers need to come back into vogue. I would do them more often if I didn't live in gray and rainy New England!

Mark said...

This is fascinating. I for one had no idea that a picnic was anything other than a rug on the floor, some wilted cheese and tomato sandwiches and a glass of fizzy pop (I'm describing my family picnics on the Gower coast in South Wales, c.1976). I think you're right, we need to revive the true picnic tradition!