I read, somewhere, quite a while back, that twenty-five years ago the average American family went on a family picnic five times a year, but in recent times the frequency is less than once a year. I suspect that a similar situation would apply in Britain, Australia, and many other developed countries. No doubt a number of factors are responsible. Our 24/7 society means that the entire family are not likely to have all the weekend off simultaneously – and even if we do, we are often spread geographically over too wide a segment of the country to make get-togethers an easy, spontaneous thing to arrange. If time and geography are not a problem – our attitude (and priorities?) are – when we have time to spare, we tend to retreat to our individual rooms to watch our personal televisions or play with our virtual computer friends.
Bring back the family picnic, I say. Not the sort of grand picnic event requiring “a bill of fare for forty persons” such as Mrs. Beeton recommended in 1861 (which included ‘2 cold cabinet puddings in moulds’), or the sort that end in an embarrassing assassination attempt such as happened at the public picnic for Prince Alfred when he visited Melbourne in 1867, but a picnic in the style of the elegant, genteel Edwardian ‘motoring excursion’ picnic that we enjoyed in a previous blog post.
Should you be so inclined as to organise a family picnic, there are some lovely catering ideas in a little book called For Luncheon and Supper Guests, by Alice Bradley (Boston, 1923). Alice notes in her introduction that many of the dishes recommended as ‘Sunday Night Suppers’ ‘will be found desirable for afternoon teas or evening spreads, and for use in tea and luncheon rooms, and for automobile picnics.’ She goes on to say:
For picnics the beverages and hot dishes may be prepared at home and carried in thermos food jars. The cold dishes may be packed in a small portable refrigerator. The biscuits, sandwiches, cakes, and cookies should be carefully wrapped in wax paper and packed in boxes. Ice creams may be taken in the freezer. Hot sandwiches and bacon may be cooked over the coals or on a portable oil or alcohol stove. In some menus it may be desirable to omit or modify a few of the dishes, if food is to be carried several miles.
Because I know that what most of you like best are retro cake recipes, here is my choice for today, from our book of the day. A lovely cake, quite suitable for a picnic, or luncheon or supper – or breakfast for that matter.
Cream Caramel Layer Cake
Beat until thick
¾ cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar and
¼ cup water. Add
1 cup bread flour sifted with
2 teaspoons baking powder and
¼ teaspoon salt. Add
3 egg yolks and
1 whole egg, well beaten, and
2 tablespoons chocolate caramel syrup.
Bake 20 minutes at 400 degrees F in 2 layer cake pans 7 inches square, and put together with Chocolate Caramel Frosting between and on top.
Chocolate Caramel Syrup
2 squares bitter chocolate over hot water. In a saucepan put
¾ cup sugar and
¼ cup water, and cook until it forms a dark brown syrup. Add
½ cup boiling water and cook until thick. Add slowly to the melted chocolate and stir until smooth.
Chocolate Caramel Frosting
For frosting boil
Chocolate caramel syrup remaining from cake and cook to soft-ball stage. Beat
2 egg whites until stiff and continue beating while slowly adding the syrup. Then add, a little at a
time, enough sifted confectioners' sugar to make of right consistency to spread.
Quotation for the Day
If the rain spoils our picnic, but saves a farmer’s crop, who are we to say it shouldn’t rain?