Some of the most romantic paintings visible at the Art Institute of Chicago depict picnic scenes without any wind, rain, humidity, or insects to interfere with a perfect day.

From the time I was a child until only about five years ago, my very large extended family gathered for an annual picnic. Around 50 relatives—aunts and uncles, first, second, and third cousins, parents and siblings—gathered to share food, games, and stories. It was all love and fun until the water toss. Then we became a family divided with every man for himself.

The word “picnic” (pique-nique) was seen for the first time in print in the 1692 edition of Tony Willis, Orignines de la Langue Francaise. The word was used to describe a group of people who brought their own wine to a restaurant. It signified everyone contributing toward a meal.

Picnicking became popular after the French Revolution when royal parks were once again opened to the public. From then on, throughout the centuries people have enjoyed a day outdoors and a humble meal brought in a towel or nestled in a basket.

Today’s picnic basket usually consists of a cooler, which is much safer alternative to keeping foods fresh. A few other food-safety precautions include: taking only the amount of food you think you will use, separating raw and cooked foods, keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot, carrying extra water and disposable wipes for clean-ups, and disposing leftovers at the end of the picnic. It isn’t likely the remains will be uncontaminated or bug-free.

The food and activities set the tone of the day. Enjoy a simple meal of peanut butter and jelly or one as sophisticated as caviar and toast points. Fish, toss a Frisbee or ball, play croquet, or lay on the grass and relax to your favorite music.

Don’t let the season pass without packing a lunch and setting out for a park or beach. Shared with friends, family, or a special someone, these are the things that memories are made of.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

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