The earliest memories of a picnic date back to the time when I was perhaps in Class V. Strangely, picnics were most frequent during the hot summer months when the whole clan got together for a two-month long school break. The basic ingredients were simple: a dozen or so water melons and a large sack of mangoes. Destination: a canal. Time: sunrise. Transport: Willys jeep.
The first thing you did on arrival at the canal guest house was to unload watermelons and mangoes and dunk them into shallow water. Next, the kids jumped into the frothing head of the main canal. The elders took their time to get into this indigenous water park but they eventually did and enjoyed the coolness of the swiftly flowing current.
After the fruits had been cooled for an hour, you broke open the watermelons and ate. Next, you go for the mangoes. Jump back into the water if you have dripped some fruit on yourself. Four hours of frolicking in the water and you head back home for your mid morning siesta. A no-frills, fun-filled picnic done. Repeat every day or week!
Winter time picnics were near historical sites, a fort or a monument. The gardens there provided a happy, colourful ambience. The eats: mutton curry cooked over a slow fire wolfed down with homemade puris.
The picnic is a very British concept. It started as a 'moveable feast' during the medieval times and was also known as 'hunting feast.' During the Renaissance period, it evolved into elaborate outdoor banquets and it was not until the mid-19th century that contraception like the picnic basket came into vogue. The current variations of the picnic basket are the picnic packs and homemade picnic delicacies like cakes, ale, patties etc (or even our own purie-sabzi menu) have been replaced with fast food and chips packets. In fact most hotels in the hills, like the Cecil in Shimla offer a picnic afternoon to their guests and as part of the package, throw in a hamper of luscious fruits and eats, all a throwback to the time the British were in India and Shimla was their Summer Capital..
For a classic picnic, here are some tips:
Picnic baskets are available in many variations. But the classic is the one with two hinged trap doors that open on either side of a handle. You can buy one from a nearby cane furniture store.
Have no time to go out and buy one? Well, try a cardboard box with cutouts on either side for handy carrying. Big paper grocery bags will also do; even better are the reusable bags with a rectangular shape preserver at the bottom and it should be big enough to take everything you need.
How to pack the basket
- Pack the food in water-tight, reusable plastic containers. You can either separate the food into portions or into courses.
- Line the bottom of the water cooler with ice or a cold pack.
- Put the plastic containers of food in the bottom of the cooler. The most perishable foods that need to be kept the coldest should be placed at the very bottom.
- Scatter ice or cold packs around the food and place beverages on top. You can freeze beverages in plastic bottles to help keep your food cold. When they melt you will have icy cold drinks.
- Place the cooler with a folded bed sheeet on top. The sheet will offer extra insulation and will be easy to pull out when you arrive at your destination.
- Put small items such as insect repellent, sunscreen and sunglasses on top of the picnic basket, since you will likely need them the soonest
- Choose foods for your picnic that are lightweight, easy to eat and slow to wilt or spoil.
- Traditional picnic fare includes boiled eggs, sandwiches or cold chicken, macaroni or potato salad, biscuits and cold drinks.
- Anything you enjoy eating at home as heavy snack is good for a picnic.
- Avoid taking eatables that are messy or too liquidy, like curries or soups.
- Also, do not take food items which require much cutlery to be eaten.
- Disposable plates, forks, spoons, cups and napkins.
- Don't forget to pack salt and pepper for seasoning; and cups for drinking.
- If you're packing wine, don't forget the bottle opener.
- Keep food cool with an ice pack or freeze a few bottles of water for drinking and cooling the other items in the picnic.
- Take large extra brown paper bags for garbage and dirty silverware.
- A light- weight sheet for sitting area.
- A small can of bug spray will keep the mosquitoes/flies at bay.
- If your picnic is to take place after dark, some candles and matches.
- Create a picnic playlist and take the MP3 player with speakers for mood music.
- Some travel-sized games or a deck of cards should also be on the packing list.
- A pair of binoculars
- A swiss knife (optional)
- Collapsible tent and chairs,
Ashwini is a Lucknow-based media professional who culls out travel experiences while on mundane assignments