Picnicking Through The Ages | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Picnicking Through The Ages

Play associated audio

Whether a shepherd, an explorer, a hunter or a fairgoer, people have been eating outside since the beginning of time.

"The dictionaries confirm the word 'picnic' first surfaced in the 18th century, so we were picnicking before we had the term," says research librarian and food historian Lynne Olver, who runs the Food Timeline website.

"The original definition of the word 'picnic' denoted something like a potluck," she says, "so you would have a bunch of people getting together, and each would be contributing to the feast."

One of the earliest accounts of picnicking, she says, comes from tales of Robin Hood. He and his Merry Men would informally dine on bread, cheese and ale under the trees, Olver says. But picnics, she notes on her site, also evolved from the tradition of elaborate movable feasts among the wealthy.

"Back in the day," she notes, "you had medieval hunting feasts, Elizabethan country parties."

And in the Victorian era, picnics were very grand affairs indeed. In 1861, the definitive list of the Victorian picnic fare for England's upper class appeared in Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management. One could not eat outdoors without tables, linens, crystal, chairs, servants — and gourmet fare, of course. It's a far cry from our blankets and coolers, but the idea was ultimately the same.

Over time, picnic baskets have also evolved.

"Woven baskets have been used to port food from the very earliest times forward," Olver says. "The reason is they are light, they are sturdy, they are easily adapted for specific purposes. The largest ones seem to resemble trunks, and that might be where we get the picnic hamper from. Picnic basket kits as we know today — having placeholders for dishes and silverware and glasses and napkins — actually begin to appear at the very dawn of the 20th century."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Hollywood Pros Fear A Chilling Effect After Sony Bows To Hackers

Some in the entertainment industry are wondering if they'll have to be careful now about the stories they tell or the jokes they make in the wake of Sony's withdrawal of The Interview.
NPR

Antarctic Holiday: A Christmas Feast In The Loneliest Spot On Earth

For Dr. Gavin Francis, Christmas Eve marked the start of a year-long stay in an icy research base 8,700 miles from home. In this "empire of ice and isolation," he says, food is essential to morale.
NPR

North Korea Has An Interesting Offer. And Another Threat

The secretive regime denies any involvement with the Sony Pictures hack and says the U.S. must allow it to help find the real culprit. Or else.
NPR

Hollywood Pros Fear A Chilling Effect After Sony Bows To Hackers

Some in the entertainment industry are wondering if they'll have to be careful now about the stories they tell or the jokes they make in the wake of Sony's withdrawal of The Interview.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.