- Nov 26, 2016
- central NC
It was in the mid-19th century that picnics first became popular. Once our Victorian friends discovered them, they became a favorite pastime for many during the spring and summer. Late 19th-century church or social association records frequently mention huge picnics organized by women’s auxiliaries. There are also numerous 19th century artistic renderings of Victorian picnic scenes.
While they called for their own proper behavior, picnics allowed our Victorian friends to briefly escape formal Victorian parlor etiquette. Of course the food served and the activities enjoyed at a Victorian picnic were supposed to be tasteful and genteel. There were written rules about what to wear, what games to play and exactly how much hand holding was allowed for the courting couple.
In the 1891 etiquette manual entitled, "Our Manners and Social Customs," author Daphne Dale called for picnics to be followed by group singing, the playing of musical instruments, the telling of amusing stories and "games and romping--for the rigidest disciplinarian will romp when there is green grass underfoot." A courting couple might even pair off "and then who shall say what glances may be exchanged?" Chaperones were strongly encouraged; usually one of each sex, to ensure those glances didn’t lead to anything inappropriate. Picnics were not an excuse for young men and women to behave badly.
In 1884, Mrs. S.D. Power wrote a household management manual called "Anna Maria's Housekeeper." She dedicated a chapter on what to take to a picnic. Her instructions included how to pack one's fine china into a picnic hamper, but she also suggested that church parishes acquire sets of unbreakable wooden dishes for the increasingly popular church picnic.
She emphasized that all food should be easy to handle. Sandwiches were best, particularly when filled with something that late 19th-century eaters called a "salad." This meant cold cooked beef, ham or chicken chopped finely and held together with mayonnaise. This was supposed to be easier to eat neatly than sandwiches filled with slices of meat. Mrs. Power suggested wrapping the sandwiches separately in paper and tying them with pretty ribbon. Plain bread and butter, chunks of cheese, and cold sliced ham, tongue or chicken were also recommended and for a colorful garnish or side dish, she suggested "pickles." In 1884, "pickles" referred to any pickled vegetables, chutney-type preserves or preserved fruits.
Mrs. Power wrote, "No, I shall not forget the cake and you may depend on its being the only thing that other people will not forget either." She suggested pound cake, fruit cake or sponge cake. Gingerbread was also quite popular.
"A Picnic in the Pink Garden" by Vladimir Pervuninsky
It’s interesting to note that picnickers were encouraged to show respect for the environment by cleaning up thoroughly after the picnic was concluded. Victorian picnics were intended to be very civilized affairs.
* I posted a recipe for Chicken Salad Sandwiches adapted from "Anna Maria's Housekeeper" in the Food Forum. Make sure you check it out before you pack your next picnic.