Ingredients for a Victorian Picnic

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Eleanor Rose

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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.

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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.

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"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.

 
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Eleanor Rose

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No mention of a mason jar of your favorite beverage? Hope that was proper or I'd be out.
That's a good point Drew! I'd definitely want you to bring a mason jar full of that concoction @NH Civil War Gal said you made for her and her husband to try. That sounded like some powerful stuff! :giggle:


Eleanor, I thought all those Victorians ate cucumber sandwiches :smile:
So true! And I'm sure they drank a proper cup of tea with it. :giggle:

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captaindrew

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That's a good point Drew! I'd definitely want you to bring a mason jar full of that concoction @NH Civil War Gal said you made for her and her husband to try. That sounded like some powerful stuff! :giggle:




So true! And I'm sure they drank a proper cup of tea with it. :giggle:

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I'll bring plenty! :dance: :D That concoction wasn't too powerful though but it's a good one, but it will sneak up on ya.
 
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Eleanor Rose

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A 19th century newspaper jokingly laid down the following rules for those considering a Victorian picnic:

Never take food to a picnic.

Take plenty of wholesome drink and something to drink it from.

Never go a great distance.

Never take very young children.

Do not stay long.

Have a hearty meal as soon as you get home.


On a more serious note, here’s a must-bring list from 1880.

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Eleanor Rose

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This thread got me thinking about how Victorian ladies were expected to dress for a picnic. I found this gem in "Queen of the Household," written by Mrs. M. W. Ellsworth in 1900:

"Be careful to dress for the entertainment, after consulting the barometer and the thermometer, and after learning the geography of the objective point of the day. A woolen dress that is not too heavy nor yet too new, or a cotton one that is not too thick, with short, trim skirts, solid, easy shoes, that have a friendliness for the feet because of prolonged intimacy with them; pretty, but not too fine or thin stockings; a hat that has a broad brim; a large sun-shade or a sun-umbrella; at least two fresh handkerchiefs; some rings, and needle and thread stowed away in ones portemonnaie or chatelaine-pocket; easy gloves, with ample wrists; a jacket to wear when returning home; and a rug or traveling-shawl to spread upon the ground at dinner time, are among the requisites of personal comfort and prettiness.”

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And for those who might wonder what a portemonnaie is, it is simply a small pocketbook or purse. These could me fancy or plain.

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TnFed

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That's a good point Drew! I'd definitely want you to bring a mason jar full of that concoction @NH Civil War Gal said you made for her and her husband to try. That sounded like some powerful stuff! :giggle:




So true! And I'm sure they drank a proper cup of tea with it. :giggle:

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Have you read the book by Daniel Pool...What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew? It is on Victorian etiquette and manners. Stuff like a stone equals 14 pounds, different clas structure, fox hunting, so forth and so on.
 

donna

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Nice thread. Just love a picnic.

We went to Confederate Memorial Day at Cemetery today. We found graves and got stones for 7 Confederates. After Ceremony had picnic there. It was nice. We had all kinds of sandwiches, chips, several drinks (tea and punch) and many homemade desserts. It was program of 3 UDC Chapters here in Florida and 3 SCV ones here in area.
 
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I guess I like the paintings better than the actual picnic, lol.
I never fully understood the fascination of having your clothes ruined with grass stains and ants running over your food ... and after two hours of painfully shifting your legs from one side to the other you discover that you have no idea how to ever get up again elegantly... thankfully at some point picnic tables were invented!

But the paintings are really gorgeous.
Btw, I had my last picnic at Fort Laramie in Wyoming last summer. At a picnic table, lol!
 
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lelliott19

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I think somewhere along the way, the definition of "picnic" changed from sitting on the ground to what we think of today, with outdoor picnic tables?

In the South at least, "Dinner on the grounds" is a big thing at a lot of country churches. Usually all the ladies of the church bring a dish large enough to share. They set it out on long tables - these tables do not have benches so not really picnic tables. After church, all the food is set out and its a buffet line. I wonder if the concern over lack of refrigeration has put an end to these?

Around here the tables for "dinner on the grounds" are usually concrete built on the grounds of the church, but Ive noticed in other places, the tables are sometimes wood. I wonder why the difference?
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Steph-GB

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picnics here are still very much picnic blankets.. basket and food set out on the blankets.. every Wednesday here tonnes off families all gather down the field not far from me and have a massive get together over the holidays, the kids can all run around playing games whilst adults sit and enjoy socialising. Everyone brings down outdoor games for the kids like footballs, hula hoops etc obviously if its raining then go into the café that is down there instead! The café also hires out picnic blankets and baskets with food in that you can purchase.
 

AshleyMel

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I do sure do like picnics! Ya, growing up our picnics were a spread out blanket on the grass with cold fried chicken and potato salad but my old joints sure do prefer a picnic table now! We actually just went up to the Sequoias with friends and had a picnic. Had to be on the look out for bears but the food and fellowship was great! Not to mention the incredible views of the redwoods!
 
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AshleyMel

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We had to be very careful Steph! There were signs all around warning not to leave your food in the car and bears can break into them! Kinda scary! We kept it simple with just sandwiches, chips and fruit.
 
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