I love the idea of an Edwardian-style summer picnic. I imagine my children all dressed in filmy white dresses with gigantic hair bows or cute sailor outfits with their hair parted just right. I'd finally have found a sunhat big enough for my head of thick hair and my husband would straighten his bow tie and twirl his mustache with one hand while swatting away the flies with a newspaper in the other. We'd feast on an assortment of pickled and jarred things before strolling near the lake---our children remaining immaculately clean and gloriously happy the entire time. Can this idyllic scene be real? Probably not without a butler, a couple maids, and a nanny thrown in. That doesn't mean I can't have my own modern version, though. It's not important that I capture that exact scene. What's important is that I capture the emotions that scene evokes.
“Station Wagon Picnic,” by Mauro Scali, from American Weekly Magazine cover - June 24, 1956.
(See, they ate dinner in the car in the "good old days", too!)
Set the Scene
A great front (or back) yard picnic starts with setting the scene. We used to have a lovely wooden picnic table, but it belonged to the owners of a house we once lived in so we had to leave it behind. I suppose I could run out and buy a couple---but I think I'll look around and see what I have already. Last summer, a neighbor gave us an old glass-top table and another neighbor gave us a plastic kids-size table. These will do fine for now. If you don't have an outside table, consider moving your dining room table to the lawn, setting up a board on sawhorses, or opening the trunk of your car to serve as a picnic buffet table. Once I cover the tables with a sheet or tablecloth, they'll look festive enough.
While our large family pretty much requires an actual buffet table, maybe you want to skip the table all together and just use a blanket and a basket. Don't have a pretty red and white checkered blanket with a perfectly-woven picnic basket to use? Never fear! A flat bed sheet works just fine for a picnic blanket and you can line a plastic tote or cardboard box with a pretty pillowcase or two to carry your food out in.
The Essential Stuff
Next you'll want to think about what you'll need to serve the food on. Paper plates and plastic utensils are usually considered picnic essentials but they're more hassle than they're worth, in my opinion. They're flimsy, for one thing, causing younger kids to spill them and older ones to have a hard time balancing them on their laps. In addition to that, the expense of disposable plates could be used on something more fun---like bendy straws! In the "old days" people *gasp* took their kitchen dishes with them on picnics and brought them home to be washed up that evening. (Melmac, anyone?) Consider using the dishes and utensils from your own kitchen at your front yard picnic. It will save you money and will be more comfortable for everyone. I guarantee you the Edwardians would have loved having the option of sippy cups and capped water bottles at their outside meal times.
What's For Dinner?
Finally, you'll need to figure out your menu. I recommend choosing things that you can assemble, little by little, the day before so you don't find yourself throwing it together at the last minute. We love to grill steak, chicken, or burgers and serve bowls of side dishes at our picnic buffet. If you want to go easier, consider a sandwich filling like chicken or egg salad, rather than the same ol' lunchmeat or peanut butter that your kids might eat every day. Here are 10 Delicious Picnic Sides & Salads to give you some inspiration---all of which can be made the day before and stored in the fridge until time for your picnic. Make sure to end with a lovely old-fashioned picnic dessert like a cake or strawberry torte.
In these days of Pinterest-envy, we tend to think our events have to be flashy, extravagant, and expensive. Our family has always appreciated good, old-fashioned, free fun! Here are some ideas for games you can play to get your family laughing and enjoying one another at your old-fashioned front yard picnic:
- Hide and Seek
- Find the ________ (thimble, pocket watch, etc.)
- I Spy
- Red Rover
- Red Light, Green Light
I'd love to hear about your ideas for old-fashioned summer fun! Let me know in the comments below.