You Might Just Be A "Picnik"...

by Eva Pasco, author of "Underlying Notes"


sixties with Eva Pasco

If the evolution-revolution of an anticonformist underground movement in American culture sprung the word "Beatnik," it makes perfect sense to coin the word Picnik in reference to those who sprawl over the ground or sit at a bench to feast on takeout from home. The earliest picnics originated in England as medieval hunting feasts of social importance for the wealthy. The picnic attained prominence as a traditional American pastime where dining outdoors in a casual atmosphere afforded one an opportunity to leave behind the crumbs of a formal menu in favor of leftovers and convenient portable foods.

Meanwhile, home on the cooking range, cookouts prevail with state of the art grills standing sentinel on two-tier decks. Dime-a-dozen fast food restaurants lure family travelers off of our interstates to chew and shoo. The Sixties were a time when Picniks held their ground. Design often a function dictated by technology or lack thereof, Picniks navigated coolers made of US steel over hilly and rocky terrain as they searched for green pasture to spread out a blanket. These vintage coolers rose to the occasion with a bottle opener mounted on the side along with a drain spout. Some had a detachable tray at the bottom for keeping items dry from the melting ice chunks or cubes. Picniks roughed it in the Sixties without the amenities of freeze packs, zip lock bags, or flip top cans.

As certain as death and taxes, "all foods must perish," influencing Picniks to feast within the nick of time while keeping a lid on things to shield provisions from sunlight and ants. Cains and Hellman's were the Emily Post of mayonnaise--the silent killer if air temperature exceeded 90 degrees F within an hour and your sandwiches or potato salad had been indecently exposed. Fat free mayo hadn't spread itself thin just yet.

Though my family had Lincoln Woods State Park available for outdoor foraging, we were the type of Picniks who searched for an oasis of a picnic ground during our summer road trips throughout New England and Canada. As if locating our destination wasn't challenging enough, my parents kept their eyes open for a favorable spot to have lunch. Our picnics resembled medieval banquets as my father cooked steaks on our Coleman stove, served up with a tossed salad, baked potato, and bread 'n butter. Dad may have done the honors, but Mom had packed everything with precision the morning of. Rain never deterred us Picniks, as we'd simply open the rear gate of the station wagon for cooking and polish off our meal inside the dining car.

Wicker picnic baskets and retro coolers have joined the ranks of nostalgic items from bygone eras. Picnic grounds still abound, though the art of casually dining outdoors seems to have ground swelled to the proclivity of camping. Picniks know there's nothing like a spur of the moment whim to pack it all in the confines of a cooler.

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