Picnicking over the decades
PUBLISHED: 10:52 22 June 2018
Picnics are not just for teddy bears. Lynne Mortimer reviews the modern history of picnics.
In this personal look back over six decades of picnics, it remains a source of wonder that the “party egg”, like a miniature scotch egg is now a staple. And who could have imagined that not only would carrot sticks arrive on the picnic scene but that they could be purchased “ready-sticked”.
In the 1960s, my mum and her girlfriends and their young children would take the bus to the park with a picnic and they would sit on a blanket and chat while the kids made daisy chains and searched for four-leaf clovers.
What was special about those picnics? The soft, white bread rolls, purchased that morning from the baker’s at the end of the road. Usually the bread was a standard sliced loaf but picnics were special. The rolls were buttered and wrapped in greaseproof paper while out came the new Tupperware, a selection of hardy, close-sealed plastic containers designed to keep the food fresh. Into these went spring onions, radishes, hard-boiled eggs and sliced ham or luncheon meat.
Mum would make up a vacuum flask of tea or coffee for herself and I would have some diluted squash. And that was about it unless mum had time to make a cake.
A day at the seaside had special picnic requirements, you only needed to take some ham rolls because you bought chips and a tray of tea to take on the beach. Salt was unnecessary as the sea spray was the perfect condiment and the sand added texture.
Memorably, in 1975, when my husband was at Oxford University, he took me punting and we stopped by a grassy bank and ate a picnic of a packet of crisps and a bottle of pop... it seemed romantic at the time. The main event of the Seventies was the 1977 Silver Jubilee street party, with attendees contributing a plate of food. I recall making a beeline for my mum’s cheese scones. That’s the slight drawback of a communal picnic, the nicest-looking food goes first. This is great for the people who take home empty plates but a little demoralising for those whose fish paste sandwiches, just beginning to curl at the edges remained untouched.
By the eighties it began to dawn on us that the picnic could be a status symbol. Thus it was that on a warm Saturday in August we and our friends headed for Pleasurewood Hills, near Lowestoft with a very superior picnic – not the food, the accessories. We set the picnic table with a pristine, white linen cloth and planted a candelabra at its centre. An affectation but a practical one – it stopped the cloth blowing away.
By now disposable tableware was more common and we drank Bucks Fizz from plastic champagne flutes and, as the little train that circumnavigates the theme park chugged by, the passengers broke out into a spontaneous round of applause.
The nineties saw little change, except that I was now more inclined to sit on a folding chair than a blanket and there was more pressure on picnic sites. Many places now provided picnic seating, bins and even the unaccustomed luxury of a loo. The hamper was also de rigueur. These wicker baskets with their fitted interiors became a common sight. If, in addition, yours had F&M (Fortnum and Mason) on the lid, you were very definitely superior. A cool box and a couple of carrier bags sufficed for us.
In the noughties, prepared picnic/snack food claimed its place on the tartan blanket.
All of a sudden (or did it creep up on us) party eggs, falafel, tiny sausage rolls and crudités - sticks of celery, red and green peppers and carrot. Along with these, came the dips - hummus, guacamole, sour cream and chive etc. The picnic came of age... not that the weather was always compliant.
An Easter picnic at Ickworth, near Bury St Edmunds, was planned. In the east, the sun was warm and shining in a clear blue sky. But as we travelled westward – ho! A cold, damp mist descended and we ate our picnic standing in the car park watching lambs in the adjacent field huddle up to their mothers.
The last few picnics, in recent years, have been held in association with outdoor theatre. Arriving early at the venue, you settle down with your insect repellent, supermarket snack food and a bottle of pop to enjoy the atmosphere and allow the actors to cajole you for a crisp. This year, I shall be going to see The Importance of Being Earnest and I have to say, bearing in mind the lack of cucumber for sandwiches in the first scene, I shall be tempted to take my own.
Best picnic spots in East Anglia
The official 2018 National Picnic Week Best Picnic Spots in the region are:
Winner: Sheringham Park – 1,000 acres with an abundance of wildlife. “Watch the birds and the butterflies from the park’s towers and take in the views of the coast and steam train lines that still serve the local area.”
Runner-Up: Holywells Park, Ipswich – “One of our all-time favourites. Here you can enjoy a picnic on land that goes back as far as the Stone Age...”
The locations were chosen for their outstanding natural beauty and historical significance... (with) something for everyone.
What else to pack on a picnic... not including food.
• A bag to put your rubbish in
First aid/prevention: do take insect repellent and sting relief in case of wasps.
• Hand wipes: There will be stickiness.
• Sun cream/hat/umbrella/pullover: any or all of these may be required.
• A spirit level: to help securely site grandma’s folding chair. No one likes to see an older relative tip over while trying to hang on to their ham roll.