Monday, April 2, 2012


There is a huge difference between camping and going on a picnic. Although they share one thing in common… eating outside…the similarity stops there.

No cooking is done on a picnic. Everything you need is brought with you in a picnic basket.

Unless you are going to a “picnic” that is a major event. Then it is customary that you bring your utensils and a “covered dish”…in a picnic basket.

Nothing profoundly enlightening in those comments.

Scanning my memory for favorite picnics takes me to the trees in “Wylie’s” yard and pasture. My coziest memories of “Wylie” were when I was from about three to seven years old. I spent most of those summers at her house and many overnight visits until I was twelve.

I know “Wylie” really loved me. How do I know that? She would bake Lemon Meringue, Banana Cream and Coconut Cream pies all the time. We would go outside and sit under a tree and eat them…just “Wylie” and me. She would bring a quilt to sit on and we would talk about things. Just like Alexa and I do now. I’m sure I didn’t eat the whole pie all by myself. But, you know, she wouldn’t have minded if I did.

Another memorable picnic from my childhood was one I went to with the Shorts. They were my cousins on my dad’s side and lived one lot over from us. Everyone always had a big celebration when an oil well “came in”. This particular oil well was one of our relatives’. The celebration was a picnic at the site of the gusher. What made it even more exciting was that Fibber Magee and Molly were there to entertain. “Unknowns” you are thinking. Not so fast. They are in the Radio Hall of Fame! They had a radio show from 1935-1959. It was the top-rated program in America. I got to see them in person at an oil well picnic. Jealous??

Medora, Illinois was where my mother was born and reared and my Grandpa Hunt was the mayor for many years. My memories from visiting my grandparents are always associated with food. Many of my grandmother’s recipes are in this chronicle of my food life.

Medora is in an area where there are lots of farms. People live quite a distance apart. Before transportation was so easy, they rarely got together with friends and relatives from other small towns in the area, even though they might be only ten-twenty miles apart. I had aunts and uncles and cousins who lived in these towns.

I’m sure that the origin of “The Picnic” in Medora was to get everyone together in the summer for a gathering. Food was plentiful from their gardens and it was easy to travel over the dirt roads in the summer.

The event was long awaited. It lasted all day and into the night. The main meal consisted of many covered dishes brought by the families and the meat (probably barbecued brisket) was prepared by a team of volunteers.

Often there would be a carnival with rides set up in a big field and an “orchestra” would play in the evening for a dance. I remember the dance floor being a large concrete slab, maybe a tennis court or basketball court.

The busiest place to be after the meal was the bingo game. Our family’s shelves and cupboards have been full of bingo prizes for decades. Not because they are useful or valuable, but because they evoke such fond memories. Carnival glass would be an exception to the “not valuable” category.

Bingo continued from the time the meal was served until the last hangers-on left late at night.

An event worth mentioning happened when my mother and her sister, my Aunt Bobbie, were in high school in the early 1930s. They were very interested in the handsome young men who had come to Medora to play in the orchestra. They were also interested in their well-being. The girls noticed the boys were in need of a little cleaning up as they had traveled in the heat and over dirt roads to get to Medora to play for the dance. The girls invited the entire orchestra to come to their home to take showers. Mother swore it was Aunt Bobbie’s idea.

Their home had the only running water in the town of Medora. The girls were probably showing off a little and loved getting very positive attention from a large group of handsome musicians. No surprise.

Unfortunately for my mother and Aunt Bobbie, Grandpa Hunt, their father, the Mayor, came home to rest from the activities of “The Picnic”. To his horror, he found a large group of scantily clad young men running about his home. Not good.

“The Picnic” was an event I never wanted to miss. When I was young, my grandparents would take me to the other “picnics” in the area. When I hit my teenage years, I would invite one of my friends from Fairfield to go with us to Medora for “The Picnic”. Of course, we were more interested in the boys coming from the surrounding towns than the rides or the food. We did not, however, ever invite them to come to my grandparents’ home for a shower.

These “picnics” or gatherings have been around for thousands of years…out of necessity…before there were indoor kitchens with microwaves and food processors. Egad!

Today we call them reunions or put “days” after the name of the town. Why is it that picnics today are gatherings and eating outside with flies and other critters is romanticized? When people had to eat outside I doubt that it was romantic.

In the children’s younger days, we had family picnics and picnics with friends and their children.

An annual family Easter picnic came to a near-disastrous end. All of the family had gathered at the pre-determined location that happened to be across a dry wash from the road in and out.

I don’t remember what we had to eat. I just remember that some of the children were playing in the dry wash when someone screamed, “Get the children!” Several people scrambled to grab the children and pull them to safety. It was a flash flood. A wall of water came down the wash and would have swept everyone away. After the flow of water had gotten shallower, everyone had to drive his or her vehicles across the running wash. Many suffered damage to their cars and trucks but all were thankful that the families were safe.

The family Easter picnics are now held at Reid Park under a Ramada. Tradionally they occur on the Saturday before Easter.

Several members of the family have had birthdays on Easter Sunday. A picnic or barbecue was the favorite way to celebrate the event as Arizona’s desert weather is perfect at Easter.

Grandson DV turned one-year old on Easter Sunday in 1997. We had a picnic for our children and grandchildren at the ranch to celebrate. 

Being at the ranch is usually considered a camping experience but we set up our table and camp stove and cooked away. We had cowboy beans, chips and salsa, barbecued hamburgers with all the trimmings and a big birthday cake for DV.

Mi Amigo Pedro’s birthday was on Easter Sunday a couple of years ago. We had a “picnic” in the backyard with family dropping by to wish him well. This is my favorite kind of picnic…indoor plumbing and a dishwasher. The day started with an interesting event. As Peter drank his morning coffee in the kitchen, an image of a cross appeared on the wall. It only lasted for a few minutes. A rather auspicious event I would say.

Many years daughter Robbie, Robbie celebrates her birthday on Easter. She lives far away now but we used to combine her birthday with Easter and the family picnic.
When we first moved to Greer I unwittingly volunteered to run everything. That included Greer Days.

Greer Days activities included a parade, a free meal, and a band to play during the afternoon outside activities, a beer cart where beverages could be purchased, and a country-dance in the evening at Joanies’ cafĂ©.

The picnic was a potluck affair that took place in the empty field across from where the community center is now. Tables and chairs would be borrowed from the VFW in Eagar and one of the churches. The food would be spread out on the tables and served by volunteers.

Jake from Molly Butler’s Lodge would cook delicious meat that the Civic Club purchased.

Before the big event, I would spend countless hours in my real estate office calling women in the community to see what “covered dish” they could bring to the “picnic”. I would ask them to specify if it would be a hot vegetable casserole, beans. a salad, a cake, a pie, or bread. I tried to keep track but it always seemed that few brought what they had signed up for and yet there was always plenty of scrumptious food and it all worked out just fine.

There is a small town parade...the best kind.

My good friends Joey, Kris and Marge would come to Greer from Tucson to visit and always helped out with the event...usually the beer cart.

Greer Days was the time when families would gather in Greer to kick off the summer season. Often, women and children would stay in Greer for the summer and the men would go back to the desert to their jobs, coming to Greer on the weekends to fish and relax.

Greer Days is in June.

The romantic picnic for two:

On Christmas Day in 2010 we headed to the ranch for a picnic…just the two of us. The children spend Christmas with their families and we wanted to do something special.

We took the Lenox Christmas china and salt and pepper shakers, our celebratory Molly Butler champagne glasses, linen napkins, silver napkin rings, Christmas red and green tablecloth, a potted Poinsettia and lots of Christmas decorations.

After decorating the cactus with shimmering tinsel, glass ornaments and red bows, Peter brilliantly used the Yukon to block the wind from our table and we dined in luxury…in the middle of the desert…in the sunshine…outdoors on Christmas day.

Christmas dinner consisted of roast beef sandwiches on fresh, crusty sourdough bread, Wavy potato chips, champagne, Diet Coke and Russell Stover chocolate candy. A great day and memory.

Always keep in a picnic basket:
        Plates (paper or fine china)
        Napkins (paper or linen)
Corkscrew (antique would be nice)
Tablecloth (plastic (yuk) or linen)

And don’t forget:
        Wine goblets (your sterling silver ones won’t break)
        Knives to cut bread and sausage
        Spreaders for butter and cheese

If you have things that need to be kept cold, have a small ice chest handy to bring along too.

The Perfect French Picnic
                Loaf of French bread
                Sweet butter
                Ripe spreading cheese
                Sausage or pate 
                Bottle of wine
                Fresh fruit
                Cakes, cookies and/or chocolates


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