A Minor History Of Le Pique-Nique


Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, by Manet, Edouard.

Where the word ‘picnic’ comes from is something of a mystery but it is conjectured that the French root may derive from the verb piquer (‘to peck’ or ‘to pick’) and the noun nique (‘a small amount’ or ‘nothing whatsoever’); but this is just speculation.

What is certain, however, is that, originally, it did not refer to anything we would now recognise as a picnic. A favourite pastime of the aristocracy, picnics came into their own during the 18th century they were enshrined as purely indoor affairs, held at home or in hired rooms. The guests could either bring a dish or drink or pay a share of the cost. They were associated with conversation and wit and portrayed as intellectual refinement.

And then along came the French Revolution and to put it bluntly, everything went pear shaped. Fearing for their lives, aristocratic picnickers fled abroad, some to Austria, others to Prussia while others even made it to America, while the majority plumped for Britain. Settling primarily in London, they were often short of money; but they did their best to maintain their old way of life, bringing the picnic to England with them. This led to two important developments.

In 1801 a group of 200 wealthy young Francophiles, founded the ‘Pic Nic Society’. Held in hired rooms in Tottenham Street, their gatherings were self-consciously extravagant. Every member was required to bring a dish (decided by lot) and six bottles of wine. Held in hired rooms in Tottenham Street, their gatherings were self-consciously extravagant. The society was short lived to be replaced by a more profound development.

Pic Nics were taken up by the emergent middle classes and moved outdoors. What caused this change is somewhat unclear; but the most likely explanation is that the socially aspirational simply applied a fashionable French word to a pre-existing practice. A result of all this was that picnicking became a simple meal to which people were invited by a host morphing into a more ‘genteel’ and more innocent leisure activity.

Mrs Beeton on the other hand, suggested in 1861 that a bill of fare for a picnic for 40 persons should include a joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue, 2 veal‑and‑ham pies, 2 pigeon pies, 6 medium‑sized lobsters, 1 piece of collared calf’s head, 18 lettuces, 6 baskets of salad, 6 cucumbers, stewed fruit well sweetened, and put into glass bottles well corked, 3 or 4 dozen plain pastry biscuits to eat with the stewed fruit, 2 dozen fruit turnovers, 4 dozen cheesecakes, 2 cold cabinet puddings in moulds, 2 blancmanges in moulds, a few jam puffs, 1 large cold plum‑pudding (this must be good), a few baskets of fresh fruit, 3 dozen plain biscuits, a piece of cheese, 6 lbs. of butter, including the butter for tea, 4 quartern loaves of household bread, 3 dozen rolls, 6 loaves of tin bread (for tea), 2 plain plum cakes, 2 pound cakes, 2 sponge cakes, a tin of mixed biscuits, ½ lb, of tea. Beverages: 3 dozen quart bottles of ale, packed in hampers; ginger‑beer, soda‑water, and lemonade, of each 2 dozen bottles; 6 bottles of sherry, 6 bottles of claret, champagne a discretion, and any other light wine that may be preferred, and 2 bottles of brandy. Water can usually be obtained so it is useless to take it.

Things not to be forgotten at a Picnic would include a stick of horseradish, a bottle of mint‑sauce well corked, a bottle of salad dressing, a bottle of vinegar, made mustard, pepper, salt, good oil, and pounded sugar. If it can be managed, take a little ice. It is scarcely necessary to say that plates, tumblers, wine‑glasses, knives, forks, and spoons, must not be forgotten; as also teacups and saucers, 3 or 4 teapots, some lump sugar, and milk, if this last‑named article cannot be obtained in the neighbourhood. Oh, and finally, take 3 corkscrews.

The Wind in the Willows by Mendoza, Philip (1898-1973)

Kenneth Grahame, author of ‘The Wind in The Willows’, born this day in 1859 mentions in one of the classic scenes from the book the conversation between Mole and Ratty about the contents of a large wicker basket that Ratty had brought along :

‘There’s cold chicken inside it, coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssalad frenchrollscresssandwidgepottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater replied the Rat briefly.

Not a bad little repast for two small river creatures. Since the publication of Grahame’s tale, picnics have undergone still further change – largely as a result of the relaxation of social mores, the development of new technologies and the quickening pace of globalisation.

Today, olives, focaccia and white wine are more likely to be found in a picnic basket than cold tongue, cress sandwiches and ginger beer. So too, in the last few decades, novels such as Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967) and Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (1997) have reconnected picnicking with moral transgression, albeit not quite as explicitly as in Manet’s painting, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe.

Picnics will no doubt continue to evolve in future. If global warming continues to worsen, we may have to think more carefully about where – and how – we spread our blankets. By the same token, shifting patterns of trade will almost certainly change the foods we carry in our hampers. But, whatever happens, one thing is whatever happens, one thing is certain: as long as there are friends with whom to share it, there will be ‘few things so pleasant as a picnic lunch’.

Providing that social distancing is observed, naturally!

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M. Parmentier & The Potato

potatoADS 1Potato Pete!

An iconic potato shaped character from the war years whose sole purpose was to encourage the planting and harvesting of potatoes in an effort to make the country Potato Petemore self-sufficient during the second world war. But, iconic though it may be, the potato is a surprisingly recent discovery.

Dumont - Portrait of Antoine ParmentierBorn in 1737, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, the French agriculturalist and apothecary, more or less single handedly orchestrated the acceptance of the potato in Europe, achieving far more than anyone else in its chequered history.

Joining the army in 1757, Parmentier subsequently spent several years as a prisoner of war in Germany. The mainstay of the prison diet was potatoes. In spite of the universal belief that potatoes were only fit for pigs, Parmentier realised that the nutritional value of a crop could prove invaluable as sustenance for both the poor and prison inmates.


Pommes Parmentier

After his return to France in 1763, Parmentier had to work hard to promote the potato in the face of opposition from scientists (who said it caused leprosy), the clerics (that it provoked lust, and anyway was a Protestant vegetable), and the gourmands (it was tasteless, indelicate, and flatulent).

Some poor wheat harvests helped his campaign, but in the end he succeeded with methods well-known today – making it appear covetable, and arranging celebrity endorsement. The first he achieved by having some trial plantings in the garden of the potato plantPalace of the Tuileries appear valuable by having them guarded heavily – by day only, thus ensuring the theft of plants at night. The second he did by managing to persuade Marie Antoinette to wear a posy of potato flowers in her bosom, and by hosting grand dinners with the likes of Benjamin Franklin in attendance, at which all courses from soup to liqueur were based on potatoes.

In addition to his agricultural work, Parmentier (perhaps in remembrance of his own childhood as an orphan) had a highly developed social conscience for the time. Louis XVI supposedly said “France will thank you some day for having found bread (ie potatoes) for the poor”.

Apotatond Parmentier actually did open up soup kitchens to feed the poor of Paris. It is fitting then that the dish most associated with him is potato soup, of which, of course, there are many variations.

Here is a very rich and regal potato soup, from Queen Victoria’s chef, Francatelli.

Potato Soup à la Crème.

 Cleanse, peel, wash, and slice up, about twenty large-sized good potatoes. Put them into a stewpan with one large onion, and one head of celery – also sliced up; add four ounces of fresh butter, a little pepper, salt, and grated nutmeg; set them to simmer on a slow fire, stirring them occasionally until they are nearly dissolved into a kind of purée. Then add to them three pints of good white consommé, and having allowed the potatoes to boil gently by the side of a moderate fire for half an hour, pass them through the tammy, and having removed the purée into a soup-pot, add, if requisite, a little more consommé, and set the purée on the fire to boil gently by the side of the stove, in order to clarify it in the usual manner required for other purées of vegetables. Just before sending to table, add a pint of boiling cream, a pat of fresh butter, and a little pounded sugar. Serve the fried crusts with this soup. (The Modern Cook; 1860)

Or a more substantial recipe from the Victorian era by Mrs. Beeton, (1861) and is a fine example of the Victorian love of kitchen and table gadgetry:


1½ lb of rump-steak or mutton cutlets, pepper and salt to taste, ⅓ pint of weak broth or gravy, 1 oz. of butter, mashed potatoes.


Place the meat, cut in small pieces, at the bottom of the pan; season it with pepper and salt, add the gravy and butter broken into small pieces. Put on the perforated plate, with its valve-pipe screwed on, and fill up the whole space to the top of the tube with nicely-mashed potatoes mixed with a little milk, and finish the surface of them in any ornamental manner. If carefully baked, the potatoes will be covered with a delicate brown crust, retaining all the savoury steam rising from the meat. Send it to table as it comes from the oven, with a napkin folded around it.

Time : 40 to 60 minutes. Average cost, 2s. Sufficient for 4 or 5 persons. Seasonable at any time.


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How To Patronize A Woman Part 3, Or Was It 4? Or 5?

From the archive, a modest, unassuming piece from ‘Womans Day’ on how to transform the plainest of the plain into Betty Grable! (Julia Roberts to those of a later time span or Katie Perry to those so young as to make me feel disgustingly middle aged!)

Dating back to the late fifties and despite the austerities of the not long passed war years the fact remained that it was the ‘duty’ of a woman to look good for her man and, increasingly, herself.

A man didn’t have to of course. Scarring, a limp, or an eye-patch were all badges of honour, tokens of the war years, war wounds to be ‘passed over lightly’ in polite company and never discussed, verified or not!

I believe it was Winston Churchill himself who said:

“Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer-gut and still think they are sexy!”

It may not have been of course, though he did have a somewhat caustic turn of phrase when occasion demanded. My favourite has got to be,

“Madam I may be drunk, but you are ugly. I shall be sober in the morning”

The original article came as a supplement in a 1959 edition of “Womens Day” magazine and is quite representative of its time.

The war had done wonders for the rights of women to do jobs long since considered the domain of men and flourish in their own right.

Mind you, the letter from the editor is probably one of the most patronising pieces I have seen in quite a while. The bloke who wrote that now would be strung up by the heels at the very least!

By the way and neither here nor there, I think the brownette (brunette) image is actually a very young Maureen Lipman but I could be mistaken.

My eyesight isn’t what it once was . . .

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How to Patronize a Woman

Career for Women 1

“. . . the really well trained cook is one of the few women who need never fear unemployment”

This article from Good Housekeeping describes in better detail the limited range of jobs considered to be suitable for a woman in the twenties and thirties.

She does not even deserve the title of ‘chef’. That was reserved for her male counterparts!

A Career for Women 2It gives a very interesting slant on both the institutional and professional and sexism of the day.

Mind you, in this day and age after a long and varied career in kitchens around the world I have come to the conclusion that those who term themselves ‘cooks’ generally can, while many of those who term themselves ‘chefs’ can’t!

My apologies for any offense caused but in my defense I will just say that given the choice of a kitchen full of ‘cooks’ or a a kitchen full of ‘chefs’ I know which I would prefer! The opening sentence says it all really!

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Easter Breads And Braids

Fruit Braid & Easter Ring 

This is possibly one of my favorite sweet-dough recipes.

There are others but having used this on a number of occasions and always getting a good result I shall include it here.

These recipes come from my ‘Bakery Book’, a slim, mid-seventies volume. (the bibliography of references and sources is still under construction, patience is a virtue!) 

The Fruit Braid is a good all-round tea bread that can be used on a daily basis, while the Easter ring is more of a presentation piece for those special occasions. It can also be used as a celebration ‘cake’ for those with somewhat less than a sweet tooth.


There are numerous other recipes for which this dough can be used, whether just a simple fruit bun or with added dates and walnuts and baked in a tin as a fruit and nut loaf.

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If You Don’t Eat Your Greens . . .

J. Wellington Wimpey

You Won’t Grow Up Big And Strong!

One of the main indications of financial success and upward mobility amongst socially aware Kenyan men is the ditching of so-called ‘rabbit food’ (vegetables) to be replaced with meat, chicken, sausages, burgers and fish.

But be that as it may, whilst these foods add important nutrients to the body, they cannot supplement the good old, readily available vegetables. Through times of famine, austerity and rationing the humble vegetable has been a mainstay of the diet good old British diet.

It is said that green leafy vegetables ensure beautiful skin and hair while vegetables such collards and kale are rich in calcium for strong teeth and bones. Add to that antioxidants such as vitamin C, lutein, and zeaxanthin found in green vegetables can reduce the risk of cataracts and muscular degeneration. Vitamin C also reduces the risk of arthritis and bone fractures.

The vitamin E found in green leafy vegetables works with vitamin C to keep skin healthy as you age and also helps to protect skin from the sun’s damaging radiation. Green vegetables that contain beta-carotene, such as spinach, help in the growth and repair of body tissues and are a good source of folate, which can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and memory loss as well as warding off depression.

Collard greens, spring greens and kale are considered to be some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables available due to their many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants particularly vitamins A, C and K. To gain the full benefits that greens have to offer, they are best consumed raw since cooking can reduce their nutrient profile. Vitamin K can also reduce blood clots and promote healthy bones.

Spinach is a popular leafy green vegetable and is easily incorporated into a variety of dishes, including soups, sauces, smoothies and salads. Packed with iron it is said to be an aid to muscle growth and therefore physical strength!

Cabbage is formed of clusters of thick leaves that come in green, white and purple. It belongs to the Brassica family, along with Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli. Brassicas contain glucosinolates, which give them a bitter flavour. Studies have found that foods that contain these plant compounds may have cancer-protective properties, especially against lung and esophageal cancer. Another benefit of cabbage is that it can be fermented and turned into sauerkraut, which provides numerous health benefits, such as improving the digestion and supporting the immune system.

Olive Oyl

Beet Greens have been claimed to be beneficial for health since the middle ages. But although they have an impressive nutrient profile, while beets are commonly used in dishes, the leaves are often ignored which is unfortunate, considering that they’re edible and rich in potassium, calcium, riboflavin, fiber and vitamins A and K. Beet greens can be added to salads, soups or sauteed and eaten as a side dish.

Watercress is an aquatic plant from the Brassica family and thus similar to arugula and mustard greens. It’s said to have healing properties and has been used in herbal medicine for centuries. Test-tube studies have found watercress extract to be beneficial in targeting cancer stem cells and impairing cancer cell reproduction and invasion. Watercress has been used in herbal medicine for centuries.

Romaine Lettuce is a common leafy vegetable with sturdy, dark leaves with a firm centre rib. It has a crunchy texture and is a popular lettuce, particularly in Caesar salads. It’s a good source of vitamins A and K. Research in rats showed that lettuce improved their levels of blood lipids, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease. Further studies need to investigate these benefits in people.

Swiss Chard has dark-green leaves with a thick stalk that is red, white, yellow or green. It’s often used in Mediterranean cooking and belongs to the same family as beets and spinach. It has an earthy taste and is rich in minerals and vitamins, such as potassium, manganese and the vitamins A, C and K. It also contains a unique flavonoid called syringic acid that may be beneficial for lowering blood sugar levels. While many people typically throw away the stems of the Swiss chard plant, they’re crunchy and highly nutritious.

Arugula is a leafy green from the Brassica family that goes by many different names, such as rocket, colewort, rucola and rucoli. It has a peppery taste and small leaves that can easily be added to salads or used as a garnish. It can also be used cosmetically and medicinally. Like all leafy greens, it’s packed with nutrients such as pro-vitamin A carotenoids and vitamins B9 and K.

Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage that has thick, dark-green leaves which make it wonderful addition to soups and stir-fries. It contains the mineral selenium, which plays an important role in cognitive function, immunity and cancer prevention. Selenium is also beneficial for proper thyroid gland function. This gland is located in your neck and releases hormones that play a key role in metabolism.

Turnip Greens are the leaves of the turnip plant, which is a root vegetable similar to beetroot. The greens pack more nutrients than the turnip itself, including calcium, manganese, folate and the vitamins A, C and K. They have a strong and spicy flavour and are often enjoyed cooked rather than raw. Turnip greens are considered a cruciferous vegetable, which have been shown to decrease the risk of health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and inflammation. Turnip greens can be used as a replacement for kale or spinach in most recipes.Leafy greens are packed with important and powerful nutrients that are critical for good health.

Fortunately, many greens can be found all year round, and can easily be incorporated into the daily diet in many surprising and diverse ways. In order to reap the many impressive health benefits of leafy greens, make sure to include a variety of these vegetables, at least five portions a day.

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10 Things You Never Knew About . . . Robbie Burns

RB1Robert Burns, poet, farmer and philosopher. (25th Jan. 1759 – 21st July 1796)

The traditional Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Normally held on or near the poet’s birthday of 25th January they are often referred as Burns Nights.

For a starter, you may consider a home-made Scots broth or cock-a-leekie soup.

The centrepiece of any good Burns Supper menu is the iconic haggis! (Or as the bard himself described it, ‘that great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race’)

RB6Traditional accompaniments to the haggis are neeps and tatties or as they are more commonly known – swede (turnips are fed only to pigs!) and potatoes. These are normally served mashed and well peppered.

Finally, to round off your Burns Supper menu, pudding might consist of a traditional Clootie Dumpling or a classic cranachan.

Whisky is the usual choice of slurp at Burns Suppers, either malts or blends. Contrary to popular belief, adding a little water to your malt should improve rather than dilute the flavour, although some whisky drinkers may not take kindly to watering down their drams!

RB3A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of Robert Burns. Burns suppers are normally held on or near the poet’s birthday of 25th January and are often referred as Burns Nights.


1. After Queen Victoria and Christopher Columbus, Robert Burns has more statues dedicated to him around the world than any other non-religious figure.

RB22. J.D. Salingers famous 1951 novel Catcher in the Rye based its title from a poem by Robert Burns Comin’ Thro’ the Rye.

3. The Soviet Union was the first country in the world to honour Burns with a commemorative stamp, marking the 160th anniversary of his death in 1956.

RB44. Burns fathered at least 12 children with four different women during his short 37 year lifetime. His youngest child, Maxwell, was born on the day of his funeral.

5. American president Abraham Lincoln had a lifelong admiration for the work of Robert Burns, with some claiming that the poet’s verse played a key role in helping Lincoln win the American civil war and abolish slavery.

RB56. The work of Burns has appeared in hundreds of films and television programmes, including ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946), ‘When Harry met Sally’ (1989) and the 2008 film version of ‘Sex in the City’

7. The city of Atlanta, Georgia, has a life-size replica of the Alloway cottage that Burns was born in. It was built by the Burns Club of Atlanta in 1911. (The town of Mosgiel, near Dunedin, New Zealand was named after Robert Burns’ farm.)

RB78. A miniature book of Robert Burns’ poetry was carried into orbit by astronaut Nick Patrick on a two week space mission in 2010, completing a 5.7 million mile trip and 217 orbits of the Earth.

9. ‘Auld Lang Syne’  is recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as being one of the top three most popular songs in the English language. The other two are ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’

10. Burns body was exhumed in 1815 to be placed in a new mausoleum in Dumfries. Whilst his body was above ground, a plaster cast of his skull was taken for study. The skull was measured and discovered to be bigger than the average man’s.

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The Scottish Kitchen

Mountain Goats, Scottish CoastFlag of ScotlandLike England, food in Scotland today is an eclectic mix of many cultures – English, Scandinavian (via the Vikings) Italian, Indian and Chinese. In Scotland, the Scots hold on tightly to their culinary heritage still using local, seasonal foods when available.

Scottish cuisine, to this day, remains simple in its preparation and presentation.

Strome castle ruins“S mairg a ni tarcuis air biadh” 

(He who has contempt for food is a fool!)

As a cook of many years standing this attitude of the Scots toward food and cooking ‘warms the cockles of the heart’. I mean, the fact that the Scots accept haggis, a combination of sheep’s intestines, oatmeal and whiskey blended together and cooked in a sheep’s stomach, as their National Dish Haggis Recipe - cartoondisplays a degree of fortitude and endurance that epitomises the race as a whole! Add to that the production of the majority of the finest malt whisky’s in the world and one may begin to understand the traditional Scotsmans attitude to life, the Universe and everything!

Cuillin Mountains, ScotlandOats are still widely eaten, as is fish, game, and of course beef. Scottish soft fruits such as raspberries and strawberries, are renowned throughout the UK as are Scottish cheeses, fruits and vegetables likewise.

The Scottish kitchen is an abundance of soups and broths including Cock-a-Leekie, Scotch Broth, Cullen Skink (a soup from Cullen on the shores of the Moray Firth usually made with Finnan Haddock) and Brose, a simple soup of Kale, with a handful of oatmeal.

Eilean Donan Castle, ScotlandFish is a staple of Scotland coming from the lochs, streams, river and magnificent coastline. Fish and seafood are plentiful and Scottish salmon (smoked and fresh) is world-renowned as are Arbroath Smokies (small smoked haddock).

The Scottish table will have meats a-plenty. Beef, game (particularly venison and game birds) not forgetting of course the national dish, haggis, which was famous Traigh Sheilebost, Harrisenough for the Scots poet Robbie Burns to pen an ode.

And also not forgetting Forfar Bridies, a pasty not dissimilar to a Cornish Pasty. Scotland is celebrated for its baking and puddings.

The Clootie Dumpling, not unlike an English suet pudding is, along with Scottish shortbread as legendary as oatcakes and pancakes.

Ballachulish in Winter, Western HighlandsThe Scots have learned over the years to make best use of the offerings nature has endowed them with from the wild and rugged mountains, the lakes, lochs and streams, to the fertile valleys and moorlands.

Despite folk legend, the climate of Scotland is relatively normal in southern and central parts, although the highlands and islands can be subject to some pretty awesome winters.

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Christmas Through The Eyes Of Womans Weekly

WE 79Womens Magazines have provided a wealth of interesting articles over the years and here are some I found in a more recent publication that reproduced pages and articles from its own publication base.

Xmas 39







Another fine source of information was Good Housekeeping, a publication that continues to this day.

I have previously published posts on Christmas Cakes, Christmas Breads, Mince Pies, Christmas Pudding, indeed the entire Christmas Dinner.

As we move into December I have a number of new and hopefully entertaining articles on the history of Christmas!

Xmas 25

Xmas 51

Xmas 44

And finally, to continue the early twentieth century practice of blatantly patronising women, here is an advertisement from 1926 suggesting the ideal Christmas present for the lady of the house!

Xmas 26

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A New Home For the Archive

Following a fairly major refurbishment over the past six months the archive has finally moved to its new permanent home in a purpose built space under the stairs.

The cookbook itself remains tucked away in its own drawer for safekeeping but the remainder are now in a far more accesible location.

With Christmas approaching it will soon be time to review some of the older posts and introduce some new infomation that came to light during  the move.

The previous posts remain of course, the Chrismas cakes and assorted national breads, the sweets and mince pies, the games and pastimes of a far less digitised and electronic age.

Not forgetting of course the traditional Christmas Dinner with all the trimmings.

All being equal, everything on the posting front should resume shortly.

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