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June 27, 2024 11 minute READ

Looks Like a Good Day for a Picnic

tags At Home | Local Flavor | Recipes
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It's a good day for a picnic or cookout

Who can forget one of Yogi Bear’s favorite catchphrases, “A pic-a-nic basket has everything a bear needs?” Jellystone Park was definitely a perfect place to enjoy a meal alfresco, but did you know that picnics were affairs originally held indoors? And that there is science behind many of the foods commonly found nestled in a picnic hamper? Yep, there’s a reason we crave watermelon this time of year.  

The week surrounding the 4th of July is traditionally filled with cookouts, barbecues, neighborhood picnics, family gatherings, and, of course, fireworks. But how did we get there? Good question. 

A Brief History of the Pique-Nique 

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a picnic (noun) is “an excursion or outing usually provided by the group and eaten in the open.” The etymology of the word is a bit opaque, but it’s believed to be derived from the French piquer (to pick) and nique (a small amount). It was first used in 1649 in a satire of the Fronde, a series of civil wars in France between 1648-1653 that challenged the power of the monarchy. “Pique-Nique” was a hero – and also a glutton – that puts him and his followers at odds with the food shortages that were caused by the rebellion he was leading.  

An article from History Today shares that the Gilles Menage’s dictionary of etymology of the French language (1694) declares “a pique-nique had become a fashionable – if not always extravagant – dinner, to which each guest contributed a share.” These meals were accompanied by wit, dancing, and music.  

During the French Revolution, aristocrats fleeing the chaos made their way to several countries including England, where the tradition of the picnic was introduced. The practice was embraced by an emerging middle class, but instead of renting halls to host their gatherings, they moved them outside. The elaborate entertainment was stripped from the gathering, and picnics became a simple meal to which you were invited by a host.  

Of course, the trend moved across the Atlantic to the United States. In America, a picnic was viewed as a “flight from civilization” instead of a meal enjoyed with childlike innocence. In the mid-19th century, the working class began to picnic, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the outdoor picnic prevailed over the indoor gathering. The 1900s saw mass-produced picnic baskets and a standardization of the utensils included in the baskets.  

The Weather & What to Eat 

If you notice that you don’t feel as hungry in the warmer months, you’re not alone. As it turns out, there’s a physiological reason we crave more fruits and vegetables during the summer, too. 

Our hypothalamus, which is located at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland, regulates hunger and helps control body temperature. Eating calorie-rich foods, like meats and sugars, makes the body produce more heat through the digestive process. During the summer months, this extra heat makes it more difficult to keep the body at its normal, 98.6° temperature. Our brain is telling us that watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, and salads are the way to go. An article in Health Digest indicates that we shouldn’t give up high-protein foods and dairy, but they should be eaten in smaller quantities with swaps made for more fruits and vegetables – including smoothies.  

According to another article, some believe the amount of available light stimulates hunger. The lack of light during the winter months makes your body think that it should consume more calories because it doesn’t know when its next meal may be. On the other hand, during the summer with more hours of daylight, to your body, food is abundant. 

Thermoregulation, the ability of humans to maintain body temperature even when external temperatures fluctuate, could be the reason we crave lighter foods in the summer. An article on the Healthy for Life Meals website says that fruits and vegetables have high water content, which makes consuming them refreshing in the summer and helps the body stay hydrated.  

Even socializing can have an appetite-suppressing effect. Maybe you’re working in the yard or garden and lose track of time or spending time with friends cruising around the lake – these activities can upset normal snack and/or mealtimes. It may be necessary to eat several smaller, lighter meals filled with fruits and vegetables during the summer months to maintain your health. 

What’s on the Menu 

CantaloupeThe summer has many opportunities to gather and enjoy a meal together. We know you’ll be asked to bring something to add to the communal table. So, what would we bring to the next picnic? Here are a few recipes to give a try. 

Lele’s Favorite 
Submitted by Lele at the Mast Store in Waynesville 

1 large cantaloupe 

Pick out the juiciest, most plump cantaloupe at your local produce stand and slice it up. Most importantly... Enjoy! 

Baby Back Ribs 
Submitted by Bill at the Mast Store in Winston-Salem 

Yellow mustard 
Your favorite rub for pork  

3 racks of baby back ribs  
1 cup apple juice or apple cider vinegar 
Favorite BBQ sauce 

Prepare the ribs by applying yellow mustard and then seasoning both sides of each rack liberally with your favorite rub. Bring your grill to a temperature of 275°. Place the ribs directly on the grill grate bone-side down, directly on the grill grates. Close the lid and cook for 45 minutes. 

Pour the apple juice or apple cider vinegar in a liquid measuring cup with a spout. Remove the ribs from the grill and place bone-side down heavy-duty aluminum foil large enough to wrap the ribs for putting back on the grill. Pour the juice or cider mixture over the ribs and seal it up. Return the ribs to the grill with a closed lid and cook for 1 hour at 275°. 

Increase the grill temperature to 350° with a closed lid. Unwrap the ribs from the foil and place them directly on the grill grates and cook the ribs for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, generously brush the ribs with barbecue sauce, then cook for 5 minutes more or until the sauce has set. Transfer the ribs to a cutting board and let them settle for about 5 minutes. Cut into the rib sizes you prefer and serve. 

Pasta Salad 
Submitted by Sue at the Mast Store in Hendersonville 

1 16-oz. package of rotini pasta 
1 16-oz. bottle of Italian dressing 
1 cucumber, chopped 
12 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half 
1/4 head of broccoli, chopped  
1 green onion, chopped 
1 cup parmesan cheese 
Salt and Pepper to taste 

Bring water to a boil and add pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain but do not rinse the pasta.  The dressing absorbs better into the pasta this way. Pour the pasta into a large bowl and toss with Italian dressing. When cooled, add vegetables and parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss slightly. Chill until ready to serve. 

Why is this your go-to summer gathering recipe? 
It is so easy to make. I always bring more dressing with me if I am taking the salad to a gathering. It helps to add more moisture to the pasta. The great thing about this recipe is that you can add your favorite veggies, so you can change it up a bit. 

Candied Bacon Deviled Eggs 
Submitted by Laura at the Mast Store in Knoxville 

12 eggs 
4 slices bacon 
1/3 cup brown sugar 
1/2 teaspoon cayenne 
1 teaspoon white vinegar 
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper 
Chopped chives, for garnish 

Place eggs in a large saucepan and fill the saucepan with water until it comes to about an inch over the eggs. Place the saucepan on a burner over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the saucepan, and let sit for 10 minutes. Once the timer goes off, transfer the eggs to an ice bath until they are cool to the touch.  

Place bacon on a baking rack over a sheet pan. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cayenne with a fork. Sprinkle half of the mixture over the bacon, reserving the rest for later. Place bacon in the oven, then turn the oven on to 400° F. Set a timer for 12 minutes (the preheating time is considered part of the cooking time here.) 

After 12 minutes, remove the bacon and, using tongs, flip it over. Sprinkle the reserved brown sugar-cayenne mixture over the second side and return to the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the bacon looks done and fairly crisp. Remove and let cool on the rack, turning off the oven.  

Peel your eggs and slice them in half vertically. Carefully scoop out the yolks and add them to a small mixing bowl. Next, add the vinegar, mayonnaise, relish, salt, and pepper to the mixing bowl. Mash all of the ingredients together with a fork, until there are no large chunks remaining.  

Using a piping bag or spoon, divide the filling evenly among the whites of the eggs. Finely chop up three slices of the candied bacon and sprinkle over the top of each egg. To finish, sprinkle on some chopped fresh chives. 

Why is this your go-to summer gathering recipe? 
These are always a hit at BBQs and cookouts. They can be made ahead of time. 

Blueberry Corn Salad 
Submitted by Jenny at the Mast Store in Greenville 

4 cups fresh sweet corn (4 large ears sweet corn, kernels removed) 
2 cups fresh blueberries 
1 seedless cucumber, diced 
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion 
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro 
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 tablespoons lime juice 
1 tablespoon honey 
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste 
2 avocados, chopped (optional) 

In a large serving bowl, combine corn, blueberries, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno. 

To make the dressing, whisk together olive oil, lime juice, honey, cumin, salt, and pepper. Pour dressing over salad and stir until combined. Serve chilled. 

 If adding avocados, stir these in right before serving.   

Summer Fruits SaladSummer Fruits Salad 
Submitted by Sheri at the Mast Store Home Office in Valle Crucis 

Mixed Spring Greens 
Baby Spinach 
Peaches, peeled and sliced 
Dried cranberries 
English walnuts, chopped 
Sweet poppyseed dressing 

This can be made as individual salads or in a large bowl to be served with tongs. Mix together spring greens and baby spinach as a base. Top with peaches, blueberries, raspberries, and dried cranberries. Really any summer fruit can be used. Just look in your refrigerator! I believe we’ve even made it with bananas. Sprinkle chopped walnuts and dress with a sweet poppyseed dressing. 

Why is this your go-to summer gathering recipe? 
This salad is light, healthy, and unexpected. It makes use of what you can find in your refrigerator. The important part is to make sure your poppyseed dressing is sweet.  

Sausage Dip 
Submitted by Justin at the Mast Store in Winston-Salem 

1 lb. Neese's Sage Sausage 
1-2 8-oz. blocks of cream cheese 
24- or 30-oz. jar of tomato basil pasta sauce 

Brown the sausage in a skillet and drain off excess fat. In a slow cooker, add 1-2 blocks of cream cheese, and a jar of tomato basil sauce. The amounts added depend on the size of slow cooker. Stir the sausage into the mixture. Set to low and cook for 2 hours. Stir occasionally. Once the cream cheese has melted and the sauce is an even color, it's ready to serve with chips/crackers/eat it with a spoon. 

Why is this your go-to summer gathering recipe? 
As a bachelor, sometimes you just want to eat, and not be so elaborate. Slow cookers are very handy in this regard. Plus, it’s good! 

Arugula, Watermelon, & Feta Salad 
Submitted by Jonathan at the Mast Store in Winston-Salem 

The vinaigrette: 
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons) 
1/4 cup orange juice 
1/4 cup finely cut shallots 
1/2 cup olive oil 
1 tablespoon honey 
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 

The salad: 
2 5-oz. bags of baby arugula, washed and dried 
Seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes (Enough to complement the arugula as an addition, not overwhelm it. Play it by ear but maybe start with two cups. Save the rest of the watermelon to enjoy later.) 
1 cup fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced 
12 oz. feta cheese, crumbled 
Red onion, thinly sliced (optional, to taste) 
Balsamic glaze, drizzled once plated (optional) 

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, orange juice, shallots, honey, salt, and pepper. Pour in the olive oil slowly, whisk constantly, to form an emulsion. Store the vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator until needed.  

Toss the arugula, watermelon, feta, and mint (and red onion if using) in a large bowl. Drizzle with vinaigrette to coat the greens lightly and toss. Taste for seasonings and serve right away. Give a light drizzle of balsamic glaze, if using, once plated. 

Why is this your go-to summer gathering recipe? 
This is a light and refreshing summer recipe my wife and I like to bring with us when gathering with friends. You have the perfect trio of salty feta, sweet watermelon, and peppery fresh arugula. 


Photo of Cantaloupe by Cup of Couple: https://www.pexels.com/photo/sliced-melon-on-brown-wooden-chopping-board-7657272/ 

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