116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
At the beginning of every summer, I resolve to have more picnics. A meal enjoyed outside surrounded by green beauty is a great pleasure and something I’ve loved all my life.
In a park or on the porch, “Everything tastes better when you eat it outside,” my maternal grandmother used to say.
After my mother died in 2019, we went through old photos and other long-lost belongings. One picture that surfaced was of my little sister and me having a little picnic.
Our grandmother set up a table in her yard between the back porch and the fig tree. She covered it with a cloth and added a little vase of flowers. I have no idea what we were eating but my sister looked cute in her little bobbed haircut and a brown print dress sewed by our grandmother.
Last year, the outdoors became a safe retreat as we weathered the pandemic. I would imagine many more meals were eaten in our own backyards, though not in large group gatherings. But after Aug. 10, our outdoor retreats were simply too sad or too dangerous to be around. I don’t think there were many picnics after the derecho.
With the pandemic waning and with so much storm damage now cleared away –we surely owe a debt of thanks to our local governments for handling this — we can venture outside to enjoy warm weather.
Assemble a big blanket, a good book, sunglasses and cool drinks. Fill a basket with something delicious. But what? I know it’s easy to grab fast food, but a meal prepared and packed for a short trip outdoors is extra special. Anticipation followed by appreciation.
Let me offer a small menu of basics to get started — main course, salad and dessert. You can call it good as is, or you add your own favorite side dish or snack.
For the main course I used an oven-fried chicken recipe. While my mother purchased cooking oil by the gallons, the skill of frying was lost on me. Blame it on the low-fat movement or blame it on my reluctance to get grease all over the stove top. Chicken can be fried in the oven with very good results (including less mess). This recipe is a winner. It’s attributed to the late Lindy Boggs, a former Congressional representative from New Orleans, and wife of the late U.S. Sen. Hale Boggs and mother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts. While this chicken is spectacularly crispy fresh from the oven, it also is tender and delicious eaten cold for a picnic.
This recipe calls for one whole chicken cut into pieces. Our society has polarized itself into many camps, including favorite chicken parts. So, if you can’t find a package of “fryer” parts, buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. I can’t fry, but I did take biology and I did grow up raising chickens, so I know the leg bone is connected to the thigh bone. In fact, I cut up my own chicken for this story just because I wanted to see if I could remember how. What I can’t imagine is how my mother did this year after year. Don’t hurt yourself: Just ask the nice folks behind the meat counter to cut one up for you.
Crunchy salads that won’t go soggy are needed on a picnic menu. I was intrigued by this recipe for Waldorf salad with cooked dressing. Cooked dressings once were the norm and you can find many recipes in vintage cookbooks. This came from a beloved cookbook from my neck of the woods. The recipe is essentially a thin custard to which vinegar is added at the end. It yields a creamy, tangy and slightly sweet dressing. I love it and hope you do, too.
Now for dessert. Pies are good and all, but they can be messy. Enter the slab pie: a thin, flattened double-crusted pie often baked in a rectangular pan. You can hold a piece of slab pie in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other.
The filling is made with rhubarb, orange juice and lots of orange zest that’s cooked until thick like a jam. The filling is spread onto a bottom crust. The top crust is placed over the filling and the ends folded over to enclose the filling.
Use your own pie crust recipe or a store-bought crust if you prefer.
And remember, everything tastes better when you eat it outside. I hope you have more picnics this year.
This recipe calls for one whole chicken cut into pieces. If you can’t find a package of “fryer” parts, buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself or ask the butcher to cut one up for you.
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup flour
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup saltine cracker crumbs
1 whole chicken, cut into fryer parts
Put butter in a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish and place in 350-degree oven to melt butter.
Flour chicken pieces and set aside.
Beat together eggs, salt, paprika and lemon juice. Dip chicken pieces, one at a time, in egg mixture, then in cracker crumbs. Carefully remove baking dish from oven. Arrange chicken pieces, skin side down, in melted butter in baking dish and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, turning once.
Source: The New York Times
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Dash of cayenne pepper
2 slightly beaten egg yolks
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons butter or margarine
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup pitted dates
2 cups diced apples
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Mix flour, sugar, salt, dry mustard, cayenne in the top of a double boiler. Stir in the milk and eggs. Cook over hot, not boiling water, until thick, stirring constantly. Add vinegar and butter. Mix well and cool.
Combine celery, dates and cooked dressing. Chill. Fold in apples and nuts before serving.
Source: Mrs. Bob Daray, “Cane River Cuisine” cookbook
Use your own pie crust recipe or a store-bought crust if you prefer.
5 to 6 cups rhubarb, chopped in 1/2 inch pieces
Zest and juice from 2 oranges
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cornstarch
Two pie crusts rolled into square or rectangular shape
Prepare the filling: Place everything except the cornstarch in a heavy bottomed saucepan and stir well. Place on medium high heat and bring to a boil, stirring to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom. Once the mixture reaches boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and cook slowly, stirring often. When the rhubarb has melted down and lost its shape, gently sprinkle the cornstarch and beat with a whisk to ensure no lumps remain. Continue cooking until filling is thick but spreadable. Remove from heat and cool.
Assemble the pie. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Separate pastry dough into two portions, one slightly larger than the other. Roll the larger piece of pastry first and place it on the baking pan. Spread with the filling, leaving a margin around the edge. Place the top crust over the filling. Then fold the bottom crust of the top crust and pinch together to seal the two crusts. Brush top of pie with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.
Remove from oven and let cool. Once cool, the pie can be sliced into square or rectangular pieces.
Source: Lisa Williams