July is National Picnic Month. We can thank the French for such a pleasant gastronomical event.
Picnic was originally a 17th century French word, picquer-nique (picquer, to peck or to pick; nique, a small amount or nothing). Its meaning was similar to today’s, a social gathering where each person brings a share of the food. Originally it did not reflect anything we would now recognize as a picnic. The word picnic first appeared in English in 1748.
For the French it was an indoor event mostly held by the aristocrats. This custom continued when it crossed the English Channel. Englishmen added music and dance to their gatherings, but this died out in the early 1900s.
The picnic was then taken up by the middle class and moved outdoors, becoming a more innocent pleasure. Jane Austen’s stories show that picnicking was a very pleasant and special time when held outdoors usually on a rolling hill with a pond nearby.
As early as 1830 Americans started picnicking, either at home or ...
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