A proper picnic basket, also called a picnic hamper, is a gentlemanly must-have; there simply is no way around it, for a properly planned picnic in the perfect location and with the perfect food and wine can trump a dinner in any fine restaurant—at a fraction of the cost. In many ways, a picnic for two is the most romantic event known to man; and one for four or more can make for one of the most memorable, endearing outings amongst friends.
The absolute best way to acquire a top-quality picnic basket is as a gift: graduation; house-warming; wedding; job promotion; otherwise, on-sale at fine stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney’s New York, Pottery Barn, or Williams Sonoma.
The best picnic baskets are the ones constructed like a classic wood-framed valise, preferably of leather; sturdy wicker with brass-studded leather corners; or sleek, chic, modern aluminum (for a dash of “James Bond”). Service should be for four: salad plates; dinner plates; knives; forks; spoons; and stemmed wine glasses. Most come with a good corkscrew, two candle-holders, basic serving-utensils, and four to six cloth napkins. The leather straps affixed to the outside of the basket are for securing a picnic blanket or tablecloth.
But executing a good picnic is no “walk in the park”; it requires careful planning. After all, what’s a boy to do if he brought an excellent bottle of Tuscan red but no corkscrew? So, the best way to begin is with a checklist compiled by pre-playing the event, from start to finish, in one’s mind, jotting down the elements needed to accomplish the actual event:
-a plastic drop-cloth (such as those used by house-painters when painting interior areas) atop which the picnic blanket/tablecloth should be placed in the event of moist ground/grass;
-a blanket or tablecloth large enough to accommodate the food set-up plus the diners;
-four weights for the corners of he blanket/tablecloth (in the event of windy weather);
-a disposable trashbag for discarded items;
-wet-wipes to clean hands;
-small bottle of hand moisturizer/lotion;
-so as not to soil the interior of the basket, plastic bags into which the used items should be enclosed prior to being replaced into the basket at the end of the event;
-candles (depending on the time of day) that actually fit the candle-holders;
-matches or cigarette lighter (to light the candles);
-salt mill/pepper mill (as opposed to shakers since their contents may spill in transit);
-breath mints (in the event of a romantic ending to an already-romantic beginning;
Obviously, some of the above-listed items (except the picnic blanket/tablecloth) might not fit into/onto the picnic basket. Therefore, a separate bag (a reusable “picnic bag” made of sturdy plastic with handles like a paper department store shopping bag) should be used for carrying set-up items.
Food and Wine
Appropriate picnic food is essential for a successful picnic. And one of the easiest, cost- and time-effective ways to acquire picnic foods is from a deli or delicatessen section of a good supermarket. There, freshly prepared foods are served in to-order portions and packaged in disposable plastic containers for easy transport and serving. Of course, if a gentleman is skilled in the kitchen and has a good supply of plastic food containers, he may prepare the picnic meal, which would be even more meaningful to his guest(s).
Picnic meals need not be elaborate; but they must be appropriate to the event, delicious, and photogenic. A colorful mixed salad outdoes a monotone Caesar salad—if not in taste, certainly in looks. And why serve vichyssoise, for example, if it will have long lost its chill by the time it is presented? Four courses—appetizer, salad, main course, and dessert—are sufficient. Each course should be delightful, remarkable, and special, even with the occasional twist of the whimsical. Just as a host should endeavor to have his sit-down dinner guests talking about the event for days thereafter, a picnic should be planned with the same goal in mind: Chocolate-covered, long-stemmed strawberries are “to die for,” but chocolate-covered, long-stemmed strawberries wraped in edible gold are like dying and going to Heaven.
Transported in a separate picnic bag (See above) if necessary should be the food:
-chilling-bag with insertible ice packs for white and rosé wines;
-bottled water (even if only wine is being served with the meal);
-food (each course separately packaged and properly sealed);
-vase (bottled water also used to fill vase);
-small gift(s) for guest(s).