The Neighborhood Picnic

This is the final article in May of the School for Housewives 1905 series published on May 28, 1905, and is a continuation of the previous week’s talk on the picnic. In this article, Marion Harland discusses the joy that can be found in the group or neighbourhood picnic.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

The Neighborhood Picnic

How to Make It a Real Pleasure for Everybody Concerned

A MONSTER picnic run by contract is a social enormity. He builded better than he knew who characterized such as a “pleasure exertion.” Even the average child has ceased to regard the Sunday or day school picnic as a delight.

Huddled in hot cars, packed sardinewise in steam transports, disgorged upon rents grounds, worn bare of turf by former hordes and sparsely shaded by spiritless trees, the revelers are turned loose to frolic and to feed for a given number of hours. When the time is up they are corralled like driven, dirty, discontented cattle and deposited by bedtime at dock or depot, having achieved one more travesty that is peculiarly United Statesian.

A New England Picnic.

But an al fresco pleasure-taking on the part of a dozen or more congenial families or a company of nice, neighborly young people, properly chaperoned, is one of the least conventional and altogether agreeable forms of summer entertainment.

It was my fortune, several years ago, to spend a summer in one of the loveliest of New England towns, where the private picnic was a favorite means of dispensing and receiving hospitality. A description of one of these veritable pleasure excursions will convey my meaning more truly then a list of formal instructions could.

The young people, numbering sometimes twenty-five, sometimes forty, assembled at the house of her who gave the function. If the designated pleasure ground were to be reached by land, carriages were at the door to convey the party. Those who owned private carriages brought them; perhaps half a dozen would be on horseback; the rest were accommodated in vehicles furnished by the hostess. One wagon contained the collation.

Plenty of Good Cheer.

This particular town was fortunate as to have within easy walking distance, and also accessibly by trolley cars, a chain of lakelets leading up into the hills; “ponds,” the country folk called them. They furnished water power for flourishing mills. They were the popular resort of lovers of boating and swimming. “Water picnics” were the order of the day in the summer I speak of. The young men wore flannel yachting suits; the girls, white waists and blue serge skirts, or waists and skirts of white duck or colored linen. Anything like display in costume would have been reckoned vulgar and out of taste. The chaperon and two or three couples went in the first boat; the provisions, under the care of a trusty domestic, followed in the wake of a convivial fleet. The amateur musicians were near the middle of the line, with guitar, banjo, violin and flute. When we cleared the town the music began—part songs, glees, rollicking boating ballads following one another. Everybody sang, whether or not voice or ear were good. Four o’clock was the hour of meeting. By 5 we disembarked at one of the many attractive landing places bordering the upper lake. The wood was full of wild flowers, sand violets rioting upon the slopes, ferns fringing the shore and towering into beds of bracken in the edge of the grove. A committee of flower lovers sallied forth in quest of decorations for the sylvan feast. Another and a smaller deputation remained behind to lay the cloth and spread the table. A level expanse of sward was selected, and the damask was secured against vagrant gusts by laying heavy stones at the corners. One hamper contained napery and table furniture. This consisted of wooden plates, bowls and dishes, bought for a few cents a piece; stout glasses and stoneware pitchers, silver forks, knives and spoons. The napkins were of Japanese paper. Sometimes several girls joined hands in providing refreshments, one bringing nothing but sandwiches, another providing cakes, and third iced tea and coffee, a fourth salads, and all “clubbing in” on the ice cream.

This last was the most cumbrous article in the van or boat, packed down in a freezer, surrounded by salt and ice. Salad dressing, French or mayonnaise, came in a wide-mouthed jar, closely corked; lettuce was washed and picked over at home, wrapped in a damp napkin and laid lightly in a basket, bits of ice scattered among the leaves preserving their crispness. Each sandwich was enveloped in paraffine paper, such as lines cracker boxes; hard-boiled eggs, stuffed and deviled eggs were done up separately in tissue papers frilled at the ends. Cold tea and coffee came in quart bottles, set closely in a round basket about a lump of ice, wrapped first in canton flannel, then in oilcloth.

Only One Break.

Chicken or celery or any other salad that would toughen or wilt if left long in the dressing was packed, unseasoned, in a bowl, covered closely and dressed just before it was eaten.

Cushions, taken from boats or from carriages, if we had come by land, were laid around the cloth upon rugs, which protected flannels and duck from grass stains or earth damps.

Lastly, the floral treasures collected by the decorating committee were disposed tastefully between dishes, pitchers and bowls, and the material part of the feast began, to the accompaniment of much jesting and more laughter.

I recall with sincere satisfaction that in all the eight or ten picnics it was my happiness to attend that golden summer I witnessed but one incident that could be construed into rudeness or undue license of speech or act.

A young collegian, with more spirits than wit, had brought, of his own motion, a huge bag of dates, and, producing it after all were seated about the tastefully decorated table, scattered the contents broadcast over the array, splashing into glasses, dotting salads and sandwiches and shocking the company into the momentary silence.

Then the clear, girlish voice of the hostess was heard: “Mr. B—has evidently made a specialty of chronological tables in the university. I am afraid most of us are too unlearned to appreciate them!”

A Dance on the Turf.

By the time the supper was over the sun war near the setting. Tablecloth and napkins, glass, crockery and silver were returned to the hampers and a camp fire was kindled, with plates and dishes as a foundation. We sat in a ring about it, singing, chatting and story-telling, until the flames sank into embers. These were extinguished carefully before we set out for home.

Sometimes there was an impromptu dance upon the turf in genuine fairy fashion. Always we carried away with us lighter hearts and healthier bodies for the innocent diversion of the summer afternoon.

Recipes for the preparation of some picnic viands will be found in the recipe column.

Marion Harland

The Housemothers’ Exchange
Picnic Recipes
Porch Furniture

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