Life Is A Picnic

Life Is A Picnic

Havin’ A Picnic

One of the results of the French Revolution which they do not usually teach in history class was the creation of the picnic as a social activity.  All of the royal gardens were converted into public spaces, and taking the family to the park for a casual lunch became “the thing to do” by the close of the 18th century.  The idea of preparing and eating food outdoors in a casual setting, and for fun, quickly spread to other countries (and even across the pond to the young United States).  This does not mean that all picnic foods are simple, especially in the 1800s, some picnics would include elaborate feasts for the occasion. These days, they can be as simple as throwing a few cold sandwiches into a bag with some chips and pop.

The origin of the word picnic comes from the French phrase pique-nique or piquenique, which is a reference to a group of people that brought their own wine to a restaurant. The earliest known appearance of this word appearing was Origines de la Langue Francaise by Tony Willis in 1692. The word was used to describe groups of people brining their own wine and food to the park, and then eventually was anglicized into the modern day picnic. However, the French word piquer is translated to “pick” in English – and may describe the action of each person going to the gathering picking what they will be brining.

The term was really not used outside of France until the mid to late 1800s, and it was used to describe pot-luck lunches that did not necessarily have to held outside – where everyone contributed to the meal.  Eventually, the word evolved into what we understand it today, as a casual meal eaten outdoors (and it does not need to be by a large group). [Fast Fact: There is a misconceived notion that the word picnic is derogatory, and that the word originated from the lynching of black people (e.g., N-picking or N*g-pic). This origin is untrue since the word had originated at an earlier date (see above), however, during this dark period of American history, crowds would gather and this abominable activity was sometimes described as a “picnic-like” experience.]


The modern picnic can be a very casual affair, and food does not even have to be pre-prepared.  Just stop into your local delicatessen and pick up a few cold-cut sandwiches, chips, and beverages.  Or get a little more daring and pick up hot sandwiches (like corned beef or pastrami) and a side of potato salad or coleslaw. I hold this particular topic close to my heart; I worked for a decade in a kosher deli-restaurant in Brooklyn, NY. I had worked at every position from busboy to maître d’ and everything in-between. I had spent many years on the counter serving hot dogs and hot corned beef, pastrami, tongue, and other assorted sandwiches (and not the pre-processed stuff they call cold-cuts today). All piled high with some slices of pickle on the side.  I had worked in the kitchen (with no air conditioner) cooking up all of the dupes laid out over the work station and arguing with the waiters and waitresses.  It was not always easy, you were always on your toes, and holidays did not mean rest, but overtime.  However, there were some good times and comradely with your fellow workers, and met many interesting people (sometimes celebrities, but mostly ordinary people) that frequented the restaurant.

The first delicatessens, or places that sold foreign foods, first originated in Germany during the 1700s. The German company Dallmayr is credited as being the world’s first delicatessen in Munich (they imported fruits from all over the world), which began business in 1700; and they are still in existence.  The word delicatessen originally comes from the French word délicatesse, which means “delicious thing (to eat).” The Germans adopted the word, and uses delikatesse to describe food.  However, the root of the word is even much older and may come from the Latin word delicatus, which translates to “giving pleasure or pleasing” – although maybe not specifically food.  German immigrants brought this idea to America with them, and they began establishing delicatessens in the mid 1800s. The first known use of the word delicatessen in the United States occurred in 1885. As time went on food stores, such as supermarkets, began specifying areas of their stores as delis, where they would sell cold-cuts, salads, and other assorted dishes.

The first Jewish delicatessen in the United States, Kat’s Deli, opened its doors in New York City in 1888. However, they did not become commonplace until the 1920s. After WWI, the Jewish immigrants began making their way up into the middle class and had more money to spend. So they now had money to spend on meats like pastrami, which was truly a delicacy at that time. They also became meeting places for Jews. Anti-Semitism was always around each corner, especially during that time, so Kosher delis became a place where Jews could go and not worry that their religion will be the cause of scorn.  As the Jewish people made further advances in their economic standing, delis became more prevalent. At its height, there were 15,000 Jewish delis in New York City alone; in 2015 there were only 15 businesses that registered as such.

Now That’s A Sandwich

Over the decade that I worked in the deli, I literally made thousands of sandwiches. The three most popular meats were corned beef, pastrami, and turkey.  Other meats included brisket, roast beef, salami (soft and hard), bologna, tuna salad, chicken salad, chopped beef liver, and tongue. I never acquired a taste for liver, but tongue has always been one of my favorites.  Through the years I have served (or eaten myself) almost every conceivable combination of these meats on a sandwich with various toppings and condiments, such as mustard, Russian dressing, mayonnaise, cole slaw, potato salad, pickles, cranberry sauce, etc. One of my favorites was the oddly-named knishawich, in which I sliced open the center of a Gabila’s potato knish and added slices of pastrami and mustard (delicious). Although I have added ketchup to a number of sandwiches for customers, that is not for me.  Also note, since it was a “real” kosher deli, there was no cheese, so the “classic” Reuben sandwich was not on the menu. [Fast Fact: The two leading opinions as to the creation of the Reuben sandwich originates with it coming from one of two Jewish men; Reubin Kulakofky, who put it on the menu at Blackstone Hotel in Omaha in the 1920s, or Arnold Reuben, the owner of Reuben’s Deli in NYC, that claimed to put it on his menu as “Reuben’s Special” in 1914.]


Of course, Jewish delis also sell their share of other “Jewish” food such as matzo ball soup, knishes, boiled beef flanken, stuffed cabbage, and hot dogs. Most Jewish delicatessens also serve American food as well, such as fried chicken, beef burgers, steak, and salad.

Pic-a-nic Baskets

June 18th of each year marks International Picnic Day. Yes, it is a “made-up” holiday, but it is a fun one. [Fast Fact: The Northern Territory in Australia does have an official public holiday called Picnic Day, which is celebrated on the first Monday of August.] The origin of the holiday is unknown, but probably has its roots stemming from the time of the French Revolution.  For those that follow it, it is a reason to go out and enjoy the day with a picnic, alone or with friends and family. [Fast Fact: UC Davis also holds an annual Picnic Day event, begun in 1909, that attracts over 125,000 people.]

This year, International Picnic Day also falls on another widely celebrated day in the U.S., Father’s Day.  What could be a more wonderful idea than to spend Father’s Day having a picnic?  Take dad to the park, to a favorite outdoor spot, or even just to the back yard and enjoy the day.

When I think of picnics, I always (maybe not always, but fairly often) associate them with the animated cartoon character Yogi Bear and his always trying to steal vacationers “pic-a-nic baskets.”  Yogi Berra was born on May 12, 1925.  I mean Yogi Bear was created by Hanna-Barbera and first appeared as a side-character during the Huckleberry Hound Show in October 1958. The character was so popular that he was given his own show in 1961 entitled The Yogi Bear Show, and has appeared many times on TV (and on the big screen) ever since. Although it was said that Art Carney’s character of Ed Norton in the Honeymooners was the inspiration for Yogi Bear’s character, Yogi Berra sued Hanna-Barbera for defamation of character.  Although the creators denied the claim, and the suit was dropped, the names are too close not to be a coincidence (just as Jellystone Park is akin to Yellowstone Park). In fact, when Berra passed away in 2015, the AP mistakenly reported that “New York Yankee’s Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Bear has died.  He was 90.” [Yes, really.]  [Fast Fact: Yogi Berra’s real first name is Lawrence.  He received the “Yogi” moniker when playing for American Legion Baseball as a teenager. One of his teammates noticed that Berra sat with his legs crossed, just like a picture of a Hindu yogi he saw in a picture from a travel brochure for India. He started calling him Yogi, and the name stuck.]


Trying to figure out what recipe to provide for this month was not easy. For a picnic, it is much easier to pick up meat and bread (or have a deli make you the sandwich).  Although they may sell salads to go, it is pretty easy to make your own cole slaw.

Ingredients (6 servings)

½ cup mayonnaise

3 tbs sugar

1 ½ tbs lemon juice

1 tbs vinegar

½ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp salt

6 cups shredded cabbage

1 cup shredded carrots


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl



“Dallymyr” (official website) @

“Delicatessen” ( @

“Fun Holiday – International Picnic Day” ( @

“History in a Basket: It’s Picnic Time” (Stephanie Butler: 2013) @ 

“History of New York Delis” (Pastrami Blog: 2009) @

“International Picnic Day” ( @

“International Picnic Day (June 18)” ( @

“Pastrami on Rye: A Full-Length History of the Jewish Deli” (Kenny Sokan: 2016) @

“Picnic Pique – Rumor: The Word “Picnic” Originated with Crowds Gathering to Witness Lynchings” (David Mikkleson (fact checker): 2017)  @

“Reuben Sandwich History and Recipe” (What’s Cooking America) @

“Picnic Pique: The Word Picnic Originated with Crowds to Witness Lynchings”

“Yogi Bear” (Hanna-Barbera Wiki) @

“Yogi Bear” (Wikipedia) @

“The Relationship between Yogi Berra and Yogi Bear, Explained” (Laura Bradley: 2015) @


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s