Whipping up a picnic


Mom could whip up a picnic in a blink of an eye. That’s what I thought before I grew old enough to help her whip up one of those picnics. With my dad’s yen for just hopping in the car for a Sunday drive and five kids to feed, clean and entertain, Mom knew how to fix food fast. As her daughters, she expected our help in the kitchen as soon as we could reach the counter.

Let’s take a drive and go for a picnic.” Dad told Mom before he went to milk the cows at 4 a.m. 

We woke up to the wonderful smell of chocolate cake mix poured into a loaf pan. If time ran out before the cake cooled, Mom mixed the margarine, milk and vanilla with a box of confectionery sugar and spread the frosting over the warm cake. The frosting seeped into the warm cake, glazing and sealing in the richness of Betty Crocker’s best.

On the surprise picnic lunch days Mom fussed about all the things she had to do before we left. She fussed, but she did it. She had to. She did not have today’s plethora of options in fast food restaurants, diners or even grocery stores open on Sunday, let alone the cash to feed seven people in a restaurant. With a well stocked kitchen and freezer, she had no problem boiling eggs and macaroni for a salad and fixing tuna fish sandwiches.

Her well packed picnic basket included either paper plates or a stack of melamine plates and Tupperware cups from the cupboard that we had to repack, carry back home and wash. With five children, Mom always said, “fill up that Tupperware dish with water and put a clean wash cloth in it.” Mom knew five children guaranteed sticky fingers and messy faces. She did not have the option of packaged wet wipes.

Dinner out did not mean less kitchen work. It did mean we left very little to add to the landfill. Not even pop bottles or cans because Mom filled a jug with ice and water. For planned picnics she bought lemons and oranges to squeeze and mix with water and sugar yielding a gallon of delightful citrus drink.

When shopping days went longer than expected, Mom whipped up simplified picnics. She left us in the car (yes, folks actually used to do that sort of thing) while she ran into the grocery store for a few minutes and came out with a loaf of white bread and stack of thick cut baloney. 

She would put baloney between a couple slices of bread and that was lunch,” I once told my husband.

With some salad dressing,” he helpfully added.

No, just the bread and baloney.” 

He could not comprehend a dry sandwich.

It was a fast picnic. We were hungry. We ate.

Occasionally the parents planned picnics with cousins. No one packed toys, we had the forest. The boys built the forts.

The girls whined, “They have a fort. We want one. Daddy, will you make one for us?” So the men built the girls’ fort. Mom and the aunts spread cakes, salads, baked beans and casseroles on the plank picnic table covered with a real table cloth.

That’s how it happened while I was at home. Then three of us married and only my younger sister and brother remained. When they visited one day my sister whispered in a shocked voice, “Dad stops and we eat at the restaurant.” 

From then on Dad could whip up a picnic lunch in the blink of an eye. 

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