Picnics have been popular for centuries. Each generation has its own twist. Baby boomers grew up watching Yogi Bear’s endless pursuit of “pic-a-nic baskets.” Today, a picnic can be as simple as a sandwich or as elaborate as a multicourse meal cooked on a rustic grill.
Be prepared, however, to take your used paper plates and food containers home with you. Better yet, bring reusables in the first place.
“It is important to protect the natural landscape that you are enjoying,” said Laura Dike-Miller of Boxford, while picnicking at Maudslay State Park in Newburyport with friends and her 14-year-old daughter, Jessie, who is active in the Essex County Kids 4-H Club.
“Through her 4-H activities, we as a family learned about the negative impact popular disposal plates, cups, and cutlery have on the environment,” Dike-Miller said.
“Many things like plastic cups don’t break down and they pollute the environment,” Jessie explained. “Micro-plastics end up in the ocean and our food supply.”
Massachusetts offers more than 150 state parks where picnickers are invited to come and enjoy the verdant landscape and “visitors are welcome to bring premade refreshments along for an adventure,” according to Olivia Dorrance, spokesperson for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Some state parks have trash receptacles, but visitors always are encouraged to take home what they bring into the park.
At the Minuteman National Park in Concord, there are no trash receptacles. Visitors are welcome to enjoy a picnic in one of the many areas around the sprawling 900-plus acre historic park, but they must carry out whatever they carry in.
For a larger-scale summer adventure, a picnic can be incorporated into a full day of outdoor activities.
Just minutes south of Boston is the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation covering parts of Quincy, Braintree, Canton, Dedham, Milton, and Randolph. The Houghton’s Pond Recreation Area offers five picnic sites featuring grills and picnic tables, ball fields, a swimming beach, bathhouse, comfort station, and seasonal concession pavilion. (There are also trash receptacles.)
Katie Shernan, co-owner of the Port Plums culinary shop in Newburyport, offers some ideas for grilling in the great outdoors. She suggests “pre-stringing meats, veggies, or shrimp on stainless or wood skewers” and carrying them in containers with marinade.
“They are quick and easy to grill, serve, and eat,” she said. “Choose an infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar for bread dipping or adding flavor to grill the meats.”
Don’t let an overly ambitious menu ruin your picnic.
“Keep it simple,” added her mother, Karen Shernan, co-owner of Port Plums. “The goal should be to enjoy the experience and not stress over what to pack. If that means buying prepared food, then go for it.”
Karen has enjoyed several elegant but simple picnics while attending concerts at Maudslay State Park.
“Your local cheese shop is great for your favorite charcuterie. Choose a theme: French, Italian, Vermont, and select cheese, meats, breads, pickles/olives, and spreads such as jam, tapenade, or humus that go together accordingly,” Shernan advised. “Whole fruits to slice — apples, melons, etc. are easier to transport than delicate berries. Fruit salad can be transported in Stasher containers.”
Stasher containers, made of silicone, are advertised as “safe for people and the environment.” Shernan utilizes reusable and compostable containers whenever possible.
For her picnic with family and friends, Dike-Miller brought fresh local strawberries, homemade goat cheese, and a loaf of French bread. They used uncoated paper plates supported by natural wicker holders and all the cups, cutlery, and napkins were washable and reusable.
“I bring empty Tupperware containers with me,” she said. “When we are done, I pack them up and take everything home.”
Whether it’s a warm summer afternoon or an evening repast under the stars, the casual experience of eating outdoors can be an antidote to the hectic grab-and-go pace of life today, especially if it is done without electronic devices.
Sitting on a blanket spread in the shade of a mature tree, Dike-Miller easily conversed with her teenage daughter because cellphones were left in the car.
She noted that without the distraction of electronic devices, conversation and eye contact were possible, making the shared al fresco dining experience extra special.
“Thanks Mom,” said Jessie. “I’m glad we did this.”