People don’t picnic like they used to. I mean, take James Beard. There was a man who knew how to pack a hamper: “It’s an easy matter to gather up a few provisions at a roadside stand or at a shop in any little town you pass through,” he writes in his essay, The Art of Picnicking. “Several of my most fanciful picnics have come straight from a delicatessen, and I recall the folly of one occasion when I bought a half pound of caviar, lemons, black bread—lacking toast—and butter. Two friends and I ate this with a bottle of chilled vodka and finished off the meal with cheese, more bread, and wine.”
The other day, inspired by Mr. Beard, I packed a basket and did it up right. It was one of those bluebird days—clear skies, soft breeze, warm and steady blowing in from the southeast. I went to the basement and dug out our picnic basket—a gift from my mother and father for Christmas one year. It has wicker sides, and a stiff wooden top, and a red-checked cloth liner keeps the sand from blowing in.
Then I set about making lunch. There was lobster in the fridge—already cooked, in the shell, leftover from dinner with my husband’s family the night before. I got out the rolling pin, thwacked the claws and the tail, and fished the big, pink chunks of meat out. Then I rolled the claws, cracked open the tails, threw it all on the countertop, and chopped it up.
It was only 9 a.m., but already the kitchen was getting hot. I rolled up my sleeves, threw the meat in a bowl, and started mincing celery and red onion, and cut a lemon in half. In a few minutes I had the salad together: just mayo and a bit of salt and pepper to top things off.
What else did a Beard-worthy picnic need? Rustic bread, sliced thick. A jar of pickles—homemade, dilly spears, never heated, crisp from the fridge. A bottle of Pellegrino; a salad of basil, bread chunks, mozzarella, and heirloom tomato. And finally, leftover blueberry pie, gooey and thick.
I packed cutlery—real stainless—along with cloth napkins and tin plates. I put on my bathing suit and a faded yellow sundress, then grabbed a towel and my book. Finally, I strapped the picnic basket to the back of my bike, climbed aboard, and rode out of town, along the bluff, to the beach.
It was a picnic, I like to think, that would have done Beard proud.
For a top-notch picnic, there is really nothing more elegant and simple than lobster salad. This recipe makes a very traditional batch—nothing fancy, but excellent in its simplicity. If you don’t feel like cooking and picking your own lobster meat, keep in mind that you can buy it cooked and shucked at most local fish markets.
2 pounds fresh cooked lobster meat, shucked and chopped
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Put the lobster meat, red onions, and celery in a medium-size mixing bowl. Whisk together the mayonnaise and lemon juice in a measuring cup and spoon this mixture into the bowl. Stir well, until everything is evenly coated with the dressing, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve chilled or at room temperature—preferably with a crusty, rustic slice of bread.