Household guide from 1891 shared tips for a successful picnic
‘For desserts, there are many things, but beware of articles that will not bear traveling without looking dejected and sullen. Candied fruits with macaroons, sponge or pound cakes are about the most agreeable of all the sweets which are adapted to journeys.’
By Catherine Cooper, Orleans County Historian
Illuminating Orleans, Vol. 2, No. 25
A Summer Picnic! It sounds so carefree and restful. However, arranging a summer picnic in the 1890s was far from carefree or restful by our standards.
A copy of “Queen of the Household”, a popular household guidebook by Mrs. E.M. Ellsworth published in 1891, was recently donated to the Orleans County Dept. of History. It includes the following directives on picnics:
There should be a stream or spring of pure water, materials for a fire, shade intermingled with sunshine, and a reasonable freedom from tormenting insect life.
A woolen dress that is not too heavy nor yet too new, or a cotton one that is not too thin, with short trim skirts, solid easy shoes that have a friendliness with the feet because of prolonged intimacy with them, pretty, but not too fine or thin stockings, a hat with a broad brim, a large sun-shade, at least two fresh handkerchiefs, some pins and needle and thread, easy gloves with ample wrists, a jacket to wear when returning home.
Two or three hammocks, a few folding camp chairs, a rug to spread on the ground, two or three books that have brief, bright poems in them. Forget not the napkins, forks, spoons, and the luncheon cloth. Also carry tumblers, plates, salt, pepper, sugar and a bottle of cream or can of condensed milk. Cups with handles, but no saucers, are desirable for tea or coffee.
Supply at least double the quantity which would be served at home for the same number of people and then be sure to add a little more.
When the appetite is appeased at mid-day, it frequently renews its strength and comes back again around 4’o’clock in the afternoon and is as exacting as if it had not been appeased for a whole week.
The best and most convenient of all out of door edibles is the sandwich. The best of all sandwiches are made ready when they are wanted. To make sandwiches that leave none but pleasant memories, always grind the meat or chop it up to very near a pulp when cold. Make a thick mayonnaise and mix it with the meat until it is about the consistency of marmalade. Store or carry in a covered dish or closed jar.
For desserts, there are many things, but beware of articles that will not bear traveling without looking dejected and sullen. Candied fruits with macaroons, sponge or pound cakes are about the most agreeable of all the sweets which are adapted to journeys.
For drinking, tea that has been made, seasoned while hot and then bottled directly is delicious, as is coffee.
If ice must be carried, select a clear, solid piece, and wrap it in a heavy flannel. Carry an ice pick with it, so that it may be broken up when needed, with as little waste as possible.
Despite the effort involved in organizing this picnic, Mrs. Ellsworth advised the housekeeper or housemother to arrange a picnic once a week during the summer, to escape the burdens of the formalities and paraphernalia that consumed their energy every day of their lives.
Enjoying the advantages of portable coolers, ice that does not require an icepick, paper plates, store-bought mayonnaise, not to mention less restrictive clothing, we should certainly take her advice. Pass the bottled tea please!