Heaven in a Handbasket

Bridgette Suzanne

Transforming the humble picnic into an affair to remember

With the dog days of summer firmly planted in our rear view, the gentle arms of autumn beckon us outside. Oppressive heat and humidity hold us hostage no longer. It’s an annual gift that should never be shunned and high time for a picnic worthy of this gift.

Sure, it’s easy to make a couple of sandwiches, grab a bag of chips, and pack a beach towel that’s recently retired from its summer shift; but why should we tether ourselves to something so pedestrian?

In the Victorian era, picnics were often elaborate affairs. Although admittedly less formal than the extravagant dinner parties thrown at the sprawling manors of the social elite, there was still an overall sense of propriety and decorum accompanying the event. Women regularly wore the elaborate dresses that we associate with the period, frequently supplemented by ornate bonnets and parasols. Men often retained their suit coats and hats. Although, we can imagine they often cast them aside in the presence of trusted friends and the absence of the rare camera, a technology still very much in its infancy.

 The food often rivaled the sartorial choices in terms of ambition and excess. Roasted meats of several varieties accompanied salads, pastries, and puddings according to one menu from 1880. A wide range of beverages, both alcoholic and not, was also made available to ensure a suitable pairing for every stage of the meal. Full tea sets were often packed with care as to not diminish the experience that a Victorian would normally enjoy at home.

All of this is to take a lesson from a bygone era. As the Victorians basked in the splendor of a well-manicured estate, their picnics rose to meet the challenge. While not all of us can retire to our country estate to dine al fresco, we can put in the effort to elevate a picnic from a mere meal to a memorable experience that proves worthy of the breathtaking beauty that surrounds us here in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. A well-packed basket made with care will pay dividends. 

In this issue of Cityview, we offer up some of the best places to set up your spread along with some inspiration on how to make your next outing one that you will never forget. So, do yourself a favor and ditch the paper plates for a picnic with style.

Pickup Picnic

After months of waiting, that most sacred time of the year is upon us. Football season is finally in full swing, and as the Vols take the field, fans will be resurrecting the age-old practice of tailgating. While picnicking and tailgating should never be conflated, we can still draw inspiration from the time-honored tradition. Leave the chicken wings and hot dogs for game day with friends. Instead, take care to pay attention to the little details that will turn this picnic into a touchdown. Layer salad ingredients in a Mason jar with the dressing at the bottom. For this picnic, Chef Eva Andres used chicken breast, strawberries, green peas, and quinoa. Aside from the stunning visual component, the salad is ready to be mixed with a few shakes whenever it’s time to serve. Save your tailgating spot for the next home game, and check out a local vineyard or orchard instead. During September and October, Tsali Notch Vineyard in Monroe County, TN welcomes visitors to pick muscadines. After a morning of picking, let down the tailgate and add your recently harvested bounty to the mix!

Portside Picnic

Flee terra firma and feel the gentle rocking of the waters with a trip to the marina. Eschewing cutlery for a tapas-styled dining experience, this picnic has a focus on sophisticated simplicity. Focusing on variety, Chef Eva presents a range of flavors and textures in bite-sized portions. Delicious and light, this spread will satiate, but won’t keep you out of the water if you decide for an impromptu swim. Find yourself lacking a vessel? Many marinas in the area offer boat rentals with a wide selection of models. Better yet, consider joining a boat club. This allows you access to a shared fleet of watercraft all year long. If boating isn’t for you, you can still enjoy waterfront views in a pastoral setting right in the heart of Knoxville. Situated just west of downtown, Sequoyah Hills Park lines the banks of the Tennessee River and sprawls over 87 acres. Finish your meal with a stroll along the Sequoyah Greenway or follow the riverbank on one of the park’s natural trails. Special thanks go out to Concord Yacht Club for the use of their marina and to Tom and Penn Grove for the use of their sailboat.

Parkway Picnic

Before the development of the Interstate Highway System, the United States was a tangled mess of smaller roads loosely connecting the country. With a growing number of cars on the road, traffic jams and shipping logistics sprung Eisenhower into action. For a nation on the move, it was an unavoidable undertaking. However, for many people much of the country was put behind a curtain, bypassed by the lure of convenience. This fall, take the time to explore the beautiful backroads of East Tennessee. Wind through the mountains as the leaves begin their annual metamorphosis, painting the landscape with splashes of yellow, orange, and red. It’s easy to lose yourself in the seemingly endless labyrinth of roads looking for the perfect picnic spot, but if wandering aimlessly waiting for inspiration is not in the cards, try Cade’s Cove. Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, it’s picturesque scenery attracts visitors all year round. Take a cue from Chef Eva and opt for artisanal meats and cheeses complimented by a berry pie. And be sure to stop by the Market Square Farmers’ Market to fill your basket with local fare.

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