Growing up, we went on a lot of picnics. Before my parents got divorced, when we lived in Florida, we would take the boat out to what we called Elena’s Island. I thought it was mine for the longest time, that we were the only people that knew about it. It was a small island off the coast of Stuart that was lousy with mangroves whose roots provided the perfect fort. We’d pull up and spend the day swimming, exploring, and eating. It was my favorite place, my own magical getaway. There were other picnic spots, too. Because my mom’s family was in the northeast and my dad’s was in North Carolina we were always on the road visiting people. We’d stop along the way and have family picnics in parks, eating my mom’s specialty subs.
Later, after the divorce, picnics were an easy way for my mom to entertain us. Despite our life-long allegiance to UNC, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham became an extension of our backyard. Before their ban on climbing the trees (and probably the reason for the ban) we would spend hours in the branches of the magnolia trees, rolling down the giant hill, pretending we were characters from Anne of Green Gables under the weeping willow. Okay, that last one was just me, my brothers had no interest in Anne or her bosom buddies. During a time of intense family turmoil those carefree moments in the trees became what we all held on to.
My whole life, especially after my father remarried and there were eight of us to account for, we vacationed one of two ways. We either headed to the coast and loaded up on a boat, eating fried chicken and salt and vinegar chips and chasing wild ponies, or we headed to the mountains, climbing our way as high as possible before eating lunch with our feet dangling off a cliff.
Picnics have always been a staple in our lives. I’ve always loved picnicing. Picnics were where I made my best memories, where I ate my best meals. These days Dan and I love to picnic in the warm months, taking hikes or exploring a local park or botanical garden. So much of my time is a whirlwind of technology, it’s great to get outside and enjoy a simple, relaxing meal in a beautiful setting.
Next month my mother and I will be featured in Southern Living magazine. In the feature, mom and I are on a special mother’s day picnic, eating recipes I developed. I am more than thrilled about this, it’s totally surreal and I can’t believe it’s happening. To celebrate, and to lead up to it’s publication, I asked all the mothers in my family to send me their favorite picnic recipe with a story, photograph, or memory. I was overwhelmed by the support and response, and I can’t wait to share them with you.
I read somewhere this winter that 2011 is the year of pie, picnics, Southern culture, DIY, vintage, and pork. Which means, amazingly, this is my year. These next few months, as I share the stories and photos from my family’s picnic adventures, I’d love to hear yours.