Elegant outdoor meals were likely first eaten during the Middle Ages, when the European leisure class began organizing hunting parties as a form of entertainment. Historians also believe that the word “picnic” originates from the seventeenth-century French term “pique-nique”, which described wealthy gourmands who brought their own wine along with them when dining out.In those early years, outdoor feasts were largely reserved for the wealthy, but with the growth of the middle class, the picnic gained a more universal appeal. In the Victorian Era, the public was enamored with the pursuits of the moneyed aristocracy, and the popularity of the picnic exploded.Even then though, the picnic was a much larger and more elaborate meal than the one we know today. “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management”, the seminal book on Victorian British cookery and housekeeping, provided detailed instructions on picnicking.
The book insisted that a picnic for about 40 people should include cold roast beef, four meat pies, four roast chickens, two roast ducks, four dozen cheesecakes and one large cold plum pudding, just to name a few items. The menu also included three dozen bottles of beer along with claret, sherry and brandy. Just imagine the number of picnic baskets they would have needed for all that food!Because they’re lightweight and sturdy, woven baskets have always been favored to transport picnics, but centuries ago they were often as large as trunks because so many courses were offered. As picnic meals have evolved over the years, so have picnic baskets.Today, most picnic basket are designed to feed just a handful of people, but a wide range of styles are available. Some modern picnic baskets are made of modern materials like polyester with waterproof insulated interiors, while others may look more familiar, made from woven natural materials, but are small and simple with washable fabric liners. Attractive and elaborate picnic kits are even available, with dishes, flatware, glasses and napkins included, along with straps to hold all these items in place with plenty of room remaining for your outdoor feast.