This is our favorite time of year for a picnic. It’s not just that snow is coming; we’re savoring the last pleasures of the season. The sky is clear and blue and there’s a fresh crispness to the air. The bugs are gone. The sumac is red and the aspens have turned golden. The birds and wildlife seem restless and no longer hidden in the thickets away from the heat of summer and out of sight. The southerly rays of the autumn sun sparkle in the gentle riffles of the lakes. Curled maple leaves float on subdued rivers like miniature boats, building into rafts in the back eddies. A picnic is a great way to bask in the pleasures of the season.
We like to combine a picnic with a gentle road trip through the countryside. The farms of the Midwest seem more picturesque in the fall and the mountains of the West, more majestic. Maybe we’ll visit an apple orchard or find a farmer’s market tucked away in an outlying county with golden squash and handcrafted preserves. If so, we might find some cookies or an apple pie to include in our picnic.
We have an old canoe that is perfect for these trips. We can slip it into a gentle river or placid lake and steal away to an isolated bank to lay out a quilt in tall golden grass. It’s nice to be alone, away from the noise of traffic. We’re likely to see mallards burst from the grass and maybe a whitetail tiptoe to the water for a drink. The cool air and a bit of brisk paddling will put an edge to our appetites.
Food for Your Picnic
We won’t put a lot of effort into our food preparation. In the fall, a fire often feels good but we’re tired of hot dogs and hamburgers. We’ll enjoy salads and sandwiches. We like our sandwiches loaded and on thick slices of dark homemade bread. But our favorite picnic sandwiches are meat and cheese on focaccia bread. Maybe we’ll include a potato or pasta salad stored in plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.
We sell over 100 bread mixes at our family business, The Prepared Pantry, including four types of easy-to-make focaccia bread. We recommend the rye breads and hearty whole grain breads. Our favorite focaccia bread is garlic and herb though maybe we’ll make sandwiches with sun dried tomato focaccia bread.
For desert, we’ll just pack fruit—maybe crisp apples picked locally. If the kids or grandkids are along, we’ll mix up a batch of Rice Krispie® treats—maybe the ones made with white chocolate that we really like. (You can get an e-book of our Rice Krispie treat recipes free from The Prepared Pantry.)
Food safety is not the concern that it was in the heat of the summer and we’ll keep our sandwiches cool in a soft sided bag with frozen “blue ice” cubes.
Preparing for Your Picnic
Like any outing, preparation is a key to a pleasant excursion but for a trip like this, the preparation shouldn’t take long. A picnic checklist will assure that we don’t forget anything. The checklist will be little different than the summer’s list. We’ll make sure that we have warm jackets just in case the weather changes. Hats will be stuffed away in case of a chilly wind. We’ll have some matches cased in a waterproof container if we are going to be away from the car. Binoculars and a camera will give us the opportunity to capture those mallards in fall plumage or maybe a moose with his antlers stained red from his recently shed velvet.
The last picnic of fall is one that you’ll savor when the winter winds whistle across the plains. Those memories will seed the anticipation of spring and a new season of picnics and road trips. We invite you to look over these picnic tips and adapt them to your last picnic of the fall.
13 Tips for a Successful Fall Picnic
The most difficult task of a picnic is remembering everything. Make a list on the computer of everything you might need for a picnic. Then as you pack, check off the items that you really need. Save the list for the next picnic or camping trip.
When you return, add items that you wished you had taken. Eventually, you’ll have the perfect list for your family.
1. Pick your picnic spot strategically. In the fall, mosquitoes shouldn’t be a problem but if they are, choose a higher, drier spot that is in full sun and exposed to a breeze—mosquitoes have trouble in the wind. On the other hand, if staying warm is a problem, choose a spot exposed to the sun and protected from cool breezes.
2. Think safety. If you have kids along, make sure there are no hazards nearby: busy roads, deep water, or cliffs. If your kids are small, make sure that you can keep an eye on them.
3. Everyone likes to lounge on a picnic blanket but sometimes in the fall the ground is wet. Bring along a plastic tarp to put underneath the blanket. The tarp will last many years if kept out of the sunlight and can be hosed clean at home if needed.
4. Don’t forget the tablecloth. Inexpensive plastic coated ones make great picnic equipment, especially with kids.
5. Speaking of kids, don’t forget paper towels for those spills and cleaning wipes to cleanse dirty hands and faces. Put a dry towel and a wet washcloth on your list. Stick the wet washcloth in zip-type plastic bag.
6. Bring plenty of liquids. In the fall, when it’s not so warm, it’s easy to overlook the need for liquids. Active kids need to be reminded to drink. Water is the best hydrator but consider juices and slushes. Try mixing soda pop with juice—half juice and half soda or try freezing punches or juices to a slush to take along in the cooler.
7. Include fruit in your picnic basket. It keeps well, it’s nourishing, and it’s refreshing. Often fruit satisfies a craving for something sweeter. Add fruits and fruit pieces to green salads and turkey or chicken salads.
8. Bring along a cutting board and a couple good knives. You’ll be surprised how often you will use them. Cutting boards are especially useful if you are without a picnic table. The hard plastic types are great for picnics. For cleanup, just stick the cutting board in the dishwasher when you get home.
9. Perishable foods must be kept cold. Even if it’s cool out, bacteria will grow above 40 degrees. It takes plenty of ice in a cooler to keep foods below forty degrees. Perishable foods should only be allowed to remain above forty degrees for a couple hours.
10. Consider adding folding camp chairs to your arsenal. They are comfortable, inexpensive, and compact. With these, you can stop anywhere and have a comfortable picnic and even in the best park, these beat a picnic bench.
11. Stick a first aid kit in the car and leave it there all the time. If you have kids, chances are you will need it. Likewise, keep sunscreen and calamine lotion in the car.
12. In the fall, be prepared for a change in the weather, especially at higher elevations. Have warm clothing on hand and be aware that that dirt road can become a mire in a prolonged fall storm. When we lived in Alaska, we put sleeping bags in the car each fall and left them there until spring—just in case.
13. If you are going into the mountains or woods—off the beaten track—be sure that someone you trust knows where you are going and when you plan to return. Remember that you may not be able to use your cell phone in more remote areas or in the mountains.
Dennis is the founder and general manager of The Prepared Pantry in Rigby, Idaho, a full-line kitchen store and online retailer of food, baking mixes and ingredients, and kitchen tools. The Prepared Pantry sells over 250 different baking mixes including great focaccia, bread, and cookie mixes for your picnic.