Christina here and I'm delighted to tell you that this week it's THE WORD WENCHES’ 16th ANNIVERSARY! In order to celebrate properly, we decided to hold a picnic and you’re all invited!
We're each bringing our favourite historical food to a lovely park somewhere in the UK – the precise location is a secret as it’s by invitation only, but you can reach it via this lovely temple folly which acts as a time portal.
The setting – hills, woodland and parkland – is beautiful, with wildflowers, ancient trees and herds of deer that can be glimpsed roaming in the distance.
Birds fill the air with song and a couple of peacocks are strutting nearby showing off their shimmering plumage. There’s a boating lake too, where we can paddle in the water if we like, or just drift peacefully while someone else does the rowing. For our comfort, we have brought rugs and silk cushions to recline upon, and we would advise you to bring a parasol or a hat as the sun can be very hot! It's going to be a wonderful day and here’s what else the Wenches will be bringing:-
Patricia – It’s been said that picnics aren’t worth the effort unless there are at least forty attending, what with all the servants hauling cutlery and china, and the buffet and chairs and finding entertainment … But I’m happy with homemade cheese and bread wrapped in a linen napkin. I have a little bottle of fresh cream from the dairy, stopped with a cork, and strawberries I picked this morning. Cook prepared some boiled eggs and a gingerbread cake. With a bottle of lemonade, I’m all set, and nature is its own entertainment. Good company is always welcome!
Did you know that picnics originated in France and were indoor casual dining events? People like laborers might have eaten their lunches outside, but the word picnic didn’t show up in England until around 1801. And then, it referred to a French style picnic with people bringing wine and dishes to eat informally indoors while watching entertainment. But once society lightened up … they wanted to eat in the landscapes the poets and artists portrayed. Jane Austen’s mention of a picnic in Emma was one of the earliest mentions of the type of picnic we know today.
Nicola – I know we’ll be able to rely on the British weather to be fine for our picnic because it’s a special day. So there will be no rain – or wasps trying to drink the lemonade! I much prefer a smaller gathering of good friends where we can chat and share food rather than the grand get-togethers that some of society enjoy. I’ll be bringing some Tudor picnic fare along so we can all give it a try if we want to – chicken and cranberry pasties and venison pie for the main course, and quince tart and chardewarden, which is made from spiced pears and breadcrumbs, for dessert. There will be pea and mint scotch eggs for those who prefer no meat, and ginger beer to drink.
The Victorians turned picnics into huge meals with chunky sandwiches and lots of tea and cake, and whilst I’m not averse to that I’m glad I won’t have to carry it all in my picnic basket! Some of the more energetic guests sometimes enjoy a game of cricket or rounders after the meal but I think I’ll just relax in the shade of an old oak tree and watch the fun.
Anne – Apparently Charles Dickens loved lobster salad for picnics, and while I think that would be delicious, I'm not sure — could be a bit messy to eat. And I do love Ratty's picnic from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, where he brought, as well as cold chicken ‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrolls
‘O stop, stop,’ cried the Mole in ecstacies: ‘This is too much!’
And really, it is too much, especially as other wenches are bringing their contributions, so for my contribution to the picnic, I'll bring a selection of elegant little sandwiches, triangles with the crusts cut off — cucumber sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, and egg and cress. Or maybe I'll skip the egg and cress sandwiches and bring stuffed eggs topped with caviare. Oh, decisions, decisions.
Then, of course, there must be fruit, and since Pat is bringing strawberries I might bring grapes, or my special spiced peaches. Or maybe just a little fruit basket, depending what's fresh and ripe and available on the day. To drink, I'm with Nicola and Ratty, and prefer ginger beer or something soft — I don't enjoy alcohol in the middle of the day under the hot sun. Or perhaps some well-chilled soda water, with fresh fruit and crushed mint leaves lightly flavoring it.
Andrea – According to the OED, the word “picnic” first appeared in English (in a letter written by Lord Chesterfield) in 1748. One speculation as to its origins is the French "pique nique” which comes from a satirical French poem from 1649 in which Frères Pique-nicques is known for visiting friends “armed with bottles and dishes.” Wherever the concept came from, here at the Word Wenches we all adore picnics, so what better way to celebrate our anniversary! In the spirit of Regency celebrations, I will be bringing some of the over-the-top cakes and pastries created by Marie-Antoine Carême, creator of “grand cuisine” and the first celebrity chef! (He cooked for Napoleon, Tallyrand and Alexander I of Russia.)
I will also make a quick stop at Vauxhall Gardens for some of their famous shaved ham . . . I am dog-sitting for Harper, Lord and Lady Wrexford’s VERY large hound, who has a particular fondness for ham, and as he’s really looking forward to fetching all the mis-hit cricket balls, I don’t want to leave him at home.
Susan – Happy Anniversary, Wenches! What better way to celebrate an anniversary picnic than with dessert? So I’m here with a bowl of cranachan filled with fresh juicy raspberries topped with whipped cream and toasted oats, all mixed with a very healthy dash of Scottish whisky. We’d better scoop up servings of this quickly, as we don’t want the whipped cream to sit out too long—though I think it will be gone before we know it. I’ve also got shortbread, still warm and buttery-crumbly, and hot biscuits (sorry, the American kind, I was in a hurry) with a ton of fresh strawberries and more whipped cream, giving us the best kind of strawberry shortcake.
Before I set all this out, I’m floating out a big plaid tablecloth and I’ve got a surprise for everyone. This picnic needs a little music! I’ve asked a couple of fiddlers to come by and serenade us on our Wench anniversary with some great Scottish tunes. I’m just now hearing the sweep of the strings as they strike up tunes by Neil Gow and William Marshall – whose melodies in the 18th and early 19th centuries were the irresistible rhythms heard at Scottish country dances, where the gentry, the nobility, and the working class could all gather together as equals and dance the night away. If your feet are already tapping, feel free to get up and dance around! Over here by the plaid tablecloth spread out on the grass under the birch trees, we’re sharing the cranachan, the shortbread, and wee sippies of whisky – and this part of the Wench picnic is turning into a cèilidh! All are welcome!
Here’s Neil Gow’s Strathspey tune “The Duchess of Atholl’s Slipper,” played by fiddler Paul Anderson on Neil Gow’s very own fiddle.
Christina: The other Wenches have most of our culinary needs covered, but a summer picnic for me would not be complete without plain raspberries and clotted cream (with lots of extra sugar sprinkled on top), so that’s what I’m bringing. If you’d like a dessert without fruit, I’ve also brought a cake (more of a tower really) made out of thin layers of crepes, strawberry jam and cream. And, of course, I had to make a batch of cinnamon rolls as they always go down well. For those of you who prefer savoury delicacies, I’ve got some soft Viking flatbread filled with pickled herring and crème fraiche.
In case we feel energetic before eating and are useless at cricket or rounders, I’ve got a croquet set, some boules and also badminton rackets for four. Badminton is the only game I am reasonably OK at and actually enjoy, especially if it’s just for fun like here. I hope to find some willing participants as I have a feeling I’ll need to exercise a little in order to earn all that food I’ll be scoffing later!
As I’m not a huge fan of wine or champagne, I’ve got a cool bag with ice cold raspberry cordial as well as home-made lemonade – both perfect on a hot summer’s day!
Mary Jo – What a wonderful picnic! Perfect weather in the lovely green countryside, an amazing assortment of delicious foods, and even music! But what would a picnic be without ice cream?
The history of frozen desserts is complex and contradictory. They seem to go back to ancient China, or perhaps Persia. It's said Marco Polo brought the idea of ice cream from China to Europe, and to this day, Italy is associated with delicious ices and gelatos. Because of the expense and difficulty of obtaining ice, for a very long time ice desserts were only for the wealthy. Not until technical improvements in the mid-19th century did ice cream become the varied and widely available dessert so beloved today.
During the Regency era, Gunter's was a famous purveyor of ices. The original confectioner's shop in Berkeley Square was started by an Italian named Domenico Negri in 1757 and named The Pot and the Pineapple. He later took James Gunter on as a partner and that is where the name Gunter's Tea Shop comes from.
Flavored ices were many and varied, and many had flower flavors like violet, elderflower, and orange. (Some confectioners even made cheese flavored ices with parmesan, which sound … interesting!) Amazing molded ices could be made, as seen in the picture.
Ices began to melt as soon as they were removed from their molds so they had to be served as soon as possible. It became the custom for fleet-footed servers to deliver ices to ladies in their carriage while gentlemen escorts lounged against the carriages so they could chat and flirt over their delicious desserts. Yes, I've written scenes like that because it sounds like such fun. (The image above is an Ivan Day image from janeaustensworld.com)
Luckily I have a nicely insulated carrier to bring a variety of ice creams, sorbets, gelatos and more to our picnic, so after we've demolished all the other picnic treats, we can finish with our choices of ices in dishes or cones. Enjoy!
So how about you – what are you bringing? We hope you will all join us to celebrate our anniversary!
To make this an extra special celebration, the Wenches will be offering a free book each to winners chosen at random from those of you who leave comments. (Format and title to be determined by individual negotiation between Wench and winner).