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The Picnic

A History

Walter Levy

Picnics are happy occasions and have always been a diversion from every day cares. We think of the picnic as an outdoor meal, set on a blanket, usually in the middle of the day, featuring a hamper filled with tasty morsels and perhaps a bottle of wine, but historically picnics came in many forms, served any time of the day. This first culinary history reveals rustic outdoor dining in its more familiar and unusual forms, the history of the word itself, the cultural context of picnics and who arranged them, and, most important, the gastronomic appeal. Drawing on various media and literature, painting, music, and even sculpture, Walter Levy provides an engaging and enlightening history of the picnic. « less more »
AltaMira Press
Pages: 208Size: 6 1/2 x 9 1/4
978-0-7591-2180-5 • Hardback • November 2013 • $44.00 • (£29.95)
978-0-7591-2182-9 • eBook • November 2013 • $41.00 • (£27.95)
Walter Levy is professor emeritus of English, Pace University. He has written extensively on picnics.

Series Foreword
Chapter 1 The History of Picnics

Chapter 2 Classic Picnic Fare in the United States and Abroad

Chapter 3 Picnics Indoors

Chapter 4 Picnics Outdoors

Chapter 5 Picnics in the Arts and Popular Media

Selected Bibliography

About the Author
This enjoyable, amusing work explores the evolution of the picnic and its role in popular culture. Levy begins with the interesting history and etymology of the word 'picnic.' For example, in 17th-century France pique-nique referred to an indoor meal in which each guest contributed a dish or paid for part of the meal; not until the early 19th century in England did 'picnic' refer to an outdoor meal. The following chapters cover the wide variety of picnic fare and both indoor and outdoor picnics. Chapter 5, 'Picnics in the Arts and Popular Media,' comprising the final two-thirds of the book, examines the picnic theme in art, film, and literature and how the picnic can be used to convey any number of topics from the vagaries of love to class and race relations. Overall, this is a charming and well-researched book on a deceptively simple meal. Valuable for libraries with strong food history or food studies collections. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates and general readers.

Walter Levy takes you on a stunning discovery of the picnic, emphasizing the sense of adventure and freedom (even alongside a hectic highway) with food that, although perhaps familiar, takes very different significances. This book looks at diners, occasions, settings, sorts of food and drinks, and makes you discover that in-door picnics once existed, that picnics have often had romantic connotations but were also organized during wars, and that they played a role in literature and painting. Reading this book is an out-of-the-common experience, just as is picnicking.
Peter Scholliers, professor, FOST Research Unit, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

Who doesn’t love a picnic? The next best thing to dining alfresco is reading Walter Levy’s The Picnic: A Global History. This definitive history is brilliantly written, intellectually insightful, and a joy to read. While examining how the picnic was invented and how it evolved over five hundred years, Levy romps through European and American literature and art. All those writers and artists that may have slipped your mind return to life as they vividly describe and paint picnics past. What a delight!
Andrew F. Smith, culinary historian

The next time you consider repairing the great outdoors to feast upon the grass read Walter Levy’s excellent The Picnic first. Filled with delicious history and wonderful details from this meal’s long history, knowing the book will deepen your pleasure in dining al fresco. Be it a mountain of food as in the French Brothers of the Bacchic Pique-Nique, or dainty sandwiches of which Miss Manners might approve, there no picnic pleasure that will not be enhanced by Levy’s delightful and comprehensive book.
Bruce Kraig, professor emeritus of History, Roosevelt University, Chicago, Founding President, Culinary Historians of Chicago; author, Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America and Hot Dog: A Global History

Walter Levy is the perfect guide through the surprisingly complex cultural and social history of the picnic. His wide-ranging research takes the reader from the murky origins of the word picnic, through its incarnation as a French indoor meal, to the familiar pleasure of eating on the grass outdoors on a lovely day. And since Levy knows that life is really not a picnic, he also explores the darker side of picnics in popular culture and media. From beginning to end The Picnic: A History is an engaging and informative read.
Kyri W. Claflin, Ph.D., Lecturer, MLA Program in Gastronomy, Boston University; Co-editor (with Peter Scholliers) of Writing Food History: A Global Perspective (Berg 2012)