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Fresh Air Feasting

July 01, 1998|CHARLES PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Originally, all meals were picnics, sort of, but then dining rooms were invented. And just about the time they became common, people started to rediscover the pleasures of eating under the sky.

In the Middle Ages, Asian monarchs from China to the Middle East escaped the claustrophobia of palace life by going on hunting parties, which were also picnics, because the hunters always took along some food. (Even a king can't be sure of bagging a stag.) The Caliphs of Baghdad had the custom of bringing a meat pie the size of a wagon wheel, which would still be warm by the time people felt like eating.

And then there was Omar Khayyam, who wrote possibly the most famous poem about a picnic:

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine,

A book of verse and thou

Beside me, singing in the wilderness--

Ah, wilderness were Paradise enow.

Actually, Omar's 12th century verses are even more picnic-like than Edward Fitzgerald's famous translation reveals. They call for a leg of lamb, not a book of verse. Evidently, that sounded unromantic to the 19th century and maybe a little racy.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 8, 1998 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
The Japanese name for Honey Ginger Sponge Cake, Kasutera, was misspelled in the recipe name in "Picnic Under the Clear Blue Sky: Bento Box It" (July 1).

People sometimes ate outdoors in medieval Europe, but the ideal there was always the formal banquet until the 17th century. Then it suddenly became fashionable to serve a cold buffet called a collation, which had originally been the name of a light dinner after an ecclesiastical conference. By preference, a 17th century collation was held in a garden.

Cold collations moved out into the woods in the 19th century so the Romantics could sigh over nature. Typically, they hauled around huge picnic hampers stuffed with cold cuts, pastries and wine. The people in Jane Austen novels weren't about to starve just to enjoy a view.

But this wasn't called picnicking yet. A picnic was originally the same as a potluck, to which everybody brings part of the meal. Of course, this was a natural way to cater the food for a pleasure outing, so by the 1860s, a picnic finally settled down to being an outdoor meal.

*

The Fourth of July is one holiday nobody celebrates indoors. If you don't go picnicking, you at least haul everything you're going to eat out to the backyard. We have three Independence Day picnic menus to suggest this year.

Recent Times Test Kitchen intern Danae Campbell has created an eclectic California cuisine sort of meal based on a lamb sandwich containing our old favorites, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette, followed up with a cold pea soup and shamelessly rich but possibly also healthful Oatmeal Apricot Chocolate Bars.

We also take some ideas from Japan, which has possibly the world's most organized picnic tradition in the nested containers known as a bento box. They include stuffed chicken rolls, ramen noodles with a peanut sauce, snow peas with sesame and an orange ginger sponge cake.

Finally, Mayi Brady of The Times Test Kitchen has put together a Southern picnic of fried chicken and black-eyed pea and rice salad, followed by shortbread with broiled peaches.

Southern Picnic

Southern Fried Chicken

Black-Eyed Pea and Rice Salad

Broiled Peaches With Almond Syrup Scottish Shortbread

SOUTHERN FRIED CHICKEN

1 (3 1/2- to 4 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into serving pieces

2 cups buttermilk

2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons Creole seasoning

1 cup flour

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

Shortening for frying, about 2 cups

Marinate chicken in buttermilk overnight. Drain and pat dry. Discard buttermilk.

Combine cayenne, salt, black pepper, dry mustard, chili powder and Creole seasoning in small bowl. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons over chicken. Combine remaining spice mixture with flour. Beat egg and milk. Dip chicken pieces in flour, then in egg mixture, then in flour.

Heat shortening in heavy skillet over medium heat until 1 inch deep. Fry chicken, covered, turning once, until dark golden brown, about 15 minutes for dark meat, 10 minutes for white.

4 servings. Each serving:

897 calories; 1,640 mg sodium; 335 mg cholesterol; 49 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 93 grams protein; 0.46 gram fiber.

BLACK-EYED PEA AND RICE SALAD

4 cups chicken broth

1 (11-ounce) package fresh black-eyed peas

3/4 cup rice

2 carrots, chopped

2 cups spinach, thinly sliced

1 cup diced ham

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Put 2 1/2 cups chicken broth in 1 medium saucepan and remaining 1 1/2 cups broth in another. Bring broth in both pans to boil over high heat.

Add peas to pan with 2 1/2 cups broth, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Add rice to 2nd pan, cover, and cook over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Add carrots to pan with peas and cook until peas and carrots are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain.

Combine peas and carrots, rice, spinach, ham and red wine vinegar. Season carefully to taste with salt because ham will be salty. Season generously to taste with freshly ground pepper.

4 servings. Each serving:

478 calories; 1,397 mg sodium; 17 mg cholesterol; 5 grams fat; 77 grams carbohydrates; 33 grams protein; 4.20 grams fiber.

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