Power to the Picnic

Is there anything more relaxing that eating a delicious meal outside with the sun warming your skin, quietly listening to the comforting sounds of nature?

Even though picnicking is not something we do every day, hopefully we have all been lucky enough to enjoy a picnic at some point in our lives.

Here at UC Davis, picnics are particularly important to our unique history.checkered cloth for picnics

But before we get into all of that, you might be wondering why we are writing about picnics in the first place?

It is because April 23rd is officially National Picnic Day.

So together let’s grab our picnic baskets and get inspired.

Picnics Through the Ages

Picnics enjoy a rich history.

watermelon slice cross sectionThe institution of the picnic has been around since medieval times when wealthy members of society prepared outdoor feasts and banquets.

However, the first use of the word ‘picnic’ goes back to 16th century France where it was used to describe a group of people dining at an indoor restaurant who brought their own wine.

Over time, ‘picnic’ evolved into its contemporary meaning—an outdoor social gathering where food is the focus.

The picnic tradition was particularly popular in 19th century England. There was even an organization called “The Picnic Society,” made up of a group of wealthy individuals from London who held lavish garden parties for all of their friends and acquaintances.

Over the years, picnicking has been transformed and barely resembles those formal affairs of the British high society. Today, when someone says ‘picnic,’ most of us think of a much more casual meal shared outdoors with friends and family, complete with a checkered blanket and wicker basket.

Why Are Picnics Such a Big Deal at UC Davis?

five baby carrotsPicnics (and National Picnic Day in particular) have always held a special place in the hearts of all of us here at UC Davis.

It all started when the university invited members of the community to come to the university farm to view the new dairy barn in 1909. People came from far and wide, equipped with their picnic lunches in order to fully enjoy their day out in the countryside.

Since that first celebration, the number of people who attend the Davis picnic festivities has grown exponentially.

In 1915, 5,000 people gathered to picnic and square dance at the University Farm. The next year, the number tripled to 15,000.

Today, the UC Davis Picnic Day is believed to be the largest student-run event in the nation, and a much-anticipated celebration frequently boasting as many as 75,000+ attendees.

Some Fun Facts About Picnics

Here is some of our favorite picnic trivia:

  • The very first picnic table was designed and created in the late 1800s.
  • France hosted a 600-mile-long picnic on the first Bastille Day of the new millennium, in the top view of red appleyear 2000.
  • The picnic basket—originally known as a picnic hamper—has evolved from a simple woven basket to today’s more sophisticated versions that include separate hot and cold compartments, wine chillers and detachable blankets.
  • The most popular day for hosting a picnic in America is on July 4th, while in Italy picnics are most common on “Easter Monday,” the first Monday after Easter.
  • Robin Hood apparently held picnics in the woods with all his Merry Men!

The Surprising Health Benefits of Picnics

It may sound strange, but there may actually be some wonderful health benefits associated with picnics.

For one, picnics allow you to spend time outdoors, enjoying the beauty of nature. The fresh air is great for your health. Plus, it means you are walking around more, so it keeps you moving.

Being outdoors is also a mood booster, well-known for lowering stress levels.

Chef Cathy Fisher and Zucchini BreadAdditionally, picnics give us a different ‘take’ on the social aspect of eating. Instead of everyone rushing through the meal (or worse, not eating together at all), the picnic by its very nature promotes a more leisurely dining experience with plenty of time to bond with loved ones.

And while traditional picnics do not generally consist of the healthiest food options, there are plenty of ways to pack a more healthful picnic.

All you need to do is focus on nature’s best, including in-season fruits and veggies, lentil or quinoa salads and whole grain bread.

If you are looking for a great treat to enjoy on National Picnic Day, give this recipe for Zucchini Bread a try. You might love it so much that you will start thinking of any excuse to go on a picnic!

Happy National Picnic Day everyone!