Looking back on the many picnics we’ve hosted over the years, I acknowledge the possibility that we may have, on occasion, gone a little overboard.
The full dinner party at Riverside Park, with the whole side of roast salmon, was a bit much. The Jewish deli and appetizing picnic—with the full spread bagels, bialys, and schmears (courtesy of the legendary Kossar’s) and the corned beef and pastrami carving station—that was some chutzpah.
But that’s the fun of it. Scheming and staging a whole production. Carting everything—food, drinks, plates, linens, tables, compost bucket—to the perfect spot, plating and arranging it all like we’re food styling a fancy magazine photo shoot. Striking the set, packing it up, and carting everything back home to spend another hour washing dishes and wiping away the sticky shrub spill from the bottom of the cooler. (OK, don’t love that part.)
Even when it’s not a big to-do, and all we have on hand is some cheeses getting down to the rind, the last bit of jam in the jar, some over-the-hill grapes, a few nuts, we still like to zhoozh it up. Make it special. Make it nice.
Enter: The humble board.
A board is like a picnic in miniature. It’s a table, platter, centerpiece, and creative canvas all at once. It’s as much visual as it is edible. Whatever assortment of flavors, textures, shapes, and colors you have, a well-composed board (like a good rug) can really tie everything together. And however big, small, curved, or straight your board may be, its natural limitations can be both a helpful constraint or an inspiring challenge to see how far you can go without going completely overboard. (Yeah, you see what I did there.)
I don’t necessarily follow any rules when it comes to composing a picnic board, but here are some of the things I keep in mind when I’m putting one together:
I like contrasts and a balance of qualities: sweet and savory, crunchy and creamy, deeply rich and brightly acidic. So, naturally, I want to slather runny brie on crusty baguette and offset that with some sweet, tannic grapes and briny olives and cornichons. I want soft, chewy dried apricots, figs, and dates with almonds, walnuts, and pecans—all in the same bite. That’s my jam. What’s yours?
A good board should be a sight to see. There’s a reason why a monochromatic assortment of beige foods isn’t appetizing. Try to delight the eye with variety and combinations of complementary and contrasting colors.
Art and Artifice
I think of a board like a it’s live still life. I’m not saying you need to put a dead pheasant or a whole fish on there—just be artful in your composition. It’s even a chance to get sculptural and make one food look like another! My move is to mold goat cheese into the shape of a pear and give it a greenish dusting of ground pistachios. No one’s fooled, of course; it’s just clever and fun.
How’s your board game? We’d love to see your ideas and picnic board pics, so please share ’em on the socials!