I planned my picnic for the next afternoon, giving my menu selections time to chill. My menu was simple. I needed some sort of meat – perhaps fried chicken or cooked ham, a salad – potato or macaroni, and a sweet dish, all of which would be served with coffee. Truly the most important ingredient for the day’s feast was the complement of the warm summer air. I spent only a few minutes researching vintage picnics when I stumbled across a divine collection of vintage recipes on RecipeCurio.com. I caught myself getting a little off track as I searched through casserole recipes, chilled salad recipes, BBQ recipes and many more. But when I came across the site’s presentation of an undated, but presumably 1950’s, American Dairy Association’s “Let’s Eat Outdoors” booklet, I hit the picnic basket jackpot. There were portable recipes aplenty, namely Spam® recipes. I must admit that I was a little skeptical of Spam®. Like so many others, I had preconceived notions of the pre-cooked, canned ham. But, since Spam® had distributed more than 1 billion cans by the end of the 1950’s, I figured it couldn’t be that bad and I decided to give it a try. There were four recipes on the page, starting with “Fun on a Bun,” made by simply grinding together 1 loaf of Spam®, 1 small onion, 4oz. Cheddar Cheese and some cream of mushroom soup to moisten. Scoop out the centers of a few buns, fill the buns with the mixture, wrap them in foil and heat in the oven. Drop them in your insulated picnic basket and you’re ready to go. Also listed was “Dad’s Barbecued Spam®,” the “Paul Bunyan Sandwich,” and Spam®-aroni Picnic Salad. After making note of a handful of recipes on the site, I made my selections and began building my menu:
Chicken Salad Sandwiches
Spam®-aroni Picnic Salad
Peaches ‘n’ Cream Dessert-Salad
I boiled three bone-in chicken breasts with a few stalks of celery, a quartered onion and a few chopped carrots for an hour and a half. Once cooled, I stripped the meat from the bone and mixed it with enough mayonnaise to moisten it well. I added some chopped, raw celery, minced onion and, from the RecipeCurio.com handwritten recipe, I added ¼ cup toasted almonds, slivered, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and a dash of salt and pepper to taste. Once it was mixed thoroughly, I covered the bowl with aluminum foil and placed it in the refrigerator.
Next up was the Spam®-aroni Picnic Salad. I did my best not to give my biased opinion of Spam® a second thought as I peeled back the aluminum lid. Much to my surprise, staring back at me was a tiny, soft, pink rectangle. It wasn’t greasy or smelly as I once believed it to be, it was a little spongy, though. Relieved, I chopped half of the Spam®, about 1 cup, tossed it into a plastic bowl and followed the recipe exactly. I combined the Spam® with 3 cups of cooked, chilled macaroni (I used mini-Farfalli), 4oz. cubed Cheddar Cheese (or if you’d rather, American Cheese), 1 cup chopped celery and 2 tablespoons of minced onion. I added enough sour cream to moisten the salad, mixed it well and sealed it with the lid. The salad spent the night in the refrigerator, next to the chicken salad.
The “Peaches ‘n’ Cream Dessert-Salad” staked a versatile claim: “IT’S A DESSERT — it’s a salad, depending on the occasion. For lunch serve this with finger sandwiches and iced tea, for dinner put on greens and top with sour cream, for dessert decorate with dollop of whipped cream, for family reunion picnic, take salad, pan and all, right to the spot and cut in squares there.” Since I was serving it as the dessert following finger sandwiches, I knew I had made the right selection. I did run into a few ingredient challenges at the grocery store. So instead of searching all over town, I made some recipe modifications. The original ingredients are listed below, but in my version I substituted blueberry pie filling instead of peach pie filling and, since I could not find whipped topping mix, I used 4ozs. refrigerated whipped topping.
3oz. pkg. lemon gelatin
1 cup boiling water
1 cup orange juice
1 pkg (2 1/8oz) whipped topping mix
3oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup chopped pecans
3oz. pkg. lemon gelatin
1 cup boiling water
1 can (1 lb. 5oz.) peach pie filling
For Cream Layer:
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water; add orange juice. Refrigerate until slightly thickened.
Prepare topping mix according to package directions; blend in cheese; stir in pecans. Fold into gelatin mixture and pour into 9x9x2-inch pan. Chill until almost firm.
For Peach Layer:
Dissolve gelatin in boiling water; stir in pie filling; let cool. Pour over cream layer.
Chill until firm.
Cut in 9 squares or 12 pieces. Serve on crisp salad greens, if desired.
The next morning, I split some mini-croissants, piled them high with chicken salad and wrapped them individually in aluminum foil. I used an insulated tote bag as my picnic basket and started assembling my picnic from the bottom up: Peaches ‘n’ Cream Dessert-Salad on the bottom, next I placed a piece of cardboard on top of the pan to make a sturdy stand for the plastic bowl holding the Spam®-aroni Picnic Salad. I piled my chicken salad sandwiches on top of the bowl like a silver crown and placed some paper plates, napkins, utensils and an insulated mug of coffee alongside everything. I whisked my tablecloth from my dining room table and headed out onto the green grass and radiating summer sun. As I made my way, one of the handles on my tote snapped, sending my picnic to the ground. I kneeled down to pick up the few sandwiches that had tumbled out and onto the grass. Much to my good fortune, the summer’s day had sent a handsome man my way who was kind enough to help me. He graciously accepted my invitation to join my picnic and we laid the tablecloth in the shade of the cherry blossom tree.
I peeled open a few finger sandwiches from their silver purses and placed them on the plates. I opened the Spam®-aroni Picnic Salad and saw hunks of pink, orange and green dotting the bowl like confetti among tiny, white bowties. I served my guest sandwiches and salad; we sipped our coffee from the same mug and made pleasant conversation. I could tell that the afternoon was winding down, but I did not want my guest to part so soon. I reached into my picnic basket and lifted out the Peaches ‘n’ Cream Dessert-Salad, or in my case, the Blueberries ‘n’ Cream Dessert-Salad. I cut two pieces and offered one to my companion. It jiggled slightly on my spoon and tasted like the summer day surrounding us. The light lemon and citrus flavors were the season, the wild berries were the earth we sat upon and the clouds of fluff were the sky. It was delightful and cool, melting quickly in the heat. This dessert was the perfect way to say farewell to another lazy summer day.
As my husband and I cleaned up our picnic and made our way inside, I couldn’t help but think of my own twist on an old nursery rhyme. A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket. I packed a lunch and headed out and on the way I dropped it. I dropped it, I dropped it and on the way I dropped it. A handsome lad helped pick it up and then we shared a sandwich.
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