My Picnic Life

Crushing waffle sandwich with honeycomb ice cream at Spruce Street Harbor Park in Philadelphia.
Crushing waffle sandwich with honeycomb ice cream at Spruce Street Harbor Park in Philadelphia.

I grew up on a farm in NW Iowa with a steady diet of faith, family and farming. We had pork and chicken directly from the farm, to the butcher, back to the farm and into the oven. We ate eggs from the hens in the coop and drank milk from my uncle’s dairy cows. The garden we planted and harvested was enormous and we didn’t waste a thing. The sweet corn was planted with an old two-row field planter and … well … let’s just say I can’t eat corn-on-the-cob at any restaurant or at any time of year other than July-September. Canning and freezing were core classes. Lard also came from the butcher and was kept in the refrigerator. Homemade pie was a normal thing. I had no idea how spoiled I was.

Picnics were special times but they were not glamorous … no fancy blankets, glasses or scenery. My dad’s idea of the perfect picnic was to have sandwiches and fruit and a cold drink on the tailgate of his truck out in the field during or after a long day of planting or harvesting. What made it perfect was the fact that my mom made it, delivered it and ate with him, often watching the sun set.

Other “picnics” I remember … sitting under a big tree after a hot day of bailing hay and having my mom’s amazing fresh apple fritters; family reunions centered around hymn sings, prayer and table after table of potluck favorites; Track and Field Day at the end of the school year which was the only day I was allowed to take a sack lunch and my mom let me fill it with junk food (I never did very well at sports); Christmas Eve in my grandma’s basement filled with aunts, uncles and cousins (literally 40-50 people) sitting at, yes, actual picnic tables with bowls of mixed nuts in the shell for centerpieces; 4th of July picnics where we really only cared about spitting watermelon seeds and seeing the fireworks; and roasting hot dogs and making s’mores over an open fire.

I took a big detour in college. I majored in statistics. I like research. (It’s okay if you’ve wrinkled up your face … I’m use to it.) To pay for my education I worked as a waitress (not my calling), in a grocery store and for my dormitory food service. Eventually, internships replaced my food-related experiences on my resume and I was thrilled. Grad school followed as did marriage and motherhood. Priorities shifted quickly and, within a few years, I found myself at home full-time with my kids and, you guessed it … back in the kitchen … and the garden … and addicted to “Food Network.” My boys are now grown and I love it when they send me pictures of their latest cooking successes or ask me questions on how to make things.

Is it any wonder I am so obsessed with food? Gardening, cooking, canning, baking, eating, recipes, grocery stores, menus … I can go on and on. And I do. My friends and family enjoy the fruits of my labor but have often heard too much on the subject. That’s why I’m here. I can type to my heart’s content and share my successes, failures, discoveries, stories and adventures. Take what you like … use what you can … and thanks for sharing in my picnic life!

Anita Hinkeldey McVey