Food & Drink

How to Make Your Own Picnic Set

I have two go bags in my house—though neither one would help me much in the case of a natural or man-made disaster. Given the state of the world, I should probably prepare for those possibilities, but instead, I prefer to always be ready for two things I love: traveling and picnics.

My picnic go bag means I’m always ready to hop on my bike and share an alfresco meal with friends in Brooklyn. Take some time to build your own, and I promise your summer meal game will improve immeasurably.

I can’t really take credit for this idea. I inherited my picnic prepper tendencies from my late mother. She always had a small cotton pouch—I think sewn by my grandmother—packed with a squat bronze pepper mill, a wood wine opener, and a folded piece of foil ready for picnics. That treasured pouch is approaching its 50th year and deserves a medal for outstanding service.

Come summer, it lives in the vestibule outside my front door. It’s tucked into a soft-sided blue cooler left behind by an old roommate (thank you, Emily) along with melamine plates and other picnic essentials. If you’re building a picnic go bag from scratch, start with an insulated bag or cooler that’s big enough to hold a bottle of wine or seltzer and sports both short handles and a long strap so you can swing it over your shoulder on your way to your picnic destination.

AO Coolers Traveler Original Soft Cooler

Next, stash small items in a pouch so they don’t get lost among larger picnic accoutrements. Go for form over fashion here: a bag or two that’s washable, like these from Baggu, either with a pattern or a dark color to hide stains.

Tuck a foldable knife inside that’s sharp enough to cut a hard cheese like Piave or an apple. I like using one I bought at Odessa’s Privoz Market years ago, but Opinel makes a stainless-steel knife with a corkscrew that fits the bill. Depending on your picnic spread, you might need to add more silverware before dashing out the door, but pack at least a couple of forks and spoons in here.

Opinel No. 10 Corkscrew Folding Knife

Invariably, a friend will be rushing to the picnic from work or another get-together and won’t have time to make something. “It’s fine,” I assure them, “just pick up some Persian cucumbers or summer tomatoes on your way.” I’ll have salt at the ready, which is really all they need. Jacobsen’s mini salt slide tins are intensely cute, but if you’re the type of person to picnic more than once a season (please be this type of person), a small glass jar that you can replenish with Maldon or your preferred flaky salt is the move.

Jacobsen Salt Co. Sea Salt Slide Tins

Mini Mason Jars (Set of 8)

It’s helpful to store a few melamine salad plates in your picnic bag too. You want surfaces big enough to hold several snacks, but still a size that’s easy to stuff into a plastic bag at the end of the night when the plates need to be washed. Storing them in the cooler also means you don’t need to clear out a spot for picnicware in your cabinets. Finally, toss in a few paper towels, dark-colored cloth napkins, or an old dish towel, since they always come in handy.

Thomas Fuchs 1/2 & 1/2 Melamine Dinnerware

When it’s go time, pack your picnic food in a tiffin. It’s the best picnic transit vessel I’ve found; mine miraculously never leaks. I usually pack the top of my three-tiered tiffin with olives and pickles and save the other layers for cherry tomato salad, cubes of marinated feta, or a whipped sweet potato and tahini dip, but anything goes and leftovers can make for a stellar picnic. (I’m currently eyeing a four-tiered version so I can easily tote another dip or a mix of dark chocolate discs, almonds, and dried cherries.)

Onyx Stainless Steel Tiffin Lunch Box

Indian-Tiffin Stainless Steel 4-Tier Lunch Box

I also keep three picnic blankets of various sizes near the go bag, so I can easily grab the right size for any group. On a dry summer day, that tapestry you bought at Urban Outfitters for your college dorm or even an old sheet will do, but when the ground’s wet from a sun-shower, something that’s water resistant is best—bonus points if it has a handle or strap for easy transit.

NEMO Victory Picnic Blanket

CGear Multimats Sand-Free Picnic Mat

Once your go bag is ready, picnicking is a breeze. All you need are some friends, a bottle of wine, and something to pack in your tiffin. Bring on picnic season.

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