When I was a kid summer seemed like it was half a year long. There was this seemingly endless supply of lazy days to enjoy, and if something didn’t get done today, well there was always tomorrow. When did that all change? I suppose this means I’m “getting old”, right?
When I lived in California, most cities in my area seemed to have some sort of “summer concert series” in their city parks one night a week. It was a time when everyone, regardless of age and genre of music, would enjoy live music while munching on everything from the most elaborate of picnics to a bucket of fried chicken picked up at the nearest KFC. For me, half the fun was simply wandering around checking out what everyone was eating and how they had packed and set it up. Unfortunately, the heat and humidity of the south doesn’t seem to encourage the lazy lingering evenings of concerts in the park. Not to mention the fact that a mosquito the size of a chihuahua would likely zero in and make off with a chicken leg or two!
Since it seems there’s not much that can be done to slow down the time then the only thing to do is try to make the most of it. Now that most schools have started and the traditional “end of summer” is upon us with the arrival of Labor Day, why not make the most by enjoying the still-abundant supply of summer’s produce and weather with a picnic?
I love picnics because they can be so versatile. From the simple bucket of fried chicken and purchased potato salad, to a multi-course made-from-scratch array of salads, sandwiches, and desserts, they can be tailored according to the occasion or your level of commitment.
When it comes to sandwiches, there are no rules…be creative with breads and fillings. Summer is the perfect time to enjoy a BLT with juicy slices of home-grown or farmer’s market tomatoes. Who says it has to be on slices of toast? For a southern twist, I like to make “Black & Blue” BLT’s using my Black & Blue Biscuits with Peppered Brown Sugar Bacon.
How about an alternative to the traditional potato and cole slaw options? A delicious and decidedly different offering is Green Tomato & Melon Salad.
I created this based on a description from a guest in one of my Low Country Cuisine classes a couple years ago. While we were discussing fried green tomatoes, she told the group about a salad her grandmother would make by combining green tomatoes with cut up melon and poppyseed dressing. Intrigued by this unique sounding creation I quickly went to work and came up with the following recipe. When eaten raw, green tomatoes taste very similar to a tart green apple with just a bit less crunch. If green tomatoes aren’t available in your local market without special order and you don’t have any in the garden, you could substitute tomatillos (green looking tomato-looking fruits that are encased in a papery green skin) or simply forego them.
With very little labor you can enjoy a labor-less labor day picnic by preparing the biscuits and salad the day before. The salad will be even better flavored after soaking in the dressing overnight and it travels easily.
Split your biscuits before packing in a plastic storage container to prevent them from breaking en-route. Tomatoes and lettuce can be prepped before leaving home and pack in another storage container or gently placed in zip-top bags. As for the mayonnaise, if you haven’t been in the practice of acquiring individual foil pouches from your local fast food joint, put mayonnaise in a quart size zip-top bag and squeeze out the air before sealing. Place that in another zip-top bag with some ice cubes to help keep it cold while traveling. Once you’re ready to assemble sandwiches you can simply snip off the corner of the mayonnaise bag and pipe it onto your biscuits “lickety-split”!
A recent group of guests and the fruits of their labor during a recent
“Summer Picnics” class.
Melon & Green Tomato Salad
An unlikely companion to sweet melons, green tomatoes provide an interesting counterpoint of tartness that helps to accentuate the sweet flavor of the melon. The slight punch of flavor from the sweet onions adds another layer of flavor that gives this simple salad a unique flavor profile.
1 cantaloupe melon, peeled and cut into ½” chunks
2 cups ½-inch watermelon cubes
½ medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, cut in thin strips 1-inch long
3 medium green tomatoes
1/3 cup cider vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dry ground mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion
1 cup vegetable oil
1 ½ tablespoons poppyseeds
Core green tomatoes and cut each into 8 wedges. Cut each wedge into 3 pieces cross-wise and add to the melon in the bowl.
In a small bowl, combine the cider vinegar, sugar, kosher salt, mustard and grated onion. Whisk to combine so that the salt and sugar begin to dissolve. Slowly drizzle in vegetable oil in a thin steady stream while whisking constantly to emulsify. Add poppy seeds and pour over melon & tomato mixture in bowl. Toss to coat with dressing.
Note: Dressing may also be made with an immersion (hand) blender – simply put all ingredients into a large glass measuring cup and blend until emulsified.