I am very proud of our book, Sharing Tea: The Road Back to Civilization and sometimes want to dip into Rose’s gentle teachings of the soulful way of tea and explore the tea party menus we came up with all those years ago. With my poor memory, I’m pleased and frequently surprised with the creative and delicious recipes!
One of the menus from A Calendar of Tea Parties section which is seasonally appropriate is the July: A Picnic Tea. We grew up with the trusty green wicker Hawkeye brand picnic basket and green metal Coleman water jug accompanying us to family picnics on the beach or in local parks. Back then, people brought their own plates, cups, and flatware to picnics and picnic-potluck events. With that in mind, the only disposable things I’m packing are paper straws. I’m happy to rinse off plates there and bring home to wash, that’s how our grandma’s did it.
Since Dad was a high school teacher, we went to lots of history department get-togethers, many BBQs and picnics, always toting along a full basket. The wicker picnic basket stored pastel plastic mugs and matching compartmentalized plates so your potato salad wouldn’t mix with your pork n’ beans. At a big group beach picnic when I was five, I can still remember the sweet and tangy taste of Mrs. Slavich’s enormous strawberry and whipped cream dessert that seemed as big as the biggest cookie sheet; I can’t even imagine how she got it down to the beach!
When I moved out of the house, I commandeered the picnic basket, and it continues to live as a side table, a decorative piece, and yes, as its original purpose, to transport picnic food in an attractive and traditional manner to outdoor events near and not so near.
For this June blog, I thought I would make a few items from the picnic tea menu and go on a picnic to photograph the results. I’m planning this picnic earlier than July since far Northern California gets roastingly hot by then. At the seashore, a July picnic is perfect, as long as you bring blankets because the fog is likely to roll in before you’re done. Part of the fun of any outdoor gathering is rolling the dice with Mother Nature for perfect or even reasonably pleasant weather, hopefully with a minimum of insect intruders.
Here is the link to the menu on our website, with descriptions of each recipe: Menu for July A Picnic Tea
Cold Fried Chicken Drumettes
Lobster Subs or Banh Mi Sandwiches
Curried Carrot Raisin Salad
Garden Green Bean Bundles
Pete’s Coleslaw Cups*
Cream Scones with Blueberries & Honey Butter
Apricot and Plum Jam Bars
Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies
Blackberry Slab Pie
Sweet Tea, Minted Lemonade, Sparkling Water, White Peach Coolers
I think I’m going to make chicken drumettes, deviled eggs, Pete’s Coleslaw (not in cups,) orange scones with honey butter, apricot jam bars, blackberry slab pie, watermelon, and the first cherries of the season. In place of Suzi’s fabulous sugar cookies, I’m showing off my new Walker’s shortbread tins, commemorating the late Queen Elizabeth, happily filled with the all-butter shortbread. Last winter, I could not resist ordering the set of two tins, with vintage photos of the young Queen. I have no defense for this extravagance save the true excuse that I do use pretty tins to store my baked goods. If you’d like to join me in this decadence, I believe the shortbread tins are still available here: Walker's Queen Elizabeth II commemorative tin set
I am going to make a beautifully red cold drink, too, iced Jamaica tea (technically an infusion because no actual tea is used but we’ll use “tea” for simplicity’s sake) which is as refreshing as it is vibrant. It was introduced to me back on the ranch, in Aromas, California, by one of the ranch mates, Lizette. I see her now, on a hot summer afternoon, clad in a floral sarong, holding a big glass pitcher of dark red liquid, pouring glasses for everyone, always lit up will a big smile. She was kind enough to share the recipe with me and I will share it here with all of you.
“It's super simple!
Rinse 2 cups of dried hibiscus with cold water a couple of times to remove any bits of dirt or sand.
In a large pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add Jamaica and reduce heat, simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup of granulated sugar while warm and stir a bit to dissolve. Let cool.
Once cool, strain the liquid into a separate container. You can keep this in your fridge and when you're ready to serve, dilute it with cold water with a 1:1 ratio of water to Jamaica concentrate.”
It is so good! Less sweet than many cold beverages and more complex and interesting than the usual iced tea. Lizette tells me that her mom added Ceylon cinnamon sticks with the Jamaica flowers to add a spicy dimension.
Red drink is a staple at Juneteenth celebrations which is explored further in this fascinating piece: Serious Eats article. The author, Janel Martinez, discusses the roots of red drink in places such as, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Jamaica, and Latin America. It is made by steeping the dried calyx of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower in water then sweetened with honey or cane sugar and sometimes blended with spices and or wine or rum. Ms. Martinez points out, “When the transport of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic began in the early 1500s, livestock and plants like hibiscus also made the voyage.”
In the American south, the plant was cultivated in kitchen gardens, ensuring a beloved piece of the homeland survived and could be harvested and used. The high concentration of vitamin C and other antioxidant properties including the rich red hue from anthocyanins contributed to its spread and popularity in temperate Latin American climates. I purchase the dried Jamaica flowers in bulk at my local Mexican grocery store, and they are available in packages in most well-stocked markets.
I chose nearby riverside Lake Redding Park for my picnic spread. Arriving early, it was just me and the resident Canadian geese. The Sacramento River provided a nice view and cool breeze and shortly, along came several dog-walkers and joggers. As there was no lake in evidence, I asked longtime north state resident Mr. Vazquez why the park was called “Lake Redding.” He told me that before Shasta Dam was built in the 1930s, the city would temporarily flood the river to make room for the annual Water Carnival. The City of Watsonville used to do the same to the Pajaro River and I had seen festive old photos of boat parades, regattas, and elegantly dressed couples taking in the spectacle.
World War One put an end to the damming of the Pajaro River, and the Redding Water Carnival was discontinued due to the water temperature being dropped by the building of Shasta Dam. So, no more crazy but spectacular water fun times for our California rivers but we can still pack a pretty picnic to enjoy rivers and parks. And well, because picnics are all about the food, right?
I hope you found a bit of inspiration for your own picnic this summer; I had a lot of fun both planning and going on my local park picnic. I’m sure there is a sweet spot near you that would make a great picnic location, possibly even your own backyard. Have a wonderful summer and see you back here in the autumn.
A Thank You Note
In reviewing the photographs, planning the menu, and researching and writing this blog, I am reminded again and again how lucky I am to have all these beautiful friends and family members in my life. I am surrounded with kind people who are always happy to give me their time and experience, loan me their precious linens, dishes, and recipes, edit my rambling drafts and generally be sincere cheerleaders for my creative work. From my heart, I thank you all so much.