Kickoff to the Summer Picnic Season — Creating a Memorable Memorial Day Picnic

May 2012 View more


A warm breeze and a holiday weekend after a long cold winter, and it’s easy to understand why Memorial Day has become the de facto kickoff to the summer picnic season.  Memorial Day is not just a great reason to dust off our grills to bring a little summer flavor to the table, but a time to enjoy a parade and wave our flags in honor of those who have served us in the military.

What better way to share their stories, past and present, than with a traditional picnic meal with family and friends? Armed with a few good tips, a little planning and some sensational recipes, this year’s Memorial Day picnic is sure to be one you’ll remember!

One thing you’ll want to remember is to prepare a list of essential picnic items a few days in advance.  Check off the items as they are packed into coolers, tote bags or baskets. Don’t forget about clean up. Include a few thick face cloths, dampened with hot water and stored in plastic bags and foil, it’s a luxurious treat to hand out to guests after a meal enjoyed al fresco.

Other helpful ideas include freezing water in bottles. Not only can they be used for cooling other drinks, while thawing they become a chilly beverage of their own. Keeping drinks in a separate cooler for all those frequent ins and outs to retrieve them is also a good idea.

While coolers are a picnic’s best friend, they are designed to keep things cold, not necessarily to chill them after they’ve been sitting out in the sun.  For safety reasons, the USDA recommends any perishable food left out for more than two hours not be saved for the return journey home. Fortunately, living in Naperville, we don’t have to journey far to enjoy many scenic, comfortable, picnic locations.


Fresh Raspberry-Lemonade

The secret to really amazing lemonade is a simple syrup. Not only does dissolving the sugar into a syrup help it blend seamlessly with the lemon added afterward, but adding lemon zest during the syrup process adds an additional depth of lemony flavor.

• 1 cup water

• 1 cup sugar

• Zest peel of one lemon

• 4-6 lemons, juiced

• 4 cups cold water

• 1/2 cup fresh raspberries

In a saucepan, bring the sugar, water and lemon zest to a boil, stirring frequently until the sugar dissolves. Let cool. Juice 4-6 lemons (straining if preferred) and add the simple syrup and 4 cups cold water. Add raspberries just before serving. Makes 6 servings. Tip: to keep undiluted, freeze some lemonade into cubes and add to glasses before serving.


Red, White and Blue Trifle

This trifle is not only a Memorial Day show-stopper, but a hands-down summer favorite worth the extra care of transporting to your picnic spot.

• 1/4 cup plus 2/3 cup sugar

• 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

• 1/4 t almond extract

• 2 8-inch round sponge cakes, (each 1 to 2 inches thick), left out to dry overnight

• 1 pound cream cheese, room temperature

• 2 cups heavy cream, room temperature

• 2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced

In a saucepan, over medium heat, dissolve 1/4 cup of sugar, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup water. Remove from heat and add extract. Brush both sides of the stale cake with syrup before cutting into 1-inch cubes. Beat 2/3 cup of sugar and cream cheese until light. Add cream and beat until consistency of whipped cream.

Place a layer of cake on the bottom of a tall, clear-sided trifle dish. Add a layer of blueberries, topped with a layer of cream. Add a strawberry layer and repeat with more cake, blueberries, cream and strawberries. Cover and chill for 1 hour or overnight.


Tarragon Bean Salad

No picnic is complete without a salad, either as a side dish or the main course. While there are infinite varieties of salads, this one is picnic-perfect. It’s full of color and flavor and avoids temperamental ingredients like mayonnaise and tastes best when made a day in advance.

• 1 cup cooked, 1/2-inch sliced green beans

• 1 cup cooked, 1/2-inch sliced yellow wax beans

• 1 16-ounce can drained red beans

• 1 16-ounce can drained garbanzo beans

• 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

• 1/2 cup minced red onion

• 1/2 cup olive oil

• 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

• 1/2 cup red wine vinegar

• 1/4 cup sugar

• 1 teaspoon salt

• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Whisk oil into vinegar until emulsified before adding tarragon, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix until sugar is dissolved. Pour dressing over vegetables and legumes, tossing to coat. Cover and chill at least 6 hours or overnight. Serve cold or at room temperature. Makes 6 servings.


Chipotle-Mayo Mini-Burgers

I know, keep the mayo at home. But with the right chill factor (keep your chilled toppings served on ice), you can have it all. These amazing little burgers with an assortment of toppings are a quintessential all-American picnic treat with a modern flair.

• Mini burger buns or favorite rolls, split in half

• 2 pounds ground chuck, 80/20, shaped into small patties

• Salt to taste

• Pepper to taste

Chipotle Mayonnaise:

• 1 cup mayonnaise

• 2 chipotles in adobo sauce

• 1 tablespoon adobo sauce

• 1/2 lime, juiced

•  Salt and freshly ground pepper

Burger Bar:

• Chipotle Mayonnaise

• Cheese (Provolone, Monterey Jack, or preferred)

• Pickles

• Red onion slices

Place all mayonnaise ingredients into a food processor and puree. Season to taste and chill. Form meat into 3-ounce portions firmly shaped into patties with a depression mark in the middle of each just before grilling (keeps its shape from ballooning while cooking). Season with salt and pepper. Grill 4-5 minutes on one side and another 4 minutes on the other side. Remove patties to indirect heat before topping with cheese and closing grill to allow cheese to melt. Place burger on a mini-bun and add desired toppings.

Tip: To transport, form patties in advance, layering each one between single sheets of parchment paper squares. Wrap the layered stack of patties in a foil packet and place in a storage bag to keep chilled until ready to place in a cooler. Surround the meat in the cooler with baggies of ice or ice packs until ready to grill.