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Southern-style Picnic on a Manageable Scale

There is no picnic quite like a real southern one featuring traditonal foods made famous over the years. One of my favorite movie scenes is the outdoor feast in "Gone with the Wind" where picnic tables were weighed down with mounds of fried chicken, baked ham, biscuits, salads and more desserts than you could shake a stick at. While recreating a spread of this magnitude is practically impossible today, a simpler version is quite managable. The key to success is, as in most entertaining, proper planning, prior preparation and perfect presentation.

This menu features classic southern dishes which will require some effort but everything can be done in advance so create a plan based around your schedule. The Southern-style Fried Chicken marinates for 1 to 2 days. After frying the chicken, it is cooled and served cold. The Mustard & Honey Baked Ham, which will be used by the guests to create simple ham sandwiches with the Southern-style Biscuits (use the mini-biscuit shape given in the recipe), can also be done well in advance. The same advance preparation is true for the Sweet Pickle Potato Salad. The Fried Corn & Peppers dish can be readied early in the day and cooked shortly before your guests arrive. Even the Chocolate Mint Layer Cake with Mint Frosting can be made a day ahead. In the food preparation area that leaves only slicing the watermelon into wedges and making the lemonade. While not traditional, you can choose to create a nice platter of crudites with your favorite dip for people to nibble on prior to serving.

So, while the food preparation is quite intensive it can be spread out over a few days, leaving time to create the perfect setting for your picnic. You can choose to go with a traditional look of red or blue gingham with complimentary or contrasting plates, napkins and plastic flatware or you can do a more modern approach with a monochromatic theme. This menu lends itself to a 4th of July party or Labor Day picnic which present obvious design choices. Sturdy plates and flatware are important. Large plastic cups are also good so people don't have to keep returning for refills. Plenty of ice is essential. Don't forget to set out condiments such as mustard and mayonnaise for the sandwiches.

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