I have a copy of a 1968 book from the series Foods of the World that I picked up in a second-hand store for two bucks. This one features the "cooking of provincial France" and in it is a photo that fills me with nostalgia.
It's of a French family, the Goethals, and two of their friends, and four children, who are now likely grown adults with children of their own. They are all perched on a hillside overlooking the Seine some 50 miles from Paris, enjoying a pique-nique , which I always think would make a good name for a smaller version of the Pique .
What takes me back in time is not the green Tupperware container of salad or the straw pique-nique hamper. Rather, it's the woolen red plaid blanket they're sitting on, what we would call a car blanket in Alberta - a blanket kept in the car, no doubt a throw-back to the horse-and-buggy days, to wrap around our short, child-sized legs while we sat in the back seat, which was not warmed, at least not adequately so, by the car heater on any days except the hottest in July and August.
Car blankets in Alberta were also kept handy for picnics, or wiener roasts, to be had at White Mud Creek, a preferred site to Black Mud Creek (I'm not making these names up!). Or at Sylvan or Cooking lakes, if the respective dads were up for a longer drive.
Whatever the location for picnics, I'm sure no one ever brought along what constituted the Goethals '60s pique-nique : a tomato-cheese pie based on Ms. Goethal's mother's rec'ipe; lamb, kidneys and livers to barbecue; baguettes, fruit and cheese; a spicy Provençal tuna salad; and "plenty" of cider and good, local red wine.
The livers and kidneys, intended for roasting on skewers over the open fire, and the spicy salad, would have all been non-starters for a picnic back in Edmonton, but I'm pretty sure we would have gone for the baguettes and roasted lamb chunks. And while the men, and one or two daring women, would crack open the occasional beer, you couldn't exactly have described the alcoholic element plentiful. It would certainly be dumped out by cops patrolling a park today. But, of course, we weren't, and never will be, French.
However, all of this, even the open fire in the middle of the grassy field, worked in the summery countryside of 1960s France, before take-out, before booze-pouring cops and long before smokin', campfire-forbidden summers like this one that's even had French President Nicolas Sarkozy collapsing from the heat. Enough to make one nostalgic for more than a simple red plaid car blanket.