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Favorite Picnic Dishes from Days Gone By

Remember the fabulous foods your parents and grandparents made for picnics you attended as a child? You can recreate those memories and the recipes themselves by introducing your own style and flavors to classic fare from the 1940's, '50s, and '60s.

Today's healthier ingredients will modernize the value of the foods you eat, while keeping the flavors as enjoyable as they were years ago.

Bring Back Memories of the Past with Your Favorite Picnic Dishes

Remembering days gone by brings back memories of some fabulous foods. Sometimes those meals were served outside. These picnic dishes were often standard family recipes we grew up with, passed down through generation with loving care.

Back in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, potluck picnics, 4th of July picnics, school picnics, and Labor Day picnics were events that gave home cooks an opportunity to share their favorite desserts, baked beans, salads, and grilled masterpieces. We've compiled a few dishes that, we hope, will bring back memories for you, and maybe even generate some great ideas for your next theme picnic.

Revising Old Picnic Favorites

These were the days when low fat and cholesterol were words we hadn't heard much of yet. At most picnics, people served piles of chicken with crispy skin, hotdogs, bratwursts, sausages, and hamburgers as their main meat source. There were no boneless, skinless chicken breasts or turkey burgers around at the time.

Poultry lovers cooked their chicken with the skin on, bones in, and ate it all with pleasure. There were one or two brands of hotdogs, all bratwursts and sausages were made from pork, and hamburger was 'hamburger,' not lean ground beef or other variations.

Today you can grill some old time favorites, but you get to tweak them a little. If you care about cholesterol, fat content, and your health in general, that is. Now you can get the same great taste with fewer calories and less fat.

A batch of hamburgers uses leaner ground beef or a substitute like ground chicken or turkey. Add a little more flavor with things like onion, garlic, herbs, and hot sauce - you'll never miss the fat.

Now you can cook a whole chicken on the grill or put it on a rotisserie by removing the backbone and “butterflying” the chicken, which also helps it cook more evenly. Excess fat cooks off better than deep frying, and a whole chicken stays more moist than one that's been cut up.

These days you can pull off the skin and know that the meat underneath will still be juicy, tasting better than ever. You can also slide your seasonings underneath the skin just before grilling.

There are many more choices now for sausages, bratwursts, and hot dogs as well. Many varieties use lean meats like chicken or turkey, and there are even vegetarian options that still have fabulous flavor. Once they're on the grill, many of these vegetarian hot dogs taste identical to the originals.

Even good old fashioned grilled steaks have become healthier cuts now. You can still indulge in thick, juicy steaks that are well marbled, but more people are choosing smaller steaks or ones that have been trimmed of excess fat. Dad's big T-bone steak has become Mom's Petite Filet in the modern world.

Still, simple grilled beef maintains its legacy for many modern tastes, and a classic cast iron skillet full of mushrooms and onions makes a grilled steak dinner your parents will remember well.

There are other old favorites that show up at picnics today. Chicken salad, tuna salad, and sandwiches are still the mainstays of picnic dishes from decades past. Processed meats are seen less often, but the flavors of these classic sandwiches are still a desirable picnic basket favorite.

The modern solution is to choose lean cuts of sliced, chopped, or ground ham, mixed with a light olive oil mayonnaise. You can also mix in some cooked egg yolk or sour cream for a nice mayo alternative. Pickle relish will top off an old-fashioned sandwich that's delicious and more health conscious than ever before.

One note about breads is important to remember for today's sandwiches. White bread is no longer the only choice, and replacing it with multi-grain substitutes is a much healthier option.

A New Twist on Old Side Dishes

In the "old days," salads had less greens and more mayonnaise. Egg salad, deviled eggs, seven layer salads, pasta salad, potato salad, gelatin salads - lots of these types of sides were based on mayonnaise dressings. Now, many of these salads contain lighter vinaigrette or herb dressings, or other low fat alternatives.

Other classics like three bean salads have replaced sugar and vinegar dressing with honey and other light substitutes. Potato salads now use olive oil, vinegar, and lots of herbs to create tasty, light sensations. In addition, many creamy dressings are now made with low fat yogurt or sour cream instead of mayo.

Old fashioned German potato salad also has changed from days gone by. Today's recipes call for a combination of white and sweet potatoes, honey instead of processed sugar, and turkey bacon instead of beef. Rethinking ingredients makes new-age favorites out of old fashioned classics.

Remember the deviled eggs your grandmother used to bring to picnics in the old days? Often, she'd bring them in those clever little carrying dishes. Is there any way to improve on classic deviled eggs?

Sure. Reduce the fat and add more flavor, that's how. Use Greek yogurt, no fat sour cream, or even fat free cottage cheese to create your own healthy mayonnaise, then mix with egg yolks to create a delicious deviled egg. Add anchovies or capers for more flavor, chop up some cilantro, or add a dash of hot sauce to update an old favorite that’s uniquely yours.

We did mention Jello salads, right? Long ago, these salads contained vegetables as well as fruit, featuring - you guessed it - mayonnaise. Lime Jello with shredded carrots topped with sour cream and mayonnaise is one example. That's probably not one you'd want to duplicate today.

But, you can bring back simple Jello salads featuring vegetables. Choose simple combinations like lime Jello with shaved carrots and celery, topped with a scoop of Greek yogurt. This is a light side dish that appeals to guests who are watching their diet.

Desserts from Decades Past

In decades past, chocolate desserts were a big hit at picnics. Puddings, cookies, cakes, and cream pies were a pretty safe bet, and special creations like Black Forest Cake and German Chocolate Cake still draw a crowd today. Both of those desserts freeze well, making them a perfect choice for picnic celebrations. Transport in a cooler and they'll be thawed just in time for dessert.

Fruit cocktail was another favorite, and its applications were endless. A classic Fruit Cocktail Cake is still a perfect picnic dessert, for instance. You can also freeze a can of fruit cocktail, then blend it into an icy cold fruit smoothie.

This brings us back to Jello again. In the 40s and 50s, the manufacturers pushed hard to get housewives to use Jello as a vegetable. Then, in the 60s, the emphasis returned to using Jello as a dessert. Today, there are sugar-free varieties and many creative recipes to serve Jello in new ways.

Times have changed, but once in awhile, memories of picnic foods from days gone by come back again. When they do, be prepared and be creative with your own favorites, for you may create a new "old standard" that lasts long enough for future generations to enjoy. Plan your next picnic with recipes from the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, and rediscover the flavors of days gone by.

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