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Victorian wedding picnic

I am hosting a wedding reception for 150 at home on a lawn under big trees by a lake. It is to be a picnic feast in the style of Wind in the Willows meets Jane Austen if you can picture the scene. The food is being catered by a good friend, who is both practical and aesthetic. The menu she is suggesting for this possibly hot hot August mid-day affair has spiral sliced ham and smoked turkey (from Honey Ham) as the main dish. She insists from experience that this will be the best tasting, best looking, biggest bang for the buck (in terms of prepping and serving as well). The plan is to accompany it with a chutney and fresh baked rolls or bread, salads, etc. There will be mounds of vegetables, fruit and nuts.. I know we can do a fabulous job with the presentation. The hors d'oeuvres can be quirky and beautiful. But somehow I keep drooping at the thought of the ham and turkey. It seems so... hokey? pedestrian? Please help me see that she is right, because I'm sure she is. I want the food to be delicious and special, and am afraid guests will perceive it as an unimaginative choice.

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  1. If you do not want Ham and Turkey you should make that known.
    There are many other options when it comes to cold Roasts for Picnics.
    Boneless Leg of Lamb, Porchetta, Pork Loin, Beef Tenderloin, Chicken, Quali etc.........

    1 Reply
    1. It sounds like a lovely picnic. Are you serving the ham and turkey cold, for sandwiches? Ham and turkey can make wonderful sandwiches when you have some nice bread and interesting condiments like chutney and mustard. Fun breads and toppings make sandwiches special. A pretty finger sandwich feels dainty and Victorian to me. Your beautiful salads, fruit, and hors d'oeuvres will dress up the table.

      Rat and Mole wouldn't turn down your picnic. "There's cold chicken inside," said Rat, "cold-tongue-cold-ham-cold-beef-pickled-onions-salad-french-bread-cress-and-widge-spotted-meat-ginger-beer-lemonade — "

      1. Wind in the Willows was published in 1908 (Edwardian) and Jane Austen wrote during the Regency, so I'm a bit puzzled as to why you are calling this Victorian. Your event is more Society for Creative Anachronisms than serious living history reenactment, so why fret over historical authenticity of the food? And since your reference points are a century apart, you don't really have an historical period to serve as a specific benchmark.

        That said, I believe ham and turkey (smoked or not) have long been considered special event foods, at least for the major holidays, over your chosen century. They aren't specific to either time period, but they would not be out of place in either. They are not exotic, or rare, or extravagant, but tasty, reliable, and suitable for all kinds of weather--which accounts for their long-term popularity. Ham and smoked foods are especially suitable for picnics. I don't think they are at all hokey. Maybe they are pedestrian in the sense that they make lots of appearances in many different settings, but not pedestrian in the sense of dull or utilitarian.

        Your event seems lovely, creative, and fun, with lots of good food thoughtfully prepared. Neither ham nor smoked turkey will detract from it.

        1. Sigh. It is reactions like that of MacBridges that I dread. Who said anything about historical reenactments? This is not a party for the MLA. It is a backyard wedding on a shoestring that we are trying to make festive without giving anyone food poisoning or burying us deeper in debt. I let myself be talked into the large number only by telling myself that the guests will all be non-judgmental people of good will.Now I'm stewing over whether the portasans will be historically correct...

          2 Replies
          1. re: drymanhattan

            Eh, though MrsBridges could have skipped that first paragraph, she does say ham and turkey are special event foods that work well for picnics (agreed) and that your event "seems lovely, creative and fun" (also agreed). Host the wedding picnic with no mention of historical time period and, as Julia Child always said, don't apologize.

            When my niece was married, her husband's family hosted a backyard reception pig roast for a lot of people (niece and husband preferred using their money for a house downpayment rather than a big reception). It too was a hot August day. It was a big success and I don't think anyone was disappointed--we were there to celebrate a happy event. My observations from that day: anything mayo-based was eschewed early on; fruit and bottled water couldn't be stocked fast enough; the in-laws were experienced outdoor entertainers and all serving trays were kept on top of ice trays. So count on stocking a lot of fruit, ice and water,

            1. re: drymanhattan

              I will admit that when I see "Jane Austen picnic" or "Wind in the Willows picnic" I imagine the outdoor garden parties/picnics of the well to do gentry of the time, featuring lots of cold roast meats, elaborate meat pies with fancy fillings, cold salmon and cold lobsters served with dill and butter sauces, and silver platters piled with elaborately molded jellies and creams, all served from long tables covered with starched linen tablecloths and decorated with tall pedestals topped with rare fruits and, of course, footmen in white wigs and too tight breeches running around with silver trays of champagne and wines ;)

              Ham is fine. As is turkey. If you want something more elaborate but not budget busting what about including meat terrines? They're quite cheap and simple to make if you allow the time, and they'd be a bit authentic too.

              I wouldn't necessarily worry too much about the actual food served or its authenticity but a good display can go a long way to achieving the kind of setting you may be looking for. If you're serving from buffet tables, cover them with long white starched linen tablecloths and buy rolls of cheap fabric ribbons (the wide kinds) and artfully stream them throughout the tables, nestling the platters of food. See if a party supply store can rent several tiered platters or pedestals and provide lots of ripe fruits (grapes would probably be most convenient) and cheese slices. Buy fresh flowers and put them in vases dotted throughout the buffet tables.

              And of course, have a champagne fountain! It's nothing more than champagne glasses stacked in tiers and at the right time you pour champagne ceaselessly into the topmost glass and let it overflow into the lower tiers. If the stacks are arranged correctly you won't spill any champagne.

            2. Yes, I apologize to MrsBridges for being oversensitive. My doubt about ham and turkey is whether they can be made festive enough - even more so now that I've learned that the turkey is not a whole turkey but a sliced breast. A pig roast is festive because no one has it at home. Whole salmons feel more festive to me than ham and turkey, but I'm sure they are much more extravagant and as my cook friend says, unappealing to pair with ham, which is what people will do if offered both. Good point about the mayonnaise, which knocks about a lot of chicken or shrimp salads...

              3 Replies
              1. re: drymanhattan

                Sorry about my first paragraph. I am as passionate about literature, especially Jane Austen, as I am about food.

                1. re: drymanhattan

                  What about doing the ham (which does feel appropriate, festive, and a great presentation) with fried chicken? Its a classic picnic food and fine room temp, could be fun to pair with a special chutney or sauce

                  1. re: drymanhattan

                    if cost is one of the main concerns, you may be surprised to learn that good quality Turkey Breast is actually on the more expensive side as far as proteins go - Certainly Salmon is comparable cost wise - and pork would be even less - Porchetta would be great for a picnic - but then you couldn't do ham -

                    I haven't read every posting - but I see that you have considered salads - Grilled Chicken Salads are great for picnics, no mayo - here are two -

                    I make this like a panzanella and toss in olive oil croutons at the last minute (you could just sprinkle them on top) - grilled chicken (marinated in garlic, rosemary, lemon, oregano, etc....) cut in cubes, and grilled vegetables (anything you like) - I include radicchio, summer squash, red peppers, cauliflower, etc.... - Toss with vinaigrette - fresh oregano, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, salt & pepper.

                    The other would be Grilled Chicken breast (same flavor as above) - with roasted grape tomatoes, white beans, string beans - with pesto vinaigrette - and chiffonade basil

                  2. Fried chicken has associations for me of fast food - which is probably what it would have to be because I can't imagine how one makes fried chicken for 150 in a home kitchen.. Is there a terrine (of turkey? duck? vegetarian?) that we could pair with the ham?

                    On a slightly different note, what do you all think of serving small cups of cold cucumber soup (a tangy, crisp rendition, spiked with tabasco and garnished with chives)? Are those logistics daunting?

                    I do appreciate all of the feedback. There is no substitute for the experiences of people who have organized or attended of a similar reception..

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: drymanhattan

                      I really like the idea of the small cups of cold soup. Sometimes it will hit the spot like nothing else. Around here it's gazpacho, usually, but I love the idea.
                      Good for you for challenging the caterer, however mildly. This is just me, and i'm sure bazillions of people would gasp and shriek, but i'm not a big ham fan and would absolutely freak out (well, not really) if there was a leg of lamb instead of the ever-present ham. It sounds like you have a great idea and want to 'up the ante' as regards the food at the wedding. Reminds me of my own wedding would-have-done-otherwise, which spun out of control foodwise. Big time.

                    2. I think the plan sounds excellent - although it completely beats me as to why it's Victorian.

                      1. I think it's delightfully picnicky. Personally, I like being able to assemble little odds and ends for myself. I think it depends on your guests. My grandparents and parents would think it was tacky and cheap; I find it charming (I'm mid 30's). Ham and turkey are classic picnic foods and I think the presentation could be really lovely. You mentioned small shots of cold soup- I like that idea but I wonder if you could keep it cold enough... Chilled soup hits the spot but tepid soup is horrid. Good luck!

                        1. As a huge Wind in the Willows fan, I think the event sounds lovely. Bonus points if you can get some dressed up moles, rats, badgers, and frogs to attend!


                          The sliced ham and turkey sound OK to me but in the heat, I'd love to nibble a cucumber sandwich, something meat-free and cool. Also, economical.

                          The soup, honestly, sounds like a pain in the ass. Keep it simple is my suggestion.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: tcamp

                            Except for the soup comment, I love the idea of the cucumber sandwiches and everything else you suggested.

                            1. re: tcamp

                              I love the idea of cucumber sandwiches!

                              1. re: tcamp

                                Definitely cucumber sandwiches!

                              2. I love this idea and the venue sounds outstanding. IMO I think you should go for ham and forget the turkey(if sliced it will look pedestrian). A big bone in ham looks majestic on a buffet. August is such a wonderfully time of year for produce and I think you should show it off. First corn, you could do a fresh corn salad or Mexican street corn. Second, tomatoes, the possibilities are endless. My favorite would be pan con tomate-tomato rubbed bread, you could top it with cheese. I would also make a big batch of caponata. Lastly peaches, in a salad or in homemade pop tarts-delish!
                                Soup is logistically difficult but doable. I would make a big batch of gazpacho, put it in a pitcher and pour it into glasses.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: DowntownJosie

                                  Gazpacho sounds better/less watery (potential for seperating) than the cucumber. I actually saw somewhere they used frozen red grapes in the gazpacho to help keep it cold....

                                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                                    The frozen Grape idea is often used with White Gazpacho( Cucumber, Almonds, Garlic and Bread). Which would be lovely addition to the Picnic and does not separate.
                                    Cucumber soup can also be kept from separating by adding Potato or Bread when pureeing.

                                2. Thanks for the soup tips and suggestions. I had planned to offer the cold cucumber soup along with cold drinks to guests when they first arrive. It can be drunk from a cup. Gazpacho requires a spoon and seems more suited to enjoying while sitting down.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: drymanhattan

                                    " Gazpacho requires a spoon " not if you serve it in Cups
                                    We often serve Gazpachos in Mugs or Cups at Weddings. Just do not make it thick.

                                    1. re: chefj

                                      I have always enjoyed gazpacho in cups in Spain. As chefj stated the soup needs to be quite thin and drinkable. You can always add some vodka to get the party started...

                                    2. re: drymanhattan

                                      I agree. Authentic Spanish style gazpacho is thin and drinkable. My recipe even states to add cold water until it reaches the right consistency.

                                    3. Well, if you are related to or friends with 150 people who are inclined to nitpick your food as "unimaginative", then you have far bigger problems than having "pedestrian" ham and turkey.

                                      Fact: You are on a tight budget.
                                      Fact: Turkey and ham are budget friendly foods.
                                      Fact: This is an event for a large number of people, being catered by a friend (unclear whether she is doing it all on her own or whether she has hired help to assist her - if she doesn't, then this is a metric crap-ton of work for her), in a backyard with no commercial kitchen space available. If she is giving you an expert opinion about what she knows will work given all of the above...take it.
                                      Generally true statement: Turkey and ham are both fairly friendly innocuous foods and even picky eaters will likely be ok with one or the other (vs. choosing something like lamb or salmon).

                                      Your original post, you don't say "I hate turkey" or "I don't like ham". It's not that you don't think the food will be tasty, it's because you care about whether people will perceive your offerings to be posh and imaginative. Your wedding is about you and your intended joining lives lawfully and sharing that experience in celebration with your loved ones. Stop worrying about the turkey and the ham.

                                        1. Pickled shrimp are very nice, can be made ahead of time and makes it a bit fancier.

                                          1. Please forgive my misunderstanding. Who is the bride? What does the bridal couple want?

                                            1. The bride is my daughter, and she is completely understanding about the constraints and grateful we have come up with a way to accommodate the large guest list. She and the groom are thrilled with the idea of a picnic with blankets on the lawn. MY mother/sister/friends, on the other hand, are horrified that we would subject guests to such discomfort. They think we should reduce the number of guests. The biggest challenge (and expense) of a party like this, I've learned, is the weather. You have to simultaneously plan two completely different events - one spread out and the other confined.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: drymanhattan

                                                Perhaps there could be some chairs for the older set. Aging bodies and picnic blankets are not always a good match.

                                                1. re: meatn3

                                                  There will be enough tables and chairs for everyone, I think, if only because we have to be prepared for rain. So the confined plan is to do the picnic at tables under a tent, and the spread out plan is to disperse many of the tables all around the property.

                                                  1. re: drymanhattan

                                                    Be prepared to be shocked at the cost of a tent. Especially one large enough for 150. If it is public property, be sure to apply for your permit well in advance and check to see if there are restrictions on alcohol.

                                                    As for people being judgmental..well, the odds of there not being 1 or 2 or a few judgmental people out of 150 is nil. That's just how people are. Nothing you can do about it.

                                                    1. re: drymanhattan

                                                      It all sounds lovely. A neighbor did a back yard wedding reception, home cooked food, and it was beautiful and very individualized to the couple. How about 1 of the meats and 1 vegetarian main?

                                                      About the weather: even if there's no rain, is there some shade possible? I'm on meds that make me super-sensitive to sun--at your reception, I'd have to hang out under a house eave if it's a hot, sunny August day. Also agree about some chairs for us old-folk. Best wishes to the happy couple!

                                                  2. re: drymanhattan

                                                    thank you for your response. I sometimes cater weddings, and well, it's really "interesting".
                                                    The picnic sounds lovely.
                                                    I support your desire to serve something not ham or turkey. Not everyone will appreciate the large meat item being the center of attention.
                                                    Please let your catering friend know your feelings on this, and work together on a solution. You have lots of time to finalize the menu! Some of my clients haven't sorted out dinner until 2 weeks prior :)

                                                    1. re: drymanhattan

                                                      I would do small already prepared sandwiches of ham, turkey, cucumber, etc. Do put a small label (tasteful of course) next to the platters so people know what they are.

                                                    2. I have never turned up my nose at anything that was perfectly prepared and delicious. I love haute cuisine, and I love perfectly simple food, which seems the appropriate choice for a backyard, unless perhaps one of the people getting married is a chef. (It is also what I serve at my house ... let the restaurant kitchens labor over intricate dishes.)

                                                      All the many Dutch weddings of my childhood featured ham sandwiches on potato rolls with butter, fruit salad, mints, nuts, and sherbet punch. You could call that unimaginative, but let me tell you that for years as an adult I craved those sandwiches & would go looking for the potato rolls to make them :)

                                                      1. I think ham and turkey is quite appropriate for a picnic wedding reception in August! The entire idea sounds lovely and the presentation will be what makes it special.

                                                        1. If I were the guest and saw that the menu was ham and turkey(especially sliced turkey breast), I'd be a bit disappointed. I can always eat ham and turkey but to eat it as a main at a wedding sounds...rather boring...but that's just me.

                                                          5 Replies
                                                          1. re: Monica

                                                            Are you there to celebrate the occasion and enjoy the company of friends and relatives or are you there for ....?
                                                            This is seriously NOT about you. And this is why wedding costs are out-of-control. Everyone is so worried about what everyone will think, and they spends 10s of thousands of dollars just to impress people. And still people judge their choices. Plus, it is not like she is throwing packages of Oscar Mayer on the table.

                                                            1. re: Just Visiting

                                                              for both...i mean, what's a party without good food..especially for someone like me who loves to eat, drink and be merry with other happy people there to celebrate the wedding. Yes, it's not about me and it's abou them but shouldn't the invited guests have a bit of fun too?
                                                              And It's not even about money..I am sure there are more creative ways to make the menu more exciting and creative other than sliced turkey breast.
                                                              i do budget parties all the time at my house...for example, since salmon is expensive to feed a large number of people, I make an asian style sesame noodle with baked salmon in it. I made vietnamese pork chops using the cheapest cut of pork...
                                                              make some roasted brussel sprouts, large pasta salad, baked chicken thigh...there are so many options.

                                                              1. re: Monica

                                                                It is about money, which is why the OP is having the reception as a picnic, which I find lovely. Ham & turkey is good food but for those who don't like it, they may be disappointed, however, guests are invited to a wedding & reception to partake in a couple's special day so they should be gracious enough to appreciate the food offered. If the food is not "fun" enough for them, they can always eat when they leave. I'd rather eat turkey than a chicken thigh at a wedding.

                                                                For the OP, consider seasoning your turkey in one of many ways: Caribbean style jerk, smoked turkey or pulled bbq turkey for example would be different and delicious and go perfectly with the chutneys you will be serving...

                                                                1. re: Cherylptw

                                                                  That's a good thought--smoked turkey is very festive and different.

                                                            2. re: Monica

                                                              I'd take a lovely baked ham or turkey any day, over the many rubber chicken wedding dinners I've sat through. I think the whole even sounds lovely.

                                                            3. Given that the budget is tight, ham and turkey are fine, especially given that it's an afternoon affair. Definitely include cucumber and/or watercress sandwiches for vegetarians!

                                                              Instead of the turkey, however, what about cold roasted chicken (with a variety of chutneys/sauces to accompany)? It seems a bit more "picnicky" to me, somehow, and a little more upscale perhaps than sliced turkey breast. It would also give people who don't want to eat a sandwich a more interesting option, while still being fine to eat with hands. I seem to recall lots of descriptions of cold roast chicken in books from the eras mentioned as well, so it would certainly fit the theme.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: biondanonima

                                                                The venue sounds lovely, as does the picnic (remind your mother/sisters/friends that the ladies of Downton Abbey were forever lolling around eating in the garden).

                                                                The heat, however, makes me think more of the wedding in Fried Green Tomatoes than an English summer spread.

                                                                That said, I can understand your feeling a little droopy about ham and turkey - and maybe moreso with the turkey - a really great ham is a thing of beauty. Jamie Oliver did a show many years ago about a wedding lunch - it included whole salmon - and little potatoes tossed in a dressing. I love the idea of cucumber sandwiches or a cucumber and dill salad. Also go old school and check out Coronation Chicken.

                                                                Personally, I would not want to deal with anything that involved noodles, dark sauces, or anything gloopy because I know I would end up with it on my clothes...

                                                                1. re: Athena

                                                                  Any time I'm dressed up (like at a wedding) I always avoid messy foods and light colored clothing, lol.

                                                                  IMO, ham and turkey are low on the mess factor, and low on the spoil factor (I think), and a good choice.

                                                              2. Here in New Zealand spiral-cut ham is a relatively new and rare thing. I definitely think ham is a lovely celebration food but spiral-cut ham seems a bit 'processed'. To me proper celebration ham is on the bone and hand carved. It seems more rustic and lush because you have these lovely thick, non-uniform pieces of ham that seem like a real treat off big joint of meat rather than something from a deli counter. An even bigger treat is if someone carves it to order so people can ask for thin or thick slices as they like.
                                                                Same with the turkey - if it's uniform slices of turkey breast it does seem really pedestrian.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Billy33

                                                                  Must say I agree with you, but assuming you need two buffets for 150 people, that means two carvers, adding considerably to the cost. Unless there's another way to do it?

                                                                  1. re: drymanhattan

                                                                    When I read your initial post I imagined tables set up with prepared sandwiches (and any accompanying stuff). That way you don't need any fuss with carvers at the tables. I was recently at an event (in the UK) where everything was premade. The sandwiches were cut in the "traditional" triangles so easy to eat - ham, turkey, egg and cress, cucumber, salmon. People can take what they want, the older generation won't be offended by having to make their own, and queueing up will be much quicker.

                                                                    Sounds like a lovely event. Anyone who is judgemental about the food has their own problems; everyone should be there to celebrate your daughter's wedding and you shouldn't be so stressed that you can't too. Hope it goes well.

                                                                2. I understand your concerns but I think you can make the apps and sides varied and interesting. You do need substantial protein for many to feel they've been fed, and I wouldn't risk doing only ham or even ham/fish - too many people don't eat pork or detest salmon. I would do both the roasts and buns, and premade tea sandwiches as mentioned - for those who don't want to fuss with making their own, and parents of young kids who just need to grab something fast with both hands full.
                                                                  I'd concentrate on other ways to make the meal festive - special drinks such as varieties of lemonade (lavender, raspberry...)? I think you can satisfy both your inner fancy gourmet and both the need to feed 150 a substantial meal on a budget.

                                                                  1. I like the ham and turkey. However, if you want some other ideas, have you considered quiche or mini-quiche? It can be vegetarian, easy to make ahead, I think can hold up in the heat .

                                                                    1. Yes, I am planning to have stacks of savory tarts - not quiches because they won't have egg in them, but some phyllo tarts with leeks/asparagus/carmelized onion, etc. I'm thinking about 4 inches across.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: drymanhattan

                                                                        May I recommend that if you have more than one variety, use the 2" or 3" tart cases. Some guests will want to try all flavors, and find that 4" is pretty big.