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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