SOME YEARS ago a great friend of ours, an American colleague of my husband's planned a joint picnic with our two families. We were to drive for an hour into a lovely mountain area where the children could safely scatter and play while we arranged the picnic. When we unloaded our basket and began to light a charcoal stove, set out the cloth and napkins and uncork the wine for our typically English picnic, the Americans were appalled. Then from their basket came cans of beer and a pile of peanut butter sandwiches. It was our turn to be shocked. Still, we have known stranger picnics.
When the Chinese were building a new road from Katmandu to the Tibetan border in 1971, Nancy Heinl was traveling in Nepal with her journalist husband. They decided to get military passes and have a New Year's Day picnic near the border:
"We had been told that the border guards were very sensitive and warned not to take photographs or cause any disturbance of any kind. We all got out of the car and the first thing my 5-year-old grandson did was to dare his 7-year-old sister to race him across the bridge. We just managed to grap them before they dashed across into Tibet, never to be seen again. The well-armed' border guards looked very nervous.
"My son-in-law had brought two bottles of champagne along to celebrate the new year, and these he placed in the stream that went under the bridge. We set out our picnic along the edge overlooking a huge mountain on the Tibetan side of the border. We had brought along some lamb curry and rice, all hot in wide-necked thermos jars, and lots of condiments to go with it.
"None of us had thought about the altitude, and when the first bottle of champagne was opened, there was an enormous explosion. The guards on both side of the border came to arms and started pointing their rifles. And we thought 'Oh God, we've fired the shot that's going to be heard around the world.' But finally they relaxed.
"We were just settling down to our delicious curry, and sipping our champagne, when down the mountainside opposite came a long file of drab Tibetans singing and chanting. We couldn't make it out at all at first. But they came all the way down and sat down on a huge stage and began to perform a Chinese opera. There was no doubt as to the plot of this communist opera because the villain was a Yankee imperialist who came dancing on the stage, rifle in hand, and ravished the Chinese maiden.
"When we'd finished our picnic the opera was over, and from the other side of the gorge we saw them file silently back up over their mountain again. Their presence remained quite inexplicable to us, but it was in every way a memorable picnic."
(6 servings) 3/4 cup melted butter oil 6 onions, sliced 3 tablespoons coriander powder 3 tablespoons fresh green ginger, grated, if available, or 1 teaspoon powdered ginger 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 tablespoon cardamom 1 tablespoon whole cloves 2 teaspoons salt 3 pounds lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes 1 cup lamb stock or water 1 teaspoon turmeric 3 cups yogurt 3 hard-cooked eggs, quartered
Place the butter or in oil in a pan and gently fry the sliced onions, approximately 25 minutes.
In the meantime, mix coriander, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and salt, and marinate the meat in this for half an hour, gently stirring from time to time.
Now add the meat to the onions in the pan and stir over a medium flame for 10 minutes, pour in the stock and cook, covered, for about 45 minutes, adding more lamb stock if necessary.
When the meat is tender and not too dry, add the turmeric and yogurt. Garnish with quartered eggs.
In October 1974, during tense negotiations on new oil agreements between international oil companies and the tiny country of Abu Dhabi, a desert picnic was held for the negotiators. In the delightful way Arabs have of disregarding time, the entertainment began early, and the picnic arrived late. Here is how U.S. Ambassador Michael Sterner remembers the evening.
"Sheik Mana el Otaiber was our host, and he is a great falconer and had just bought himself three or four new birds. Falcon hunting is something that is dying out, but is still very popular among the sheiks and particularly among the wealthy ones.
"One of this occasion, all his falconers were present, some half-dozen people from the desert. They had 'brought some pigeons along, which they released at about 50 feet, and urged the falcons to take off and strike. This went on for some time and it was fascinating, as none of us had seen it before. Rugs and cushions had been laid out in Bedouin fashion and a big fire lit at a distance and then out of the desert arrived a big truck with balloon tires, and out of it popped a case or two of gin and whiskey -- there is no objection in this little corner of Arabia to alcoholic beverages -- and the large picnic party settled down on the rugs.
"More drinks were poured.By this time it was quite dark, and the talk became livelier: progress on the negotiations and the bidding, the ways of the desert, hunting expeditions and what was going on in the rest of the world. And then someone produced a radio, and to the Arabic music pulsating across the dunes, the whole picnic party got up and -- in Bedouin fashion -- linked arms and danced across the desert.
"Finally the truck rolled up again, and out of it came an enormous platter on a great copper tray with a cooked sheep surrounded by rice and pilaf, and other delicacies provided as side dishes. We gratefully at this point sank down on our haunches and set to with enjoyment."
Although camel, goat and sheep are the only available animals in the desert, and only used on special occasions, I give here the recipe for a lamb, weighing about 15 pounds. But the method used is the same, and proportionately larger quantities of stuffing and a longer cooking time would achieve the same results with a larger animal. 15-pound lamb Salt for rubbing lamb 15 cloves garlic 6 ounces animal fat 7 cups stock For stuffing: 3 cups cooked rice 2 large chopped onions, gently fried in oil 4 ounces currants 4 ounces pine nuts 1 tablespoon salt 1 teaspoon cinnamon 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Rub the lamb inside and out with salt and leave overnight in a bath of cold water. Next day rinse well and make some small incisions over the whole lamb and insert the whole cloves of garlic. Put the lamb in a large pan with boiling water and gently boil for about 3 hours.
In the meantime make the stuffing by mixing rice, onions, currants, pine nuts, salt, cinnamon and parsley. Take the lamb from the pot and, when cool enough to handle, pack tightly with the cooled stuffing. Put the fat in a large roasting pan, place the stuffed lamb on top, and pour over it 4 cups of stock. Cook for about 4 hours in a 350-degree oven, basting from time to time with the remaining stock. The meat should be falling from the bone and the flesh moist when ready to eat.
Serve on a huge platter with mounds of rice cooked separately.
Traveling frm Peking to Outer Mongolia in the 1970s, Richard Samuel, a British diplomat, recalls a picnic in Ulan Bator when the temperature was 25 degrees below zero:
"Every member of the party was, of necessity, well kitted: fur-lined boots, several layers of underclothes, long johns and, overall, a sort of Michelin man's suit, a fur hat, a nose cover, plus two pairs of mittens. In fact, all exposed parts of the body had to be covered.
"The picnic consisted of some very good claret, as the host kept an excellent cellar, and some game stew which was produced warm and steaming from thermos flasks. All the utensils had to be plastic or wood, as metal would have frozen to one's lips."
CASSEROLE OF HARE
(6 servings) 1 hare (or rabbit), jointed Pork or goose fat 12 shallots or small onions 2 or 3 cloves of garlic 1/4 pound bacon or ham, diced 3/4 cup red wine 2 cups stock or water 1 tablespoon thick tomato puree 3/4 cup mushrooms (cepes, either canned or dried, are preferred)
Brown pieces of hare or rabbit in fat and set aside. In an earthenware casserole, brown the shallots, add the garlic and bacon and stir in the wine. Add stock or water, tomato puree and mushrooms. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add the hare, cover the casserole and cook for 2 to 3 hours, or until the hare is tender.
If you happen to be in Provence durng the second week of September, and if you are within driving distance of the little walled city of Fayence in the Var area, make a point of attending their fele de l'aioli.
This picnic feast is the climax of a week-long festival of daytime boule tournaments and nighttime music and dancing. Tables and chairs are set all around the church square, and several bands take their turns on the platform to provide music for dancing. Couples begin to dance before they've even selected their tables; young and old and small children take their turn on the square. Along one side of the square a bar is set up by a local group, and large quantities of pernod are consumed. Families bring their own tablecloths, napkins, knives, forks and glasses and large amounts of delicious French baguettes. For a ticket costing five francs ($1), the food and drink is provided. As the band strikes up a rousing traditional French country tune, the local village women bring in large bowls of delicious aioli, the aroma wafting across the whole square. Generous spoonfuls are distributed on every plate, followed by tiny boiled new potatoes, tender baby carrots and hard-cooked eggs. But for the real aioli lovers, the garlic and olive oil sauce is eagerly mopped up by the bread alone. And for all, the feast is washed down with vast quantites of their own excellent vin de Provence.
(4 servings) 1 large cloves of garlic 2 egg yolks 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup good olive oil
Crush the cloves of garlic in a mortar until reduced to a pulp. Add the yolks and salt and stir with a wooden spoon. Now add the oil, drop by drop, stirring all the time until the aioli begins to thicken. When about half the oil has been added, the aioli should be quite slow but steady stream. The sauce gets thicker and thicker.