by Juliana Goodwin
Clothing and Accessories Provided by Scarlet | Photography by Jamison Mosley
Spring has arrived, and summer is just around the corner. That means it’s the best time of year for a picnic, as temperatures beckon for blankets on the lawn and provisions under a blue Arkansas sky. So, shake out that blanket because we have everything you need to plan a perfect picnic.
Liven up your sandwich
If you’re in a hurry and simply want to grab some deli meat and cheese for a sandwich, there are a few ways you can liven up an old classic.
Start with better bread. Whether you like soft focaccia or a crusty French loaf, buy from a local bakery for best results. It’s also best not to assemble your fare until you’re at the picnic site or your bread may get soggy (at least leave off toppings like mayonnaise and tomatoes).
If turkey is on the menu, jazz up your mayo. Mix basil paste into your mayonnaise for a pesto-style mayonnaise and top with sundried tomatoes or make your own cranberry mayonnaise (trust us, it’s amazing).
For the cranberry mayonnaise, stir together ½ cup whole cranberry sauce with ½ cup mayonnaise. Top with turkey, cheddar or swiss and spinach (but leave the spinach off until time to serve). It’s scrumptious.
Want to skip the mayonnaise? Then try smoked turkey crowned with mango chutney, thinly sliced cucumbers and arugula or spinach. Since you’re in a rush, you can stop by the salad bar at the grocery store for your vegetable fixings.
Another way to transform a plain turkey sandwich is to buy store-bought guacamole and spread it on your meat.
Forget boring ham and cheese; use smoked gouda instead of the standard cheddar. Spread a sweet jam on the bread and enjoy the sweet and smoky flavors.
Chicken salad is always an excellent option because you can pack a container, fresh bread, and you’re ready to go.
Try some new sides – instead of potato salad, make a quinoa salad; buy a bag of Asian slaw instead of traditional coleslaw.
Prosecco is lovely this time of year, and a number of brands are available in little bottles, making it a great option. Prosecco is sweeter than brut sparkling wine making it an ideal warm weather libation.
If you’re spreading a blanket in a venue that doesn’t allow glass, don’t stress because there’s an increasing number of decent canned wines on the market. Underwood makes everything from riesling to rosé, perfect for sunny day drinking. Think wine in a can is tacky? Not anymore. According to Nielsen data, canned wine consumption increased 43 percent between June 2017 and June 2018. It’s a trend.
If you’re more of a wine connoisseur and want to drink a special bottle, buy a wine bottle flask. Accmor makes a leakproof, portable, foldable and collapsible wine bag. Just pour the vino into this plastic, seal and go. Another perk is it’s much lighter than a wine bottle.
An easy way to please everyone in the party is to bring a pitcher of lemonade, then buy fresh mint, pints of vodka and bourbon, and blueberries. Let people make his or her own concoctions. The mint, blueberries, vodka and lemonade are excellent when muddled together. The bourbon, mint and lemonade are a match made in heaven. This way, one pitcher can please drinkers and non-drinkers, and keep planning simple.
If beer is your drink of choice, then buy one of the many brewed in Arkansas.
If iced tea is more your speed, have fun with it. Instead of following a traditional recipe, use peach tea bags, or float a few ginger bags in along with ginger root, or even brew black tea with cardamom, cinnamon and cloves for a Chai style tea.
Charcuterie platters are all the rage, and it’s easy to see why: the presentation is inviting, the food is delicious and there’s enough variety to please a crowd.
When selecting cheeses, you want a balance of creamy, dry, and maybe a little funky. Don’t overlook sheep and goat cheeses.
Cheese is best served at room temperature, so allow it to sit out for 20 minutes before consuming.
Cheddar is a favorite, but if it’s a hot day, cheddar will sweat and become oily, which is not very appetizing. Soft cheeses such as Brie or Camembert will melt perfectly on a cracker or slice of bread, so those are an excellent choice.
Brie pairs well with honey or sweet jam, such as raspberry or peach, and also nuts.
A soft goat cheese will also become smooth and creamy in the heat, so that’s another fantastic selection.
Don’t forget the local honey. Drizzle it on goat cheese, sprinkle dried or fresh lavender on top, and everyone will go crazy. Flies love honey, so consider a mesh food cover for your plate.
For an aged dry cheese, opt for Manchego, a delicious sheep cheese, or Asiago.
Aside from these staples, have fun because cheesemakers are experimenting with new techniques, so pick an unusual flavor such as bourbon barrel aged, wine-soaked or habanero infused. Spicy cheese has been a growing trend for years.
For easy assembly, pre-slice hard cheese and sausage at home and wrap it in plastic wrap, so all you have to do is unwrap it and spread it on a platter.
If you serve blue cheese, be sure it has its own knife. The soft cheese will stick to a knife, and a lot of people dislike the stinky blue so sharing a knife will contaminate other selections on the board.
Grab a simple, classic buttery cracker, a flavored variety, such as Black Pepper Triscuit, and a gluten-free option. Pre-sliced French bread is an easy option, too.
Grapes are a staple on any charcuterie platter. Rinse them in advance and then dry on paper towels before packing. Pick up some dried fruit, such as figs or apricots, and you’ve got the fruit aspect of the platter covered.
Nuts are a must, and again, variety is key. Try a smoked almond, a plain walnut and candied pecans which pair perfectly with Brie or Camembert.
For meats, pick something unique like rosemary salami, prosciutto and venison summer sausage (Petit Jean makes a lovely deer summer sausage). Don’t forget the honey mustard for dipping.
The Dollar Tree is a good place to score a big platter because you can buy a plastic one and toss or recycle it when you’re done.
Nothing spoils a picnic like overpacking and lugging all the provisions long distances and being exhausted when you arrive. While the word “picnic” makes us imagine wicker baskets, a big cooler on wheels is more sensible for transporting food.
Pack plates, napkins, cups and cutlery in a separate bag so it doesn’t get soggy, and you can access it right away.
Try to estimate how much people will eat, because you don’t want a ton of leftovers.
Bring plastic baggies to pack leftover crackers and such.
Save condiment packets from fast food restaurants in case anyone needs one.
If you want dessert, grab a bag of brownie bites for no-fuss sweets.
Don’t forget the extras: hand sanitizer, bottled water, napkins, paper towels for spills, bug spray, so the insects don’t spoil your fun, and a garbage bag to clean up when you’re done.
Now there’s nothing left to do but savor the moment.
Arkansas is loaded with great places to picnic this spring. It would be hard to settle on just one. That’s why we ask you, AY readers, where we might find the best picnic spots in the Natural State. Here are some of your favorite!
Mississippi River State Park – Marianna
Forked Mountain – Jessieville
Village Creek State Park – Wynne
Limestone caverns near Big Flat – Baxter and Searcy counties
Garvan Woodland Gardens – Hot Springs
Petit Jean State Park – Morrilton
Riverfront Park, LaHarpe Blvd – Little Rock
Pinnacle Mountain State Park– Roland
Murray Park, Rebsamen Park Road – Little Rock
Clinton Presidential Library– Little Rock
Two Rivers Park– Little Rock
Lake Chicot State Park – Lake Village
Lake Frierson State Park – Jonesboro
Mount Nebo State Park – Dardanelle
Woolly Hollow State Park – Greenbrier
Mount Magazine State Park – Logan County
Mammoth Springs State Park – Mammoth Springs
Petit Jean State Park – Morrilton
Devil’s Den State Park – West Fork
Lake Wedington Recreation Area – Fayetteville
Wilson Park – Fayetteville
Kings River – Carroll County
Hobs State Park – Rogers