Dietribes: Preparing the Perfect Picnic


We're taking a break from our usual format this week to focus on a more general dining experience, and one we felt apropos to the season - the picnic. James Beard says it best, "Wherever it is done, picnicking can be one of the supreme pleasures of outdoor life. At its most elegant, it calls for the accompaniment of the best linens and crystal and china; at its simplest it needs only a bottle of wine and items purchased from the local delicatessen as one passes through town."

The Encyclopedia of Food and Culture tells us, "there is no reliable etymology for the word picnic, with the original use of the word lagging about three hundred years behind the first descriptions of al-fresco (open air) dining. From about 1340 until the very early 1800s, there are three contextual descriptions of picnics, whether or not the word is actually used: a pleasure party at which a meal was eaten outdoors; a hunt assembly; and an indoor social gathering or dinner party. "

"¢ And as far as the Oxford English Dictionary is concerned a picnic was, "originally; a fashionable social event at which each guest contributed a share of the food. Now: an informal meal eaten out of doors, esp. as part of an excursion to the countryside, coast, etc."

"¢ A guide to early picnics from Sports Illustrated of all places, says, "Picnics may have thrived first in the ages of chivalry and romance, but they took on an entirely different coloration when they crossed the Atlantic. In pioneer America, picnics built log cabins, raised barns, threshed wheat; there were husking bees, soap boilings, quilting bees, tree-felling drives. All picnics. As the need for community effort passed, the gregarious pleasure of eating out of doors has lingered on as a social custom"

"¢ There are a number of famous picnics that take place all over the world. To start, Bastille Day 2000 in France featured roughly 405 miles of checkered tablecloth spread over tables up to six-tenths of a mile long, and had an estimated 3 million participates, along with countless others who celebrated locally. On our own shores, an annual Congressional picnic on the White House lawn just took place recently in June.

"¢ The Picnic Society of London (1802"“1803) was a short-lived elite social club "“ Entertainment at the first meeting included a French proverb and an act from the Bedlamites (translated for the occasion). Dinner was then provided from a tavern. The Gentlemen's Magazine explains, "It took its name from the circumstance that everyone drew lots as to what should be his or her share of the entertainment. The club consisted exclusively of leaders of fashion including the Prince of Wales, Lady Buckinghamshire, the Duke of Queensberryn, Lady Salisbury and many others."

"¢ Perhaps no proper picnic can be complete without the Picnic Boat, currently owned by both Martha Stewart and ... Geraldo. But be wary of picnics by the water ... you may run into errant wildlife.

"¢ From Claudia Roden, author of Everything Tastes Better Outdoors, "The pleasures of outdoor food are those that nature has to offer, as ephemeral as they are intense. A bird will sing his song and fly away, leaves will flutter and jostle the sunlight for a brief second—sky, flowers, and scents have each their small parts to play in the perfect happiness of those enchanted moments. They serve, as Jean Jacques Rousseau said, to 'liberate the soul.'"

"¢ Ah, the picnic. What are some of your favorite things to pack in your basket?

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"˜Dietribes' appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

University of Pittsburgh
Researchers Create Motorized Wheelchair Made for the Water Park
University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh

Despite advances in technology, there are many aspects of the world that remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. But researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are working to make one activity easier for people who use motorized wheelchairs: navigating water parks.

The average motorized wheelchair has a number of electrical and battery components that can’t get wet, limiting who can access the joys of splash parks and pools. But a new wheelchair that uses compressed air instead of a heavy battery could change that, Gizmodo recently reported.

Created through a joint research project between University of Pittsburgh engineers, the university’s medical center, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the PneuChair is lighter and quicker to charge than traditional motorized chairs. It can also be repaired with basic hardware tools if something breaks in the midst of all the splashing.

The 80-pound chair (a traditional device can weigh up to 400 pounds) can travel about three miles on one charge, about a third of the maximum distance of an electric mobility device. Another benefit: It only takes 10 minutes to recharge rather than eight hours.

The university's Human Engineering Research Laboratories is also working on a scooter version for people who don't need the assistance of a full chair. “The potential to open opportunities for people with disabilities who need powered mobility to access splash parks, water parks, beaches or pools is transformative,” lab director Rory Cooper told the university's press service.

The PneuChair was designed in part for use at Morgan’s Inspiration Island, an upcoming water park in San Antonio that’s designed for people with disabilities. The accessible splash park—which is part of Morgan’s Wonderland, a fully accessible theme park—will initially offer 10 of the chairs to its guests for use while they’re there.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Dietribes: Cabbage

• Cabbages are derived from the wild mustard plant of the Mediterranean region, and have been popular since ancient times. Cato the Elder praised the cabbage for its many medicinal uses.

• Cabbages are highly nutritious, containing large amounts of Vitamin C, folate and fiber. That and its low calorie count is why some people use cabbage on weight-loss diets.

• However, the cabbage is also known to have a certain undesirable gastric side effect. As Nicholas Culpeper said in A Complete Herbal (1653) "Cabbages are extremely windy, whether you take them as meat or as medicine, as windy meat as can be eaten, unless you eat bag-pipes or bellows."

• Remember "freedom fries"? That wasn't the first time the name of one of our foods has been attempted to be changed because of political fervor. During World War I, Americans renamed sauerkraut "liberty cabbage."

• No one knows exactly how the Cabbagetown neighborhood in Atlanta got its name, though stories include the idea that the original poor Scotch-Irish residents (workers at the nearby cotton mill) would grow cabbages in their front yards, and that the smell of cooked cabbage was a nuisance (and later a point of pride). Other apocryphal suggestions include a train derailing or a Model T car overturning and spilling cabbages everywhere for people to snatch up, shouting "Free Cabbages!"

• Georgia has another cabbage connection - Cabbage Patch Kids, which were originally called Little People. In the late 1970s, art student Xavier Roberts started creating "soft sculptures," which he later expanded on by giving them birth certificates and allowing "adoptions." In 1982 the name changed to Cabbage Patch. By the mid-80s, the dolls went on record as having the most successful and in-demand introduction of a toy ever.

• Though cabbages have often been thought of throughout history as a cheap food, that's certainly not true in Northern Canada, where a cabbage can cost $28. The northern Canadian territory of Nunavut is so remote that anything not a product of hunting and gathering must be flown in.

• By the way, that corned beef and cabbage you cook up for St. Patricks Day? Not actually Irish. Though corned beef was made in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries, most Irish families were too poor to eat it. Instead it went to British citizens as well as the British and U.S. military. These days, the Irish reportedly find the dish just plain boring.

• Cabbages can have a killer instinct - genetically modified cabbages can produce scorpion poison that kills caterpillars when they bite leaves. But don't worry, the toxin is modified so it isn’t harmful to humans. (I like that the title of the article is "Venomous Cabbage"!)

• Another way to get rid of pests in your cabbage? Er, human urine. According to a 2007 study, "Our results show that human urine could be used as a fertilizer for cabbage and does not pose any significant hygienic threats or leave any distinctive flavor in food products." Good to know?

• The largest cabbage on record was called "The Beast" and weighed 127 pounds. Reportedly it wasn't actually particularly tasty, so it ended up as compost rather than on anyone's plate.

• How do you like to eat your cabbages, Flossers? And have you found a way to counteract their less-desirable side-effects?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.


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