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Summertime Eats: Annual Italian Picnic Would Make Military Proud

July 9th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories about summertime food memories. Share yours with me — email it to Jan@JanNorris.com with “Summertime eats” in the subject line. If possible, please include a photo of yourself or your family as an attached .jpg.  If your story is published, you have a chance to win a cookbook.

Family Picnic a Feast – and a Feat

By Regina Messina, guest columnist

My fondest childhood memories involve summertime, food and our annual family picnics.

I’m not talking about your average hamburger and hot dog fete. We are pure-blood Italians.

I mean the break-down and reassembly of my mother’s Brooklyn kitchen into the Anthony Wayne State Park in upstate New York.

The strategic planning involved in executing this yearly event was paramount to the Allies landing on Omaha Beach. We took everything one could possibly need — and then some. 1952 desoto_edited-1

It was all stuffed into my father’s 1952 sky-blue DeSoto along with assorted relatives, and off we would go. In the dark.

A pre-dawn start

We would usually leave about 5 a.m. to make sure we would get a “good spot. To this day, I have no idea what a bad spot would be.

We would drive for what seemed forever. Being a child, I was sure we were somewhere near the Canadian border. The park would just be opening when we would arrive. There were usually about 30 to 40 people in all.

The Messina family - Regina on the right

The Messina family - Regina on the right

A cacophony of food

Within five minutes of our arrival the food would begin to flow. It started slow, with potato and roasted pepper frittatas, assorted focaccia, hard rolls and bacon. It would build to a crescendo as the day wore on. The macaroni pots (we didn’t call it pasta back then) were up on the park grills alongside the sauce pots for the homemade ravioli.

The sausage came in three varieties: hot, sweet, and cheese and parsley. There were pots of veal and mushrooms, chicken pesto, Italian potato salad, peppers and onions and something called giamborte — a Genovese vegetable dish similar to a stew. Of course there was plenty of wine and beer to wash everything down.

Pinochle by candlelight

After hours of eating, dessert was served. This course filled an entire table with care taken to ensure that every category was fairly represented.

Darkness would fall but the pinochle games would go on with the glow of candlelight. We didn’t leave until the ranger came to close the park.

Farther when I was young

Years later I bought my first house 45 miles north of Brooklyn in a quiet hamlet outside the city. One day, while driving on the Palisades Parkway two exits north of my new home, I spied a sign that said “Anthony Wayne Recreation Area next exit.”

I guess we didn’t drive to Canada after all.

Tags: Food and Family Intertwine

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Amen // Jul 10, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    what a great story. I am smiling from ear to ear after reading it.

    thank you

  • 2 Jan Norris // Jul 13, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Makes me want to come back as an Italian in my next life…

  • 3 picnic basket // Jan 29, 2011 at 3:49 am

    Picnic backpacks have straps for slinging the backpack over your shoulder or as a conventional backpack for hiking. Traditional picnic baskets only have a deal with or two, requiring someone to carry the picnic basket to the picnic website.

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