Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Picnic: From The Glorious Renaissance to the American Outdoors, This 'Spree' Was Made For You and Me; Finale: A Warm and Tasty Apple Tart to Love

'The Luncheon of the Boating Party'  by Pierre-Auguste Renoir
You might think. like me, that there is nothing more American than a good old-fashioned picnic but surprisingly this outdoor entertainment is actually a European tradition. And, while here in the United States picnics are more or less a middle-class activity, the prototype on which it is based, is decidedly more sumptuous.

From the earliest medieval hunting feasts, grand Renaissance banquets and fashionable Victorian garden parties in England and France, the foundation was set for our American-style repasts that have become a part of our summer and fall calendars. The American picnic is a social event where groups of families, friends or both gather to share home-cooked meals with baseball or football games, activities for the kids and a chance for the ladies to catch up on 'news,' dare i say gossip! The setting is usually a county, city or state park, possibly a beach or local picnic grounds.
'Luncheon in the Garden' by Claude Monet

Picnicking really came of age during the Victorian era appearing in the literature and art of that period. Dickens, Jane Austen, Monet, Renoir and Cezanne all found pleasure in introducing this form of social event into their fiction and paintings. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the oldest written evidence of the word picnic in the English language to 1748. It is suggested that the French might have invented the word 'picnic' derived from 'pique nique' referring to an indoor dinner which those present had contributed some food.

This past weekend we had the occasion to attend a picnic sponsored by our parish here on Staten Island. The Island is no stranger to picnics. Once upon a time, there were a number of park-like grounds that were rented to various organizations for group get-togethers. Today, there is only one organized picnic ground left, Nansen's Park, which has been hosting a variety of group gatherings for some 70 years.

At Nansen's Park, the food and beverages are supplied all day for a reasonable fee.  Their facilities include a ball field, park, dance floor and lots of traditional picnic tables many covered by a large gazebo in case of rain. This past weekend in New York was glorious and the event was a big success.

I made an apple tart just to keep in the spirit the original picnic idea. The tart crust was supplied by Paula Deen, via the Internet, and the apple recipe was based on an apple tart recipe I'd been holding onto for a few years. That recipe called for apricot preserves as a glaze, I substituted raspberry preserves instead.

Fresh from the oven, both sweet and tart, the warm pastry baked in a rectangular tart pan, was a big hit. Here's the recipe:

Apple Tart
Preheat oven the 375 degrees 

About 6 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

For the Glaze
1/2 cup raspberry or apricot preserves
3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 tablespoons sour cream

  • For crust, place the flour, butter, and sour cream in food processor and pulse to combine. When the dough has formed a ball, pat with lightly floured hands into the bottom and sides of an ungreased 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake for about 15 minutes, until crust is set but not browned. Let cool.
  • Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees 
  • For filling, peel and thickly slice the apples. Arrange the slices in overlapping circles on top of the crust, until it's completely covered. Overfill the crust, because the apples will shrink a bit during cooking. 
  • Combine the egg yolks, . sour cream, sugar, and flour and beat until smooth. Pour the mixture over the apples.
  • Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, until the custard sets and is pale golden in color. Cover with an aluminum foil tent if the crust gets too dark.
  • Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack to cool. When cool, remove the side wall of the pan. 
  • For glaze: To make the glaze, combine the preserves or jelly and orange juice. Spread with a pastry brush over the top of the warm tart. Serve the tart warm, at room temperature, or chilled

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