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How to Pack a Provence-Themed Picnic: 10 Essentials

Updated on September 22, 2012

There's nothing like unpacking a piquenique in the hills of Provence to the serenade of crickets and cicadas. Fortunately, crickets and cicadas are widespread in other parts of the world, and most of the fare that goes into a Provençal picnic basket is easy enough to come by or make yourself.

Picnics in Provence are not an elaborate affair. Even in Paris, with the exception of the "White Picnic" where people by the thousand dress in white and set up tables, candles, real China and real cuisine, picnics are an occasion to let down one's hair and enjoy simple pleasures of the palate, with quality foods you can throw in a basket, pull out, and eat as is. All you usually need in addition to food is an Opinel knife, maybe a wooden board on which to cut salami, and a corkscrew. Oh, and wine glasses. Mustn't forget the wine glasses, even if you're not wearing white!

Sliced canteloupe and cured ham
Sliced canteloupe and cured ham | Source

Canteloupe and cured ham

You've seen them on appetizer platters and may have even put them there yourself on occasion: canteloupe pieces wrapped in prosciutto ham. In France, the same combination is served with canteloupe simply sliced and a slice of dry cured ham on the side. Usually canteloupe, called simply melon in French, is left attached to the peel and eaten with a knife and fork. For a picnic, just cut off the peel and eat with your fingers.

Two styles of Fougasse. Left: Olive and Goat Cheese. Right: Anchovies and Rosemary.
Two styles of Fougasse. Left: Olive and Goat Cheese. Right: Anchovies and Rosemary. | Source

Fougasse

Fougasse is a flattish olive oil bread that is stuffed, topped or kneaded with other taste treasures like olives or anchovies. Variations can be found all around the Mediterranean, like Italian focaccia. Even in Provence there are differences. Some bakers fold the bread over the other ingredients, slitting open to top to reveal them. Others knead the ingredients into the dough and slit it all the way through, giving it a pretzel like appearance. Watch for the recipe, coming soon...

Baguette French Bread

There's no substitute for crusty French bread
There's no substitute for crusty French bread | Source

French Bread

Why bother with French bread when you've already got Fougasse? It's a question I've often asked myself and that I think only a Frenchman can answer. If you think I'm kidding, just go to any French bakery right before closing time and you'll see the line is make up of anxious men fearing all the baguette's will be gone before they make it to the front of the line. It's a French guy thing. They have to have it. Even if they've already got fougasse...

A variety of olives, straight from the market
A variety of olives, straight from the market | Source

Olives

One of the joys of Provençal markets is the olive vendor with his long rows of tubs, each featuring a different flavored olive. With the cost of land in the South of France, many areas where olive groves once stood are now covered with parking lots, much like Southern California. Olives nevertheless remain part of the food culture so to meet demand olive vendors procure most olives from North Africa, then add the flavorings. Hey, who cares. They're delicious.


Caillette forest-style, meaning it has wild mushrooms mixed in.
Caillette forest-style, meaning it has wild mushrooms mixed in. | Source

Caillette

You can find this apple-sized pork meatball at butchers throughout the South. Three different French departments (like states) claim its origin. Lean ground pork is mixed with spinach, collard greens or other flavorful greens and often with hazelnuts or chestnuts. The balls are shaped by hand, wrapped in lacy caul fat, cooked in the oven and served hot or cold, whole or sliced. For a picnic, just slice it and eat it with bread.

French salami and gherkin pickles.
French salami and gherkin pickles. | Source

Saucisson

Saucisson, the French name for salami, is a picnic staple throughout France, but the further south you get the more variety you find. Most of the time they're made of pork, but sometimes you'll find donkey saucisson (I tried it once and felt like a cannibal but hypocrite that I am I still eat the pork). Some have hazelnuts or other ingredients, even goat cheese, mixed in. It is almost always served with cornichons, tiny pickles, which French men have to have almost as much as baguettes.

Left: Rabbit paté. Right: Paté Richelieu.
Left: Rabbit paté. Right: Paté Richelieu. | Source

Paté

Another classic that comes in a wide range of flavors, again almost always with a pork base but often with other meats mixed in, such as rabbit, roe deer, pheasant, or wild boar. Patés can be rustic like the rabbit terrine on the left, or more complex like the paté en croute (crusted paté) on the right. Paté en croute with duck liver paté in the middle like the one shown here is called paté Richelieu. Here again, mustn't forget the cornichons.

Source

Goat Cheese

Soft or aged, mild or strong, no picnic in Provence is complete without chèvre goat cheese. All throughout the South there are small markets where farmers sell what they produce directly to the public. This is where you want to go for goat cheese. There are so many varieties you can easily do a cheese platter with goat cheeses alone. But sometimes just getting one kind, whether it's your favorite or something new, is even more soul-satisifying.

A colorful selection of fruit
A colorful selection of fruit | Source

Sun-kissed fruit

All you need for dessert is fruit. Forget anything you have to peel. For a taste of Provence, go for a colorful of combination of fresh figs, apricots and Reine Claude (greengage) plums. Figs thrive in the Provençal and Mediterranean climate, the apricots that grow in the Rhone Valley are descended from the first trees introduced to France in the 1400s, and Reine Claude plums are the sweetest you'll ever taste, though the most difficult of the three fruits to come by outside France.

The Rosé of Provence, the oldest wine in France
The Rosé of Provence, the oldest wine in France | Source

Rosé

I've saved the corkscrew for last, but the first thing you'll want to do as soon as you sit down to your picnic is cork the rosé. What is more typical of Provence than rosé? It was the first wine produced in France, brought to Provence by the ancient Greeks. By the time the Romans arrived 700 years later, the area's rosé had already developed a reputation around the Mediterranean. Now, 2600 years after it was first produced, it's reputation still holds. Let's drink to that!

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    • emilybee profile image

      emilybee 4 years ago

      What wonderful ideas and photos, too!!! Will try these for upcoming picnics. Thanks for sharing!

    • Letitialicious profile image
      Author

      Letitialicious 4 years ago from Paris via San Diego

      Thanks Emilybee, have fun on your picnic!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Some really delectable pictures and foods. Though, out here where I live, we do not get them. I'd love to have recipes to make them.

      Voting up and beautiful.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Letitialicious profile image
      Author

      Letitialicious 4 years ago from Paris via San Diego

      Thank you so much Rajan Jolly, for your kind comments and the votes. I'll be posting recipes soon. The recipe for "fougasse" is almost ready!

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      I'm waiting for it Letitia. Thanks.

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      I love this hub and now I am SO hungry! How I miss the simple, quality foods of France. Fougasse was a favorite, along with most any cheese. The only classic I didn't really take to was rabbit terrine. Not sure why, except that I tried it toward the end of our vacation and after gorging myself on everything in sight for two weeks, I wasn't feeling too well that day. : ) I didn't have the opportunity to try donkey, although we did hear about it. Is the meat red? Another great addition to your 30 day challenge! Voted up and shared.

    • Letitialicious profile image
      Author

      Letitialicious 4 years ago from Paris via San Diego

      Hi Vespawoolf, I've got a recipe for fougasse in the works. I love it too. To tell the truth, I'm not big on rabbit terrine or donkey salami either. It's not the taste. It's the idea. And to tell even more truth, that same feeling I get over rabbit and donkey is starting to spread meat in general. That said, I'm still a carnivore. Hard not to be in France with so much constant temptation!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

      I know what you mean. I'm also a carnivore but sometimes I think if my husband wasn't such a meat lover, maybe I'd be vegetarian! But then again, maybe not. I do love BBQ ribs. : )

    • Letitialicious profile image
      Author

      Letitialicious 4 years ago from Paris via San Diego

      I'm with you on that! :-)

    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      This sounds like my ideal gourmet picnic and very romantic with the wine. You definitely inspired me to sneak off and have a picnic away from the kids. Voted up!

    • Letitialicious profile image
      Author

      Letitialicious 4 years ago from Paris via San Diego

      Hi Healthylife2, glad I could inspire a romantic moment. Enjoy!

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