Picnic time!

With the arrival of spring people yearn to get out in the countryside. For there's no end of pleasure to be had at a picnic with friends and family in a quiet spot.

No sooner does the weather begin to warm up than people want to throw themselves into the arms of nature. It's a simple urge to escape the winter doldrums. To put on the reds and the greens and leave the blacks and greys behind. When spring comes we go all sun yellow, grass green, rose red. And this is precisely the season for spring picnics. Imbued with a new lease of life, people flock to nature in droves - to forest, verdant meadow and riverbank - with their family, friends and loved ones.

When we look back at history we see that in the old days people who lived in cities went to great lengths to get back to nature. A hundred and fifty years ago, for example, Istanbul residents used to flock to the city's famous picnic grounds every chance they could get. Today these charming outings in nature are known as 'picnic' for short almost all over the world. The meaning of this word, which comes from the French 'pique-nique', is to come together to eat plain and simple food. And indeed picnic fare consists in general of cold, easily transportable dishes that can be consumed in the open air in communion with nature. Thanks to the development of technology hot dishes can also be prepared at today's picnics. And perhaps for this reason the phrase 'going on a picnic' can also be referred to as 'cooking out'. Special 'picnic' containers of bottled gas and 'igloos' for keeping things cold have changed the face of the picnic today. To put it another way, nature outings have been gradually turned into cookouts. The convenience afforded by grills and prepared foods has also transformed the nature of traditional picnic fare.

In old Istanbul, during the 19th century period of reforms especially, picnic grounds were an important aspect of social life. Thanks to the city's geographical situation, all of them were located along the banks of some waterway or other, be it the Golden Horn or the Bosphorus. Reached by caique, such picnic grounds covered a broad area stretching from Galata to Kağıthane and from Karaköy to the Göksu. Arriving by caique, either their own or rented, participants in the excursion definitely had a 'traveling kit' with tablecloths, a pitcher, a 'Vienna basket' with two compartments, a portable food container and other necessities of the table. Arriving at the picnic grounds with some difficulty, the revelers would spread out the delicacies they'd been days preparing: cold dishes such as sliced tongue, sliced boiled lamb, stuffed vine leaves, pickles, 'dry' meatballs, kadınbudu (Lady's Thigh) meatballs, deep-fried herb risoles, stuffed peppers, Circassian chicken, vegetables fried in olive oil, boiled eggs, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and yoghurt, as well as sweets such as semolina halva made with milk, 'kalbura bastı' and crisp fritters. Hot food was never included because it would have been difficult to prepare under the conditions of the time as well as producing odors, which would have been considered a breach of etiquette. Itinerant vendors also hung around picnic grounds, peddling everything from boiled sweet corn and taffy to halva wafers, milk puddings, yoghurt, fruit syrups, chewing gums, candied apples, roasted chickpeas, and water as well as plums, green almonds, bing cherries, Izmir grapes, Değirmendere hazelnuts, Bursa peaches, and honeydew and watermelon in season. Not to mention the coffee and tea vendors with their samovars and the musicians and dancers who turned the picnic ground into a movable feast.

Such picnics are unfortunately no longer possible today. And no one sings the song, “Heave Ho, Let's go to the Göksu”. For that Göksu, the former Sweet Waters of Asia, is long gone. People still love a picnic, but the scent of the grass and the fragrance of the flowers are overpowered now by the aroma of meat sizzling on the grill.