Most people think of picnics as a summertime adventure, but there is no better time of the year to enjoy a meal with friends in the great outdoors than in the fall. It’s cool, there are few bugs, and it’s the best time to sit around a campfire. People also have preconceptions about what to serve at a family picnic, and being a hot dog fan, I always include what used to be called a “tube steak” as burgers don’t always have to be the main event. And the same goes for potato and pasta salad. They are good, but why not try something different?
Let me urge you to make your fall picnic a little different by picking a different location too. The beach is almost always the first choice, but why not pick one of our city or national parks? Even the Bethel Bicycle Trail has fire pits and a few picnic tables to use, as does the Gulf National Seashore. Get the map out and find a location you have never visited; it just might make all the difference.
My choice for a fall picnic would be hot dogs cooked over a wood fire. Hardwood charcoal is OK, but a gas fire just doesn’t get it. You can eat them on a conventional bun (I also love the Hawaiian rolls for hot dogs), or just plain white bread, Southern style. If you are a New Yorker, you would be disdainful of putting ketchup on a dog, but I am not a traditionalist in any way, so use any condiment that you like. I am particularly fond of hot German mustard.
For sides, I would go with black beans and rice and Mexican street corn. The corn is just sensational, but you do have to make a fire to grill it on. Otherwise, it’s pretty simple. Remove the husks from the corn, then anoint with Mexican crema, mayo, cilantro, minced garlic, a little chipotle powder, lime zest, and cotija cheese. Grill and serve with wedges of lime. Your friends and family are going to go nuts. Make sure to have plenty of paper towels on hand, it is messy.
If you make the black beans from scratch, it will take some time, but drained canned beans are a good substitute. Simmer them in a good ham stock, that has been seasoned with cumin and a pinch of red pepper flake. To give the rice a step up, toast the dry uncooked rice in garlic butter, then steam as you always do. Plate the rice, top with the beans, and garnish with diced red onions.
There you have it! A lovely fall picnic that isn’t a big hassle to put together and will still make everyone happy! Get out and enjoy this wonderful weather.