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The First Picnic

In my family, we recognize Spring’s arrival in many ways.  We revel in the joyous warbling of Virginia cardinals, wrens and titmice. We are always awed by the puffs of pink perfection in the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. We watch each day as our plants and flowers unfurl themselves from the warming soil. We have our “First Picnic.”

The First Picnic is the gateway to all our dreams about the coming Summer. Even though the wind may still have a winter nip, the First Picnic is our testament to the change in season and all the wonders it brings. Now this all might sound grandiose. It’s not, trust me. But, like Thanksgiving with its traditional turkey, the First Picnic always consists of (drumroll please) — French Pork Pie.

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There’s quite a bit of speculation on where my mother obtained the recipe for this hearty meal. Our French families resoundingly disclaim that it originally emanates from their country. My guess is that she clipped it out from a foodie magazine about 50 years ago and so the tradition for the First Picnic began.

There are certain foods that are just meant to go with this dish. They are:

  • Cornichons (those tiny pickles that the French so masterfully invented);
  • Dijon mustard (continuing on the French theme);
  • Crusty (you guessed it) French bread;
  • Cheese (here we stray from the French way and pick whatever we’re in the mood for);
  • A salad with walnuts, craisins and a light vinaigrette;
  • A good wine (we often choose a Pinot Noir because of the spices in the pie); and
  • Dessert (always and forever something chocolate).

So, here’s the recipe. I hope you enjoy it on a picnic.

FRENCH PORK PIE (serves 8)

Ingredients:

  • 1-1 ½ lbs. ground pork
  • ¼ c. oatmeal (quick cook oats)
  • ¼ c. water
  • 1 small finely chopped onion or 1 T dehydrated onion (placed in water to soften)
  • ½ tsp. each: leaf oregano, leaf thyme, ground allspice, ground cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 box refrigerated pie crusts (e.g., two crusts) Yes, you can make your own crust. Yes, it’s better. Yes, I’m lazy. So, do what you feel.

How to:

1. Over very low heat, combine all ingredients, except pie crust, in small Dutch oven; cook, stirring frequently until the pork is cooked through (about 30-40 minutes).

2. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust to taste.

3. Place meat mixture in pie crust and cover with second crust.

4. Bake for 30 minutes at 400˚ or until crust is golden. Let cool slightly before serving


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