The Daily Gamecock

How to pack your fall picnic basket full of flavor

The South Carolina fall is the perfect time to enjoy the outdoors over a uniquely flavored picnic basket. 

To start building your basket, George Hendry, the director of the McCutchen House, said he recommends the classic Palmetto cheese spread.

“You could always take crackers or bread and spread that on, or something like guacamole and chips,” Hendry said.

Potential appetizers include hummus and pita chips, cheese sandwiches or other foods that are "easy to pick up, finger food-wise," Walter Jackson, the production chef for the McCutchen House, said.

For a starter, Jackson said he recommends a chicken tarragon salad or a fried green tomato BLT slider.

“You can actually buy frozen fried green tomatoes that are already breaded, fry 'em up, they come out really nice, they hold up well, and just maybe on a slider bun with a couple of strips of bacon,” Jackson said. "That holds up well."

Jackson said a pasta salad with feta cheese and veggies topped off with a golden Italian dressing or a sliced avocado and fresh fruit salad with an orange vinaigrette also both hold up well.

“I have a black bean and rice salad that has a little bit of a bite to it ... You have the black beans, which are extremely healthy, and rice and beans make a complete protein,” Hendry said. Peppers can be added for extra flavor.

For a "fancier" option, a smoked salmon pinwheel, which is salmon rolled up in a flour tortilla with cream cheese or mascarpone cheese on it, might work. Jackson said the smoked salmon is "a little expensive" but holds up even at room temperature.

Most people think of chicken for a main course, Hendry said, and he suggested serving fried chicken cold or serving wings.

“You can do any kind of an assortment, from a hot wing to a barbecued wing to sweet and spicy wings,” Hendry said.

It is important to consider food temperature, ingredients and your environment when planning in order to avoid all risk of a foodborne illness. In dishes such as pasta salad, it is especially important to avoid the use of mayonnaise, as this will enter the danger zone, or the point when bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses grow quickly, relatively fast. Hendry said eating refrigerated food sooner than later is the best way to avoid it, even if you're using ice packs to keep it cold.

If you don't have time for a full picnic, then try snacks that can "keep [you] going." Hendry said cheese cubes, pepperoni, red, yellow or orange peppers and almonds are options for on-the-go nutrition, in addition to legumes, beans or quinoa, which can also serve as toppings or sides to other food you might bring. He said he recommends taking advantage of local produce because it is not only less expensive, but you will be getting better flavor.

Some local flavors to consider during the fall are peaches, honey glazed carrots, roasted butternut squash soup and barbar pumpkin pie.

“With fall harvest coming around, if you can buy sustainably, locally sourced foods, that would be helpful for the community,” Jackson said.

The Sustainable Carolina Garden is an intersection of green space in our community and the foods we enjoy.

“The Sustainable Carolina Garden produces organically grown foods while regenerating soil and building biodiversity. No pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers are used,” Andrew O’Flaherty, Sustainable Carolina's manager, said in an email interview. “Students sell these foods at the local farmers market and to USC's dining services.”

The garden is "a beautiful place" where students and community members can learn how to grow produce and contribute to campus sustainability, O'Flaherty said.