Connected \\ July 28, 2020

The urban picnic: Adventures in social distancing

A familiar sound echoes around my house, something I have not heard in months. Looking out my window, I see the sun is blazing and everyone has accessorized their masks with shorts. Summer has arrived. After months of lockdown, I channel my jittery inner meerkat and head out my front door. The lure of the great outdoors is too much to resist, but how do I get out there and remain at a safe social distance while enjoying the precious summer days?

Over the last four months, many of us rediscovered the pleasure of cooking at home. And with more time to focus, we have elevated our culinary game. So I started thinking about ways to elevate the humble picnic. It seems like the perfect way to be outside while maintaining social distance. Pack a lunch, find a remote spot, lay out a blanket and you’re good to go. But that seems too simple. I want to achieve the picnic version of glamping. We’ll work out the right term for fancy picnics later (Pizazznic?) but first, I put on my museum thinking cap and started my research.

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

I view the unpacking of a picnic basket with the same sense of anticipation as a magician pulling things out of a hat. What will they dazzle me with next? Sandwiches, cheese, wine or sweets? The magic lies in that treats are endlessly pulled from an impossibly small space. Because there is so much art to properly packing a picnic, finding the perfect basket is the first step.

Dining al fresco often means relying on single-use items like plastic forks, cups, paper plates and cling wrap. We think an urban picnic should be a glamorous and waste-free affair, so we challenged ourselves to assemble a capsule collection of outdoor dining accessories to do just that, and of course, do so with style.

So whether you want to pack a homemade feast or create a chic portable bistro for your curbside takeout, the PEM Shop offers many solutions to fashionably take it outside, and leave nothing behind.

A wicker picnic basket, small wooden table, wine, glasses, pwhite plates, coolers, bread set on a white blanket surrounded by lawn

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

Sustainable Picnic Sets

These sturdy baskets contain the foundation for a sustainable picnic as they are made from natural and renewable materials, including AZO-free willow, chemical-free cotton, bamboo and are free of plastic, artificial dyes and BPAs. The sets include reusable utensils, plates, wine glasses, napkins and even a handy cutting board, all contained in a cotton-lined willow basket. The PEM Shop stocks a compact set for two and a larger set that will accommodate up to four.

Picnic Table/Wine Tote

Having a solid surface to set things on is an important component to your picnic blanket tableau. Crafted out of solid cherry wood, this clever item helps tote bottles of wine and more to your spot and can then be quickly turned into a small table on which to set glasses and a cheese board. Designed and assembled in the United States by Mike Blaschka, investing in items like this supports independent American craftspeople.

A picnic set out on a white blanket

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

The Perfect Picnic Blanket

Our choice for a picnic blanket is easy to transport and rolls up for convenient storage. The blanket measures 72-by-72 inches and features a waterproof lining, leather straps and four stakes to hold it in place, even on breezy summer days.

a picnic blanket rolled up with a leather handle and straps
Wine and Cheese Crossbody Cooler

Wine and Cheese Crossbody Cooler

Tote this trendy crossbody satchel down to our friends at The Cheese Shop of Salem and have them fill it up for an amazing outdoor nosh. The bag, insulated to keep its contents cool, can hold two bottles of wine and a selection of tasty cheeses and snacks. The set includes a cheeseboard, knife and a corkscrew.

The Mariner Cheese Board

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

The Mariner Cheese Board

Anchors aweigh! Showing off cheese choices on The Mariner Cheese Board makes a perfect gift for boat enthusiasts with its helm-shaped rubberwood construction and four stainless steel cheese tools with rubberwood handles that fit snugly into slots on the side of the board to look like helm handles. Use the four stationary helm handles to rotate this cutting board, lazy Susan style!

Corkcicle Wine Tumbler

Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM

Corkcicle Wine Tumbler

With a smooth-to-the-touch trendy color-blocked finish, these triple insulated cups can keep your drinks cold for up to nine hours or hot for up to three. A great replacement for disposable cups.

Z Wraps

Z Wraps are a perfect alternative to single-use cling plastic. They keep your food fresh longer and are handmade here in Massachusetts! Made of beeswax-covered cloth, the wraps are easy to use and create a tight seal simply by using the warmth of your hands. If every household in America uses Zwraps, we would save enough plastic wrap to stretch to the moon and back over 400 times!

Z Wraps covering a rice bowl and sandwich
Generation-to-Generation Cookbook

Generation-to-Generation Cookbook

Of course, the perfect basket needs to be filled with the perfect food and From Generation to Generation contains great recipes for meals that travel well. This new book was compiled by gourmets, Carla Barron Herwitz and Johanna Semple Herwitz, who share their tried-and-true secret family recipes. Our favorite picnic picks include kale salad, quinoa salad, chilled carrot ginger soup, barbecue chicken and miso salmon.

Cocktails to go set

Cocktails to go set

I don’t care if my martini is shaken or stirred, it just matters that it gets done, and with our portable cocktail kit you can do either. Just roll out this portable set which contains everything you need to show off your mixology skills.

Ekobo Bento Box

Ekobo Bento Box

Let's make single-use plastic bags a relic of the past and things that you can only see in a museum! Ekobo’s stylish bento box is perfect for a sandwich or snacks. All Ekobo products are made of highly renewable bamboo fibers and are very durable. In a picnic setting, they do double duty as a perfect serving dish.

Wine canteen

Each one of our clever little canvas wine canteens can hold a full 750 ml/25-ounce bottle of wine and will make your basket a little bit lighter to carry. It’s also a great idea for beachcombers as there is no chance of shattered glass left behind. These clever canteens are designed in Sonoma County, California, by experts, right in the heart of wine country. Made out of heavyweight cotton canvas with a flexible BPA-free leak-proof liner.

Three wine canteens with different graphics on them

Face Masks

Talk about a must-have accessory! Besides being the right thing to do (and in most places, mandatory) face masks have become a great way to express yourself. What better way to show support for PEM than with one of our new face masks inspired by the museum's collection. We have many styles available, and with great art come great stories. The spiny center shell on this mask is a spondylus, which was sacred to the ancient Maya.

A PEM designed face mask of a spiny center shell on this mask is a spondylus, which was sacred to the ancient Maya.

Hand Sanity-izer

David Shrigley says your hands are dirty but no worries, everything is good. Shrigley, a British artist known for his irreverent humor and line drawings, has designed a line of hand sanity-izers. Available in convenient travel sizes and perfect for a picnic where no soap and water is available.

Six bottles of Hand Sanity-izer


Extend your outside time with leisurely activities so you can slowly pass the day. Why not challenge yourself to fly a kite! We adore these ship kites by Haptic Labs. They’re easy to assemble and each is handmade by Balinese artisans and can really fly. When not in use, they make great decorative objects in your home. The PEM Shop also carries a nice array of more traditional kites.

A woman flys a white paper cu ship kite against a cloudy and orange sky
Collecting the Globe book

Collecting the Globe

Want something to read under a shade tree? Brush up on the 220-year history of PEM with Collecting the Globe: The Salem East India Marine Society Museum, written by our Associate Curator George Schwartz.

Explore the full urban picnic Collection and more here. So fellow … Pizazznikers? Pickglitznics? Fabnicks? . . . I can’t wait to see you all in the park . . . but from at least six feet away or you may witness my meerkat alarm call.

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