There are certain things that can be counted on at a community barbecue. It's a sure bet someone will bring a salad. And no matter what's in it, it will taste like cool summer shade.
It's a good bet juice from a watermelon will dribble down a chin, the hot dogs will snap when bitten and faces like the food will fill picnickers with the feeling they've been here before and it was good.
"I can bet with 100 percent certainty," said Rosamond Cady, superintendent of Dublin Community Church Academy and an organizer of the church's annual picnic, which took place last Sunday, "that I knew exactly what I was going to eat. I knew Jeannie was going to bring beans, and I knew Nancy was going to make a salad I really like, so it really is familiar dishes. They appear annually. And then, there's new families, so new food comes."
Whether it's a church picnic, a fundraiser for a civic organization or an old home day, the goal of a community barbecue is the same: to bring people together through a fellowship of food.
"I think because it's outdoors, I think it's just a lot more relaxed, more than even a plain old church potluck, which we do that too," said Randy Thompson, pastor of Immanuel Community Church in Concord. "But there's something about when you eat outdoors that's just relaxing, informal, casual. And when you eat outdoors, someone will usually bring a croquet set or a badminton set, and not everyone plays, but some people do and it creates a more playful atmosphere I think than you have when you are indoors (at a potluck)."
As for what's on the menu, for certain, a community barbecue is meat's milieu. Must-haves are burgers and hot dogs, of course. For those brave enough to attempt chicken on the grill, the best way to do it, according to most experts, is to cook it indirectly instead of directly over the coals to avoid burning it while at the same time cooking it fully. Indirect cooking helps avoid flare ups from dripping fat from skin-on chicken. They also recommend putting the lid of the grill down to create a sort of oven.
For those who want to get a little creative, take a page from playbook at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and try some lamb. At their annual picnic fundraiser in Manchester, the lamb they serve is marinated for two days before the picnic in a mixture of olive oil, lemon, onion, oregano, salt and pepper. The morning of the barbecue, the meat cooks for an hour and a half.
For those who want to ease into a meat change, ground lamb can be mixed with other meats and spices to make burgers and meatballs with a slightly sweeter, gamier flavor.
Whatever the meat, however, Thompson recommends going boneless for the cookout.
"We don't have a philosophy about it particularly," Thompson joked. "But especially with cleanup afterwards, if you have bones, that can be problematic."
While the brats, burgers and dogs may be the stars, they are often ably backed by a strong supporting cast of cold salads and hot sides. Adding to the fun is that these picnics are usually potluck. That means consumers of picnic food could end up taking a culinary journey around the world — or just to the back porch with an old family recipe.
One favorite in Dublin is the homemade baked beans, said Cady.
"It's just brown sugar, molasses, that kind of thing and navy beans, the little ones," Cady said.
Cold salads add a nice variety to the table. It's a great idea to stick with fresh veggies for both green and pasta salads. As for the pasta and potato salads, they can be as fancy or as simple as the cook likes. In Dublin, Cady said, one of the best contributions to this year's picnic was a very simple potato salad.
"It was just a red skin potato salad," Cady said. "But it was great . It had the red-skinned potatoes with the skin still on and what looked like just mayonnaise to me."
Though many salads are mayonnaise based, sometimes a little vinegar can be a picnic superstar. Insalata Di Rinforzo is one such salad, mixing cauliflower, carrots, fennel, peppers, olives and capers with red wine vinegar and oil, creating a sort of cool pickled veggie vibe.
Desserts also play a key role in any community picnic. In Dublin, Cady said, Brian Barden, head of the Dublin Highway Department, turns ice cream making into entertainment.
"He has an old gasoline engine that makes ice cream," Cady said. "So he starts the engine and … it has a belt and the belt is hitched so it runs the churner."
The engine itself is cast iron and needs to be hauled around in a horse trailer. Cady said Barden puts a pre-made ice cream mix—similar to that used in soft serve machines—into a container packed around with salt and then starts his engine. The church lady could only find one way to describe the vanilla goodness the engine produces: "to-freaking-die-for."
Insalata Di Rinforzo
Serves 6 to 8
1 head of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into large slices
1 jar of peperoncini
2 stalks of celery
1 jar of roasted bell peppers
1/2 cup of pitted kalamata olives
1/2 cup of pitted green olives
1/4 cup of fresh parsley
1 bulb of fennel, chopped (see note)
2 tbsp of capers
1/2 cup of red wine vinegar
1/2 to 2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Note: Green beans can be used instead of fennel ( or left it out altogether). You can also add raw red onion rings and raw red pepper instead of roasted.
Fill a large pot with water and sprinkle in a good pinch of salt, bring to a boil.
Add the cauliflower florets, carrots, celery, fennel and cook until tender but still crisp, about 6 to 8 minutes, remove them from the boiling water and plunge into the ice water or just rinse under cold water in a colander.)
Remove them from the ice water and place them in a large bowl.
Add all remaining ingredients and toss together well. You can serve it immediately or cover it and place it in the fridge for a couple hours. Take out from the fridge 1 hour before you plan to serve it.
This macaroni salad is lighter on the mayonnaise than many.
1 box of elbow macaroni
1 jar of small green olives, chopped (reserve liquid)
1 med. onion, chopped
2/3 cup of mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the macaroni according to instructions on the box, drain pasta. While still hot add the mayo, and one quarter of the olive juice, onions and olives. Stir. Add more olive juice, salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate.
— Courtesy of Dorothy Moyles