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Road Food: Articles by Dennis Weaver
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The Last Picnic of Fall


South Fork of the Snake River
South Fork of the Snake River near Idaho Falls, Idaho

This is our favorite time of year for a picnic. It's not just that snow is coming; we're savoring the last pleasures of the season. The sky is clear and blue and there's a fresh crispness to the air. The bugs are gone. The sumac is red and the aspens have turned golden. The birds and wildlife seem restless and no longer hidden in the thickets away from the heat of summer and out of sight. The southerly rays of the autumn sun sparkle in the gentle riffles of the lakes. Curled maple leaves float on subdued rivers like miniature boats, building into rafts in the back eddies. A picnic is a great way to bask in the pleasures of the season.

We like to combine a picnic with a gentle road trip through the countryside. The farms of the Midwest seem more picturesque in the fall and the mountains of the west, more majestic. Maybe we'll visit an apple orchard or find a farmer's market tucked away in an upstate county with golden squash and handcrafted preserves. If so, we might find some cookies or an apple pie to include in our picnic. (Check here for directions to those hidden farmer's markets.)

We have an old canoe that is perfect for these trips. We can slip it into a gentle river or placid lake and steal away to an isolated bank to lay out a quilt in tall golden grass. It's nice to be alone, away from the noise of traffic. We're likely to see mallards burst from the grass and maybe a whitetail tiptoe to the water for a drink. The cool air and a bit of brisk paddling will put an edge to our appetites.

We won't put a lot of effort into our food preparation. Unless it's evening or too cool, we forgo a fire and enjoy fruit and sandwiches. We prefer hearty sandwiches or maybe meat or cheese on focaccia. Food safety is not the concern that it was in the heat of the summer and we'll keep our sandwiches cool in a soft sided bag with frozen "blue ice" cubes. Some crisp apples or a pear and some grapes will complement our sandwiches. Maybe we'll include a potato or pasta salad stored in plastic containers with tight-fitting lids.

Like any road trip, preparation is a key to a pleasant outing, but for a trip like this, the preparation shouldn't take long. A picnic checklist will assure that we don't forget anything. The checklist will be little different than the summer's list. We'll make sure that we have warm jackets just in case the weather changes. Hats will be stuffed away in case of a chilly wind. We'll have some matches cased in a waterproof container if we are going to be away from the car. Binoculars and a camera will give us the opportunity to capture those mallards in fall plumage or maybe a moose with his antlers stained red from his recently shed velvet.

The last picnic of fall is one that you'll savor when the winter winds whistle across the plains. Those memories will seed the anticipation of spring and a new season of picnics and road trips. We invite you to look over these picnic tips and adapt them to your last picnic of the fall.


Dennis WeaverDennis Weaver -- having burnt food from Miami, Florida to Point Barrow, Alaska -- is RTA's road food expert. He has logged thousands of hours on the roads, trails, and waterways of America including many of Alaska's wilderness rivers and has consistently been elected the trips' "chief cook and bottle washer." Dennis is currently general manager at The Prepared Pantry, a company in Rigby, Idaho, that produces ready-to-eat meals and baking mixes packaged in Mylar. Weatherproof, bug-proof, and critter resistant, they're ideal for both roadtrips and back woods camping. Dennis may be reached at


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