The North Adams Picnic Society meets every Wednesday at 6 or 6:30 p.m. during the city's weekly free concert series at Windsor Lake. If the society had any democratic structure, North Adams, Mass. resident Veronica Bosley would be its founder and president. It's got about 25 members, but it's always a different crowd.
The spread is always different, too, but I always bring the same thing: A tightly wrapped, layered sandwich on crusty French bread. It's a great picnic staple that is truly simple to pull together, but uncomplicated to lug to a picnic on a hill. I take mine to Windsor Lake in my backpack, and by the time I'm there it's warm from the summer sun.
I like to stick to the sandwich because it's easier to grab ingredients for and put together after work. Also, because it travels well. Others bring amazing offerings: Potato salad skewers with a red potato, pickle slice and hard-boiled egg slice; strawberry shortcakes with plenty of back-up whipped cream; a meat and cheese board to rival one at a small, but expensive wedding; lemonade flavored with cilantro and jalapeno. It's a bunch of food lovers coming together to share an idyllic evening, really making summer count.
Building and packing a knockout picnic sandwich
Use a very, very light touch when it comes to things like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or any other "wet" ingredient. You don't want the bread to get soggy; you want the flavors you've put together to meld gently over time, not soak in quickly.
Bread quality really, really matters. Get a nice, sturdy French or Italian bread, not the weird, floppy, cheap bread sold en masse. At the very least, this loaf should be made in your local grocery store, and it must have a good crustiness to it. A skinnier bread loaf is easier to wrap and carry.
Rubbing a smashed clove of garlic on each slice of bread will make a huge difference. It adds a comfortable, subtle depth of flavor while adding barely any moisture. Don't leave any garlic behind (unless you want to), just rub the bread.
Don't overstuff, though you'll be tempted. One layer of everything: cheese, meat/protein, lettuce/herbs.
Cut the sandwich before you go to the picnic, or bring a good, sharp bread knife to do it at the table. I like to stack little sandwich slices and then wrap the whole thing tightly in parchment paper with a couple of pieces of twine tied around. The paper should be tight enough that the sandwiches won't shift too much in a basket, tote bag or backpack.
BUILD your own
Try layering one or two of the following of each items:
Lettuce, herbs, swiss chard, kale, squash blossoms, spinach, tomato, roasted red pepper
Steak, sliced thin, cold cuts like turkey, salami, roast beef, chicken, etc.
Vegetarian options: hummus, tofu soaked in marinade and then patted with paper towel,
A sturdy or sturdy-ish cheese like cheddar, fresh mozzarella, fontina, gouda, gruyere.