(last edited on August 31, 2015 at 1:33 pm)
I’ve been looking for a picnic basket reminiscent of the kind that Yogi Bear would steal from hapless visitors Jellystone Park with his pal Boo Boo. Modern picnic baskets are larger and have all these “improvements” to make it easier to carry plates and flatware, wine bottles, chilled foods, and so on. I just want a picnic basket that makes me laugh, and holds a suitable number of sandwiches. This is the story of how I found a picnic basket I liked. I really love the way these look.
The Evolving Picnic Basket
It turns out that the “classic picnic basket” (depicted to the right) is difficult to find on Amazon. Picnic Time has something that looks about right, but it’s over 100 dollars. On the plus side, it’s made in the USA. There are other picnic baskets that look similar or are made of wicker, but they’re made overseas. I didn’t want to spend a huge amount of money on a new picnic basket, but I didn’t want to buy a used one either.
It turns out that a company here in New Hampshire, the Peterborough Basket Company, has been making baskets locally for over 160 years. While the town Peterborough isn’t that close by to my home town of Nashua, it so happens that that my eye doctor’s office is located about a mile away. So after my first eye exam for the year, I scheduled some time to visit the basket company and check out their outlet store.
MAN DO THEY HAVE A LOT OF BASKETS.
I bought a deviled egg lazy susan basket for my sister, but needed to take some time thinking over which picnic basket I wanted. There are several colors, creating a matrix of 18-24 different picnic baskets to choose, from depending if you want it lined, unlined, or insulated with foam. Furthermore, there are other kinds of baskets like pie baskets that could be adaptable as a multi-level food carrier…there were at least 50 possibilities to pick from, and that was just a small part of the line that was on display.
By the time I returned for my followup contact lens fitting a couple of weeks later, I had the following criteria:
- Cherry stain, which is a darkish stain versus their Honey and Natural colors.
- Plastic red-and-white checkerboard lining. They have blue and green too, but I just wanted the red-and-white because it seemed more cartoony.
- Hinged lid. The plastic-lined versions have the single-hinged lid, which one of the basket experts at the store said was nicer to use as a convenient table top. The foam-insulated baskets have a removable lid with drink-holding holes molded into the inside surface, which is neat but moves away from the aesthetic I was craving.
When I stopped by the outlet store, I looked around but they were out of the hinged lid design. I asked about them, and one of the basket makers went downstairs to see if they had them. It turned out that they only had ONE LID in cherry, and it was the classic double lid that I had been looking for! I didn’t even know they had them! The basket maker chatted briefly with the store keeper, asked if I didn’t mind waiting 5-10 minutes for them to put one together for me. YES! PLEASE!
There were some other baskets in stock that I had not seen the previous time, and the store keeper told me they are inventing new baskets all the time. I wanted all of them, but I was particularly intrigued by these compact round coolers, which would solve the problem I have with 2-liter drink bottles. The store keeper pointed out their popular super-sized one, which is so big you can sit on it. When the basket maker came back with my beautiful picnic basket, I asked if it was possible to sit on the smaller ones. “Oh sure,” she said, sitting herself on the cooler. “Even me?” I asked, unsure whether the cooler was up to the task. “Give it a try,” she said. It turns out that the basket’s inner foam cooler is incredibly strong under compression, and it handled my weight without immediate threat of collapse. SUPER HAPPY TIME.
The Picnic Basket
The construction is what you might expect from a basket made of thin strips of wood. If you sat on this, it would flatten right out and come undone. If you filled the basket with 40 pounds of rocks, I wouldn’t expect the handles to hold up under the weight while walking from the car to the picnic table. But for a few pounds of sandwiches and napkins? It’s lightweight and stylish, and I think it will do the job.
I may get a super-durable modern basket for more extreme picnicking if I go on enough picnics this year. There’s a whole world of picnic gear out there to be explored.
The Insulated Cooler
The round basket cooler has a molded styrofoam insert stamped with the Peterborough Basket Company logo, and it fits snugly. The foam insert has pretty thick edges, maybe 3/4 of an inch. The basket itself comes up to my knee, and internally it is just tall enough to hold a 2L of Diet Coke. There’s room for two 2L bottles, with space around it for ice.
It’s surprisingly sturdy when you sit on it. I currently weigh, to my doctor’s dismay, around 220 pounds. The cooler seemed to hold the weight, though I wouldn’t think it wise to rock back-and-forth on it. It would be a handy temporary table or seat for a lighter human. I’m not so sure about the handle’s ability to hold up under a full load of ice and soda, as the handle hinge made of brass without a visible load-bearing metal surface to distribute stresses. I guess I’ll find out how it works over the next few months; it may be that the tensile strength of the basket material is such that the hinge only needs to provide an attachment point. I can probably figure out a way to reinforce it should there be a problem.
So I ended up buying two baskets, the picnic basket ($39) and the round cooler ($39). The online direct price is usually $15-$25 higher. I smiled the entire drive back home, pausing to admire the picnic basket in my front passenger seat. I am a basket case when baskets are concerned, apparently!