The Madhur Jaffrey and Family at a Picnic (1940c.).  Jaffrey is third from left in the front row.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Climbing the Mango Trees, a Memoir (2005) describes her family’s picnic in Delhi in the 1940s before independence and partition.

Jaffrey says that the preferred picnic time of year is winter when the air is clement “sunny and crisp.” Then the entire family, about thirty people including servants, would pile into cars and then set out for some garden or palace open to the public such as Qutb Minar, a thirteenth-century tower (the same tower where Elizabeth David described her ruined picnic in the moonlight for Summer Cooking). The picnic began at dawn when the food was prepared at home: potatoes in ginger tomato sauce, pooris, meatballs with wetted palms, pickles, and fruits, all stuffed into baskets. Utensils would be packed, charcoal braziers or ungeethis, pots, pans, teapots, were collected and readied for use—what Jaffrey calls batterie de cuisine pique-nique. Once the site for the picnic was chosen, servants spread a blue-and-white-striped dhurrie over which a white cloth was spread.

Picnickers sat cross-legged and picked food from serving platters with their hands. Jaffrey says they rarely used plates or cutlery because pooris were used as plates, and tea was poured into disposable terra cotta cups and mutkainas. Among Jaffrey’s favorites for picnic lunches is meatball curry, koftas, eaten with pooris; lamb with spinach; mung bean fritters, and phulka, bread.

Madhur has written many Indian cookbooks such as An Invitation to Indian Cooking (1973) and A Taste of India (1988). Madhur writes. “As we settled cross-legged on the edges of the dhurrie, the servants would lay out the freshly heated food. We rarely used plates or cutlery for eating. Instead, we would take two poories at a time, using the first as a plate, a kind of medieval trencher, and the second to make our little morsels.”

See Jaffrey, Madhur. Climbing the Mango Trees a Memoir 9-103. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.