Lunch On The Lawn

An Annual Croquet Match Offers Sporting Ideas For Spring Picnics

April 22, 2009|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,

St. John's College, the school that studies Great Books, and its neighbor the U.S. Naval Academy, the school that studies great sea battles, combine each year for an unlikely triumph - a really great lawn party where the annual croquet match takes a back seat to the elegant picnic food.

Each year, in the spring, the two schools meet on the campus of St. John's - just steps away from the walls that surround the Naval Academy - for a lopsided competition. (St. John's leads in the series, 22-5.)

While it is true that some showed up for the 27th installment of this rivalry on Sunday with a portable chair and a 12-pack of Natty Boh, the official St. John's beer, others, like Annapolitans Karen Kranzer and Lisa Gorun, who's married to a Navy grad, brought such items as a chandelier, Oriental rugs and the family silver - all the better to showcase the smoked salmon, grilled asparagus and champagne.

"We want to set the standard," said Kranzer, who helped plan a menu that also included caviar and deviled eggs. A generator lit the crystal chandelier that hung in the tent where the champagne was served. "There is a lot of competition here."

The competition was close at hand. Barbara Ahr, whose son Daniel and daughter Megan both graduated from the Naval Academy, hired Rhonda Falcon, who owns the Saucy Salamander in Annapolis, to cater the event for more than 100 guests.

When Ahr first attended the croquet match with her midshipman son in 1996, they arrived with champagne and a store-bought hoagie. All these years later, their menu included a smoked salmon layered torte, stuffed snow peas, spanakopita, orange chicken salad in puffed phyllo and shrimp-salad pockets. Plus the required chocolate-dipped strawberries.

"No way I am doing all of this myself," she said.

Dan and Suzanne Clague had a more daunting task: Feed the Naval Academy croquet team. Midshipmen are always hungry, and there always seems to be a lot of them around.

"The key is to get more food than anyone thinks you will need," said Dan Clague, whose son, Patrick, was the Navy croquet team captain, also known as the Imperial Wicket.

Clague, a Navy graduate, was a supply officer on submarines, and that's how he learned to cater a croquet match. "Running out of food on a submarine is very bad."

Not everyone was dealing with bulk-food preparation. Charlyn Cassady of Baltimore and Randy Avers of Riva were attending the event for the first time and brought a modest, but elegant, picnic of hummus and pita, chicken, vegetables and strawberries and "some really fine wine" in Cassady's English picnic hamper.

But they also packed two chairs, a very small table, a pretty tablecloth and a vase with a few flowers. They sipped, snacked and did the crossword puzzle while they waited for the game to begin.

"This is a classy excuse to drink," said Avers, a Navy grad.

Carolyn Kammeier, an Annapolis resident whose husband is a former Naval Academy instructor, arrived with three young children in tow - and recipes for two drinks to honor the rivals - a St. John's Croquet Cocktail and a Sparkling Blue & Gold for Navy's colors.

"Both are made with champagne. Obviously," she said.

Key advice from veterans?

* Pack finger food that doesn't need constant refrigeration: "This isn't a tailgate, it is a lawn party," said Casey Pingle, whose beef tenderloin with yogurt-horseradish sauce has been a staple since she began coming in 1993.

"You don't have access to your car and bunches of coolers. You have to have food that can go three or four hours without too much cooling."

* Pray for good weather. But not too good. "Drizzling and 42 degrees is not so much fun," said Pingle, an Annapolitan who volunteers at the St. John's Mitchell art gallery. "But sunny and 80 degrees can be just as hard."

* You can cater it from a grocery store: David Kidd of Bolton Hill, one of the first Imperial Wickets and a St. John's graduate from 1985, said, "We stop at Graul's supermarket on the way over and see what we like and order it. We did lobster salad one year, but it turned out everyone wanted the fried chicken."

* Get there early. The match started at 1 p.m., but Chuck Gorun arrived before 9 a.m. to set up his wife Lisa's posh picnic site with linen-covered chairs, urn planters, crystal, silver, rugs and the generator for the chandelier. He expected 150 guests.

"What you have here is a champagne party with a little croquet going on somewhere nearby."

classic croquet picnic menu

* Smoked salmon or marinated beef tenderloin on sliced baguette

* Fried chicken or chicken wings

* Skewers of fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves, dressed with a splash of balsamic vinegar

* Chilled grilled asparagus spears

* Crab balls

* Deviled eggs

* Stuffed grape leaves

* Quiche

* Cheese straws

* Hummus, tapenade and pita

* Cheese, hard salami, fruit and crudites

* Lots of strawberries

* Miniature cheesecakes

* Champagne

sparkling blue & gold

(makes 1 drink)

2 to 3 ounces blueberry-pomegranate juice

2 to 3 ounces champagne or sparkling water

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