Given our short and temperamental summers, as a nation we understandably feel the need to make the most of every sunkissed moment. Perhaps that’s why we don’t do picnics by halves. Anyone can take a four pack of beers to the park with a disposable barbeque and half a dozen sausages, but to throw a real picnic, well, that’s another matter.
Of course, for a proper picnic, you must be properly equipped. A picnic blanket is the bare minimum: even if you’re opting to sling the edible parts of your picnic into a shopping bag (as I sometimes do), you want to know you’re not going to be sharing that picnic with creepy crawlies. If you’re old school, you’ll need a hamper, leaving nothing to chance, and filled with everything you could possibly ever need (salt and pepper mills, real napkins, corkscrew). If the thought of china picnic crockery fills you with horror, try melamine plateware– very durable, wipe clean, and coming in every colour of the rainbow.
But if you’re less about the aesthetics and more about the practicalities, you may prefer a chiller-bag-cum-rucksack. Keeping things cool is of course a perennial picnic problem, and not just for the food. But no fear if you prefer your fizz chilled and your lemonade ice cold: try a freezable bottle holder.
So, practical requirements dealt with, onto the important stuff: the spread. The very sight of a picnic hamper is exciting: begging the question of what summer delights it contains. It must be dishes that can be best eaten cold, ideally one-handed, or perched on the knee – nothing that really requires a knife, no matter how civilised the diners may be.
Quiches are wonderful here: delightful cold, and coming with a nifty pastry case. Try our smoked salmon and asparagus quiche, or our veggie cheese and onion. Frittatas hold their form too, in nice fat wedges, and can be filled with whatever your heart desires (or your fridge offers), or for the chicest of picnic treats try squares of salty pissaladière.
Salads are obligatory at a picnic, ideally in a large tupperware, ready to be doled out. I like something robust and fresh, packed with herbs: a potato salad is ideal, or our vibrant rework of coronation chicken.
There are some picnic foodstuffs which are classic for a reason: the squat pork pie, wrapped in brown paper, scotch eggs with peppery meat, slightly jammy yolk, and a crisp crumb, or some really excellent sausage rolls – whichever you plump for, make sure you pack a pot of English mustard to go with them.
Cakes, to my mind, should be un-iced when it comes to picnics – no one wants sticky, melting buttercream, either on the fingers, or attracting ants – but punchily flavoured. I like an old-fashioned date and walnut cake or a terribly traditional seed cake. Tray bakes work brilliantly too, divided into precisely portioned squares back on the kitchen countertop. Flapjacks are ideal here: try our slightly bitter marmalade laced version, or if you’re a chocolate fiend, you might favour our perfect brownies, crisply cut millionaire’s shortbread, or fat slabs of tiffin. If the weather isn’t looking wholly reliable, the warming spices of sliced parkin may be more in order. Or go all Alice in Wonderland with some homemade jam tarts.
To drink, it’s hard to beat a bottle of something very cold: if you really want to impress, you can go the extra mile and make your own lemonade: try our traditional lemonade here, or one of its herby or fruity variations.
Oh, and whatever you decide to feast on, don’t forget the suncream.