We were great picnickers. At the end of May the Ford Popular would be prepared for the picnic season. A rug, soft and fresh from the wash, a collapsible camping stove with a tiny blue gas canister and one spare, a small frying pan with a scuffed lid, because everything can be cooked in a frying pan and camping cutlery and plates dulled and dented with time, were permanently stacked in the boot for the summer. The wide mouthed vacuum flasks were given a clean out and the list made for the places we’d go.
Whilst the preparations were carefully planned, the picnic contents were much more ad hoc, often comprising of left overs from the night before. spaghetti with tomatoes, vegetable bean stew, sausages to cook when we got there, or if time permitted hurriedly made sandwiches. As soon as my mother arrived home from work we’d pile into the car and be off. This was about getting out of the centre of London and having fun, the food was very secondary. It was lovely though, on chillier days, to have hot food, leftovers or not. We’d huddle on the blanket after a dip in a very muddy pond taking snaps of each other with a Polaroid Swinger camera, enjoying the food and fresh air.
I still love picnics whether they are garden picnics or further afield and I’m now the planner. However food features strongly in those plans rather than being left to chance. Here are my tips for the perfect picnic.
Tips For The Perfect Picnic
There’s always room for the spur of the moment chuck it in a bag and buy the food on the way type of event. But for that idyllic moment under the trees, by the river or just to keep the kids entertained, the secret to the perfect picnic is planning ahead.
- Take two picnic rugs if you’re picnicking with kids. They can have one and you the other. They can come and go, leaving their food to eat later. You can relax knowing that you’re not going to sit on a jam sandwich or a spilt drink.
- Keep a corkscrew and a bottle opener in the car during the picnic season. You don’t want to have to push the cork into the bottle or open the beer with your teeth.
- Disposable plates and glasses are a must. Lugging dirty plates across a field or up the beach is always more of an effort on the way home than it took to get them there. Take a bin bag and the clearing up can be done in one go.
- Finger food is much easier to handle than balancing everything on your knees. Dips with raw vegetables in a cup are a great alternative to salad. If the family loves salad, be inventive with it. Put it in a pitta pocket, a wrap, or in disposable juice cups with a lid. Add the dressing once you get there to stop the leaves going soggy.
- If you’re making sausage rolls, spread the pastry with ketchup or chilli sauce before adding the sausage meat. If you buy frozen ones, brush the outside with Ketchup or chilli sauce half way through cooking, for a hit of sweetness and punch of spice.
- Add chopped berries or lemon slices to bottles of water, partly freeze and use as cool blocks to keep your food fresh; the drinks will be cold and fruity when you get there.
- Take soft cheese like Brie or Camembert. Cheddar and other hard cheeses can get sweaty in the sun, soft cheeses become oozy and delicious.
- Brownies or blondies make a great picnic dessert, cut them into small cubes to make them last longer.
- Individual tarts or quiches work really well for picnics, make simple fillings for kids and slightly more ‘exotic’ ones for the adults. Use the same egg quiche mixture just add tomatoes and cheese to one lot and smoked salmon or goats cheese and asparagus to another and then top up with the egg quiche mixture.
- Sticky fingers attract wasps. Takes wipes or a damp cloth in a sealable plastic bag to wipe away the remains of the picnic or mop up any spills.
- 1 loaf ciabatta crispy bread
- 130g pesto, fresh is best but a jar is fine
- 28g jar of prepared red peppers
- 260g jar of artichoke hearts
- 1 Avocado halved and sliced
- 1 ball of mozzarella cheese sliced
- salt and pepper to taste
- Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- 6 slices of Italian proscuitto or your favourite ham
- Cut the ciabatta in half lengthways to give a top and bottom, like a long crispy roll.
- Spread pesto on both halves and put the top to one side.
- Drain the peppers and cover the ciabatta with them in a single layer, cut the peppers to fit if necessary. Any dribbles of juice from the jar will just make the sandwich taste nicer.
- Drain the artichokes and cut into quarters if they are larger than that. Cover the peppers with a layer of the artichokes.
- Then layer on the mozzarella, you may need to balance things carefully from now on. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and drizzle with gorgeous extra virgin olive oil.
- Finally top with the ham, rippling and folding it to get all six layers onto the ciabatta.
- Place the top of the bread that had been set aside onto the stack of mediterranean goodness and wrap very tightly in a couple of layers of cling film, pressing down slightly as you wrap, but not so hard that the filling squidges out of the sides.
- Place on a baking tray and weigh down with tins or other kitchen weights and place in the fridge overnight.
- Next day, remove from the fridge, all the oils and juices will have melded together and soaked into the bread. Remove the cling film and thinly cut off the outer crust edges, along the long sides and then the short sides.
- Slice the loaf into 6 equal wide finger sandwiches. Wrap each sandwich in parchment paper, greaseproof or wrap individually in cling film and add to the picnic basket.
Here are some more recipes perfect for the picnic hamper