It brings together the best things in life: food, friends and family. The picnic is definitely one of the most popular British traditions and nothing says freedom and happiness like eating your food out in the fresh air. To eat al fresco forces you to sit and enjoy. Not just your food, but your surroundings. And with the arrival of lovely weather, all you need is the right company, food and drinks, a checkered blanket and vintage picnic basket. It doesn’t have to be a posh affair, but of course, planning a great one is more than just dragging outdoors whatever you can grab from the shelf. The setting and the ease of serving and assembly play their big role, too. But how about also combining great food and stunning locations?
‘The Picnic Book: Moveable Feasts for Marvellous Places’ ( AA Publishing) by Ali Ray is full of inspiration. It features more than 70 recipes for great meals on the move: from simple ideas that you can sling in your rucksack to a picnic plan for a big family gathering.
The Author, an experienced traveller and enthusiastic camper, has also selected her top UK picnic destinations to explore; from the spectacular mountainous terrain of Elan Valley Trail in Powys Wales to the thick forests and spacious moorland of Dalby Forest in Yorkshire, to capture the UK’s most picturesque places. Each location is designed to match the type of picnic you’re having with customised recipes. For example, Ali recommends big forest spaces with barbecues for party picnics or quiet forests and secret coves for smaller occasions.
Organised into an assortment of picnic themed chapters, The Picnic Book caters for all picnic needs: from Backpack Picnics for hikers and bikers, Romantic Baskets for those that love to date outdoors, Cool Box Picnics for large feasts, Posh Hampers for celebrations. In particular, the ‘Meals on Wheels’ chapter is specially crafted for family and includes 12 recipes and four ‘super smoothies and jolly juices’.
Picnicking with children requires easy-life options – Aly Ray said in her book -and this comes in the form of wheels. I have no shame whatsoever in using a pull-along-trolley, otherwise known as a ‘granny shopping trolley’. I can pack it with boxes of food, blankets and flasks and wheel it across the roughest of terrains.
Regarding evergreen dishes for alfresco gatherings, Aly has no doubt: Scotch Eggs.
It is such a pleasing picnic classic – she said-. Mine has a few twists. The hint of chilli will raise an eyebrow or two and I have coated it in oatmeal rather than breadcrumbs for all that important energy release from oats and I also think It makes a better, crunchier coating than breadcrumbs.
Our practical ‘crunchy’ checklist
Before you embark on a picnic trip, it’s always useful to plan ahead in terms of food and items so you can make your experience as comfortable as possible. Here are our suggestions.
Simple is best: cold, leftover roast chicken works very well with a creamy celeriac remoulade or herby potato salad. Pasta salad with fresh tomatoes and boiled eggs are also a good option (better served in a jam-jar). Baked goods can be a good idea, as they can be made ahead, easily transported, and do well eaten at room temperature. Don’t forget green and grain salads (bring any dressings in small jars and add them when you get there), carrot sticks and seedless grapes or fruit on skewers, corn on cobs.
Oatcakes and crackers are more practical than sliced bread. Pair them with avocado or mashed chickpeas, roasted vegetables, cheese and pesto. Little tarts (sweet or savoury) are also a delicious option, they can be easily made ahead to save time for actually getting outside on the day.
Plenty of water is a must for a picnic, or if you are bringing along some alcohol, a bottle opener will prove handy. Pimms and lemonade can’t be missed. But if you like something stronger, there are lots of cocktails you can batch ahead of time and bring along in large bottles. Such as Prosecco Spritzer, Sangria or Caipirinha.
Last but not least
- Minimise forks, spoons, and knives, as much as you can. Recyclable plates and cups are an eco-friendly way of making sure each guest stays hydrated, while plates are great for distributing nibbles.
- Wet wipes are a convenient way to eliminate sticky fingers at the end of your picnic. Regular paper towels will also be useful for any spillages, alongside a rubbish bag to dispose of all leftovers.
- Cooler bags are also important in the heat as certain foods can easily spoil in sunlight – nobody likes sweaty cheese sandwiches or melted chocolate
Good to Know: The first picnics, in England, were medieval hunting feasts: pastries, hams, baked meats, and more. They stayed much the same, though adjusted according to the wealth of a household, until the Victorian era, arguably the most refined era in the history of picnics. Nineteenth-century painters (Monet, Renoir, Cezanne) were brilliant chroniclers of picnics and outdoor entertainments.