How to Picnic With Style in the UK
By Sally Newsome
We don’t really get eating outside in this country. You know what it’s like – at the first sign of sun we’ll be minesweeping the aisles in the supermarkets throwing random ingredients into our baskets in pursuit of a picnic spread. There’ll be scotch eggs, sausage rolls, prawn cocktail, the soggy quiche, the ubiquitous baguette, humous, coleslaw, sweaty slices of ham wilting in their plastic wrapper and a box of cherry tomatoes as a concession to our five-a-day. These will be transported to the local park via carrier bags. We’ll remember the paper plates but forget the cutlery. There will, of course, be tons of wine and beer which become undrinkably warm after the first half hour.
And it wasn’t much better when we were kids. Who doesn’t remember trips to the beach, swimming in freezing seas broken up only by the packed lunch – squidgy clingfilm-wrapped sandwiches and sand crusted lemonade bottles.
“Random finger food”
They do it so much better in France and Italy where eating out and impromptu picnics seem to be a way of life. In France it’s just a quick trip to the local boulangerie and fromagerie, pausing only to grab a bottle of rustic red and a check table cloth. In Italy antipasti fulfills all instant eating needs. A trip to the local deli will bag you goodies like plump olives, marinated aubergines and peppers, proscuitto and salami and wedges of fresh foccacia.
But it doesn’t have to be like this – follow some simple rules and you’ll be picnicking like a king. First of all keep it simple. If you are in charge of the food think of it as a complete meal rather than loads of random finger food. Make or buy one main thing like a large pie or tart and serve a couple of salads, say a potato salad and a rocket and tomato salad on the side. Add some bread and you’ve got a complete meal.
Or why not theme it? Bag that tub of humous, but buy some pitta breads, stuffed vine leaves, roasted red peppers, falafel and make a Greek salad from chunks of tomato, cucumber, feta and red onion and you’ve got a Greek meze spread. You might want to give the retsina a miss though. And remember, it’s the little details that turn a basic picnic into a super-spread.
Invest in a proper cool bag and some freezer ice blocks and really chill your wine and beer down first. Most supermarkets now do grown-up melamine picnic ware that can elevate the most humble sausage roll. Look for unbreakable plastic goblets – wine will taste so much nicer than from a Barbie-themed paper cup.
So I suppose what we’re really saying is that the secret is good planning. And, since the British weather is one of the most unpredictable things about this country, maybe that’s where the real problem lies. See you in the chips and dips aisle in Tesco!
5 Ways to Tart up your Picnic
1. Give it some fizz. No need to shell out for Champagne. Use a supermarket brand Cava or Prosecco and add a tbsp of flavouring to each glass. Try cassis for a Kir Royale or add white peach juice or puree for an instant Bellini.
2. Make the ultimate portable picnic sandwich. Cut a crusty round loaf or ciabatta in half horizontally. Pull out some of the bread from the centre then stuff with salami, roasted peppers, mozzarella, red onion and drizzle with olive oil. Put the top of the loaf back on, wrap and weight down for an hour or so with a heavy board. Slice into wedges to serve.
3. Buy two or three bags of ice, dump into a bucket and use as an instant cooler for beer and wine.
4. Freeze slices of watermelon for a really refreshing and simple dessert.
5. If you’re feeling flush get someone else to do the work for you. Delis and foodhalls such as Carluccios and Harvey Nichols offer made-up picnic boxes including wine. Expensive but occasionally worth it.