Food & Drink
July is National Picnic Month… pack the hamper,get the blankets on the ground and enjoy sharing food with friends.
By Andrew Hirst
The humble picnic has never felt so important as it does this year. 2020 was the year of hibernation. Holed up in our nests waiting for a break in the storm. 2021 is the year of stepping out, slowly… depending on what the current restrictions and guidelines say we can or cannot do. The picnic is the great equalizer. Prep everything at home and head out in your bubbles or meet up with friends and family where you can socially distance and actually talk to a real person. Not the tiny digital humans we have all been chatting to on our smartphones, but in the flesh, live and in person.
The word picnic is derived from the 17th century French word “pique-nique”, a term which is used to describe a social gathering where attendees contributed with a portion of food or drink to share with the group. One of the most iconic depictions of a picnic is Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) by Édouard Manet. The 1862 painting depicts the juxtaposition of a female nude and a scantily dressed female bather on a picnic with two fully dressed men in a rural setting. July is National Picnic Month around the world, so what better excuse do you need to get out there and get creative with the good old picnic. Don’t just play it safe, let’s make these picnics perfect.
Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (The Luncheon on the Grass) by Édouard Manet – 1862
5 steps for the perfect picnic:
1 – Decide who you want to invite and if you want to treat everyone and cater for them or if you want contributions. If you are looking for a group effort maybe allocate items to each person or you might just end up with six portions of the same thing.
2 – Location, location, location? Think of a great destination that is central to all and which has any amenities located nearby. If great auntie Flo is coming she might need easier access and might not want to go in a bush! See page 39 for our top five suggestions.
3 – What food and drink are you taking. How will it travel? Will it taste ok if it’s warm? If you want to give everyone a glass of chilled prosecco then make sure you can deliver on that promise.
4 – Blankets. You can never have too many. Spread out around the centrepiece of the food. If you are just taking the one blanket you make that into the life raft that everybody wants to huddle on. Not great during regular times let alone when trying to socially distance.
5 – Think about the environment. Not just from a clearing up after yourselves, but from a single-use-plastic point of view. Reusable or recyclable is the way to go.
The basket case?
The best place to start is with what you are going to pack all of your goodies in. Are you going with the traditional hamper or for a rucksack? There are some fabulous options on the market these days whichever option you decide to go for. The more traditional basket has a certain romanticism about it especially if you are heading out with your significant other. However this is not so practical if you are about to embark on a five mile trek before you reach your picnicking destination. In these situations the rucksack option will be much more practical and can still have places for all of the plates, forks and napkins.
If you don’t own either of these options, look towards things you already own. If you are going with the kids why not try and spread the load. Don’t stuff everything into three bags for life that you have to struggle up the hill with, utilise their school backpacks so that everyone has something to carry. This is always a good time to see what your little darlings have been hoarding in their school bags, you might just find that missing games kit and a bag of mouldy cucumber.
What’s on… the menu?
So… what to take? Ultimately the world is your oyster… just don’t take oysters, unless you want to run the risk of food poisoning. Think about how far you are travelling and how your food will travel with you. It should be obvious that ice cream will end up as Neapolitan soup but other items may not travel so well on a hot day; chocolate bars for example, are a great snack on the go unless they have sat in a hot hamper for three hours.
Packed in good quality containers a good salad can be a great accompaniment. Leave the dressing off until you serve it up on the blanket to avoid limp leaves and an unpleasant consistency. Try potato or pasta salads with a mixture of radish, cucumber, celery and onion. Good hearty salads which will make the guests feel satisfied. Place a good handful of leaves on a plate and serve up your pasta salad on top to help you to avoid the dreaded wilt. Boiled eggs are a great addition as well as feta cheese, just add everything at the end or you might just have a recipe for disaster.
Think of food that travels well. Think of food you can buy from a motorway service station and then make a better, more wholesome version. If you are not ready to create your own amazing delicacies then head to your own local independent delis. Here in Southwold near Places&Faces HQ we have some absolute corkers; Two Magpies Bakery and Black Olive. Stock up on some artisan Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, pork pies, pasties and sandwiches. There is an amazing selection of produce across the region. Don’t forget to take some accompaniments; mustard, aioli, and a selection of sauces. A pork pie is nothing without a good dollop of English mustard. Delicious.
The main event
To really wow at the picnic, prepare a show stopping centerpiece. Picnic pies or quiches are a great idea. They travel well and you can cut hearty slices when you get there. Choose the ingredients carefully as you will be serving it cold and don’t make it too saucy, we are going for a picnic not a swim. I opted for an old family favourite, chicken and bacon picnic pie − see opposite for full recipe. It travels as well as it eats.
I am sure you have a great array of puddings in your arsenal but most of them will not travel well. They will either be affected by the heat or need special handling to make sure it doesn’t end up looking like an Eton mess. Your get out jail dessert is the good old tray bake. Slice up and pack in your tupperware for an on the go option, whilst adding summer fruits to elevate it from just a brownie or a sponge. If you do want to go a little fancier layer up individual cheesecakes in jars, screw on the lids and away you go.
Chicken & bacon picnic pie
375g Ready Rolled Shortcrust Pastry
200g turkey mince
200g chicken breast, diced
100g bacon lardons
150g shelled pistachios, crushed
1tsp ground black pepper
Small bunch chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten
1 chicken stock cube
1 gelatine leaf
3 shallots, finely chopped
Pre-heat your oven to 200°C. Remove the shortcrust pastry from the pack and lay into your lightly greased loaf tin, saving enough to make a lid.
Mix the turkey mince, diced chicken breast, bacon lardons, pistachios, shallots, parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add the mixture to the loaf tin then brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg and the add the pastry lid, pressing down to form a seal. Make two holes along the centre of the lid; this is where we will pour in the gelatin stock mixture later. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden. When the pie has about 20 minuets left, brush the top with more egg and season with flaky sea salt. If you feel the pastry is browning too much, drop the heat to 180°C. Once done remove from the tin and set to one side.
Dissolve the stock cube in 100ml of boiling water. In another bowl soak the gelatine in water, and once soft, squeeze out any excess, then add to the hot stock. Mix together until the gelatine is dissolved. Pour in the holes on the top of your pie and then leave to cool. When cool place in the fridge for at least three hours to set.
Streusel Cheesecake Bars
2 packs Doughlicious Classic Chocolate Chip cookie dough (12 dough balls), at room temperature
1 pack Doughlicious Chocolate double chip cookie dough (6 dough balls), refrigerated
400g full fat cream cheese
80g sour cream
130g caster sugar
2 tbsps cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
2 medium eggs
Pre-heat oven to 160°C and grease and line a 20cm square tin. Bring together the room temperature Classic Chocolate Chip cookie dough balls to form one large ball. Lightly dust your work surface with flour and roll out into a square. Trim to fit the tin. Carefully transfer to the base of the prepared tin, using the trimmings to press into the corners to ensure there are no gaps in the dough. Prick with a fork. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Once ready, remove from the oven and let it cool. Meanwhile prepare the cheesecake filling. In a large bowl combine cream cheese, vanilla extract, sour cream, lemon zest, eggs, sugar and cornflour. Pour the mixture evenly on the cookie base. Rinse the strawberries, pat-dry with paper towel and cut in halves or quarters depending on the size of the berries. Gently press them in the cheesecake filling.
Remove the Chocolate Double Chip cookie dough balls from the fridge and using a cheese grater shred the dough on top of the cheesecake filling. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C and bake for 35 minutes. Cool before serving. Use a very sharp knife to cut into 16 bars. Decorate with fresh strawberries and mint leaves.
Shade, sunscreen & sombreros
Ok… maybe not a sombrero – unless it is 24 July which is National Tequila Day – but you definitely need a hat and sunscreen. Your picnic is probably not going to have large amounts of shade to protect yourself from the sun, unless you can find a good spot under a large oak tree, so you will need to take hats and sunscreen. Take spares just in case someone forgets. Middle-eastern neck scarves called Shemaghs are really useful and can be used to keep the sun off the head and neck.
When to go & what to do…
Most people think of picnics to be a lunch time activity, but you can head-off early to enjoy a sunrise breakfast on the beach. Wrap up warm just in case and a flask of coffee will make it extra enjoyable. Or you could enjoy a glass of bubbly and nibbles for a romantic North Norfolk sunset.
Whilst you are there you might want to take some activities to keep everyone entertained, especially if you are with the little ones. Make sure to get everyone involved and make it competitive with a prize for the wining team. Keep it simple with a game of cricket or football. You need to keep it fun… jumpers for goal posts and all that. There are some reasonably priced fun cricket sets available, just remember not to bowl at grandma Margaret like you are playing for the Ashes.
Last but not least… remember to clear up and leave the place as you found it.