Top tips for enjoying a picnic this summer
PUBLISHED: 15:11 26 August 2016 | UPDATED: 15:19 26 August 2016
It’s summer and the weather is hot (and even if it’s not) a picnic can still be a fun occasion for family and friends. Check out Bonnie May’s top tips
If we could only rely on the weather! How often have we heard that over the years? But us Brits are made of hardy stuff. We’re pretty good at ‘being British’ – weathering those storms that our summers often bring, taking the plunge to organise wonderful alfresco do’s.
I absolutely love eating outside. Yes, I know it can be too hot for some, but a little shade can fix that. And, of course, there can be a few little bugs zipping around, but a good citronella candle can fix that! Come on guys, we need to stop moaning and embrace our summers. Come rain or shine, I am sure with a few tricks up our sleeves we can turn an ‘any weather day’ into a sunny one.
Let’s Picnic! I decided to Google ‘picnic’ and see what it actually means, dictionary style. Wikipedia has the most fascinating description of what this event is all about. I won’t re-write this all here but I do urge you to spare a couple of minutes and have a read. In brief: A picnic is an excursion at which a meal is eaten outside, ideally taking place with an interesting view. Events like this go back to the early 19th century. A picnic basket and a picnic blanket are brought along and outdoor games or entertainment are common. Some larger picnics are ‘potluck’ where each person contributes a dish to share, usually the dishes are cold and often accompanied by chilled wine or champagne (now you are talking!)
So, if ever there was a place of views, parks and fields and public greenery to picnic, surely Buckinghamshire or Berkshire is the spot to be. Beautiful spaces to visit adorn our local area and these are places just for us! And if the sun is shining too you have a ready-made event space, see chilternsaonb.org, northwessexdowns.org.uk, berksandbucks.greatbritishlife.co.uk, chilterns.co.uk, coolplaces.co.uk.
Some of us are lucky enough to have space at home to enjoy eating al fresco but, if not, there really is a plethora of choice. Not having the space really isn’t a reason to not host an outside event. This may take a little more organising, and a little help from friends, but getting a summer gathering set up for family and friends on a larger scale that you have normally organised might not be as difficult as you think, and it will certainly be worth it.
Importantly, we need to get over the fact that the weather might not be on our side. The party spirit is easily bottled, and with the right combination of family and friends a little drop of rain really shouldn’t dampen the day! Once the spot is chosen you need to prepare the list and start to plan.
• Timings: Shorter rather than longer is my personal recommendation. It is always best to capture the moment and wish it was going to go on for longer rather than go on too long and fizzle out.
• Dress code: This should be super casual.
• Seating: Well, of sorts, people can bring their picnic chairs but blankets are also just the ticket.
• Drinks: Try and keep this simple. Buckets of chilled beers and vino! If you have a driver amongst you, set up a ‘Boot Bar’ in someone’s car. This keeps everything together and makes it much easier when it comes to the tidying up department.
• Food: We’ll come on to this shortly.
• Entertainment: This the key to it all – and I am pretty passionate about this when it comes to the children. The idea is that everyone enjoys the afternoon. We adults want to chill out, chat, have a few drinks and generally kick back and enjoy some time out. This will only work well if we plan to keep the kids happy and occupied. –This is really worth thinking about in advance as it pays dividends to ensure everyone has a great time. See wired.com/2009/08/simpleoutdoorplay for simple, classic games.
Now for the feast
Picnic food needs to be easy to eat, serve and prepare. It needs to be boxed and bagged to transport and still, when set out, look fit for a king. Think simple and tasty, and with ‘farm shops galore’ in our area a trip to your nearest one can solve everything.
Preparing the picnic of all picnics is a bit time-consuming, but the results are delicious!
Here is my posh picnic pack. All recipes are up for interpretation, so make from scratch, buy, or re-invent.
• Tear and share: Beautiful breads and dips. The shop shelves are full of beautiful breads, and if you have a bread maker you too can get creative with flavours. Buying or making dips is easy too, Greek yoghurts with a dollop of mango chutney and red pesto sauce works a treat in our household.
• Quiche: Apparently real men don’t eat it, but I don’t believe that for one minute! Quiche always forms part of our fridge buffet here at home. A shortcrust pastry sheet, an 8” flan dish. The contents from the fridge, and 4 x eggs and 4 x egg yolks whisked and you are away.
• Scotch eggs: Yes, a faff to make but wonderful at the same time. However, a farm shop will have you salivating at the choice…black pudding, scrumpy, smokey and veggie. No excuse here for anyone not to dive in!
• Cheese: The list here is endless. You know your picnic pals the best, so go for it and choose a few safe ones and a couple of surprises just to jazz it up. Head to the farm shop or good deli, or order online, see pongcheese.co.uk.
• Deli platters: Be as adventurous as you like. The supermarket shelves are heaving with the most beautiful deli foods… make it your own by transferring it all into jam jars. Don’t worry about sizes, it just gives the feel that it all came from home!
• Salads: Now, here you need to get savvy. If making the day before, don’t dress them at all and do the dressings separately. If on the day, dress away. As the Americans do, we all love a ‘slaw’… shredded anything in a great mayo coating works a treat.
• Jam Jar Bazaar: Here you get the chance to put oodles of love in a little pot! Hummus, baba ganoush, tzatziki, skordalia, pickles, chutney, dips and dunks… make it or fake it – don’t worry, I am sure it will taste fab.
• Puds: You know the crowd best – fantastic fruit salad, brownies or picnic pick ‘n’ mix.
With the food now pretty much covered, like any good host, it’s the accessories that can sometimes add that extra touch. You have the location, the guests, the boot bar is stocked (with ice of course) and the menu is sorted… so what are we going to carry this all in? Invest in a hamper if you don’t have one – so much better than lugging bags and containers, and don’t forget the rugs.
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