As a child, picnics were a great treat. When traveling with my family by car, each day one of us girls – three sisters – chose the picnic spot.
To the dismay of my father, who preferred to sit next to the car and smoke his pipe, my eldest sister would choose a remote spot to lug the picnic basket. My middle sister pleased him by choosing a lay by. I took the middle road and would choose a field just a short way from the car.
We had a big tartan rug, wicker basket, and sandwiches wrapped in grease-proof paper. They were always made with wholewheat bread, filled with a choice of cheddar, homemade chutney, egg mayonnaise from our free range chickens, home-grown cucumber, and tomato. To finish off we’d have apples and cake. My parents would sometimes have a glass of wine and we children would enjoy lime squash. Idyllic memories!
So, what’s essential to recapturing the magic of a good picnic? Simplicity.
First, don’t overthink your picnic spot. Whether you’re at the bottom of your garden, a park near your office, or the Greek islands, a picnic is always a treat. Truly, all you need is a bit of sunshine and something to eat. Hopefully your friends and family also enjoy the informality of sitting on the ground, eating with their fingers, and skipping a lot of washing up! I always like the rug rather than tables and chairs, fingers versus plates and cutlery.
My most memorable picnics seem to have been up mountains with cheddar and chutney sandwiches or on the Greek Islands, where everyday is picnic day up in the hills. Buying the ingredients first is part of the experience, choosing small Greek cucumbers, large irregular shaped beef tomato and a slab of local sheep’s cheese and then to the bakers on the way out of town for a warm loaf of bread. As one walks up an appetite, augmenting the picnic with freshly picked herbs, such as perfumed oregano and if lucky plucking sweet ripe figs. All eaten on a scenic wall, with a penknife to slice up the vegetables and curious cats to watch over you.
Again, don’t overdo it…but here are some ideas for food you can make ahead. Our criteria for great picnic food: anything that’s simple, portable, and delicious eaten cold. Bonus points if it can be picked up with fingers!
- Muffins, Seasonal Vegan or Double Chocolate
- Pastries, Turkish Fatayer or festive Palmiers
- Tarts, Asparagus & Goats Cheese or Tiny Leek & Cheese
- Spanish Tortilla
- Pita Bread for Sandwiches
- Marinated Feta [Nigel Slater]
And don’t forget fruit and veg you can nibble on such as broccoli, cherry tomatoes, crunchy gem lettuce, bunches of grapes, punnets of berries, and melon that you can cut on site – better when warm and the juices run!
Sandwiches aren’t boring! Well, store-bought sandwiches are. Have you ever wondered why sandwiches from chiller cabinets are so tasteless? They are too cold at 3C. But your fresh picnic-day sandwich will be warmed by sunshine and made exactly to your preferences. My desert island wish would be a homemade cheddar and chutney wholewheat sandwich!
- Sunny Sensation Wrap
- Baked Carrot and Chickpea Falafel to put in pitta bread with crunchy lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and tahini dressing
- Homemade Cashew “Cheese”
- Spreads: Hummus, Vegan Pesto, Muhammara
- Beetroot Yoghurt Za’atar Dip [Ottolenghi]
- Dukkah, magical nut and seed blend
These are some of my favourite desserts to bring on a picnic. A few biscuits wouldn’t go amiss, either. The options are endless!