The Piquance of Picnics

Updated: Jun 12

There is something wonderfully simple about eating food outside, a mundane munch on a sandwich inside becomes a sun-soaked carefree chomp when sitting out in nature. Legs stretched out in front, heels dug into the grass and your backpack used as a pillow. The picnic has been used by writers over the centuries to show moments of calm, to emphasise times of tension and even as vehicles for decadence: Virginia Woolf offers us Mr Ramsay sharing his bread and cheese with the local fisherman in To the Lighthouse, DH Lawrence describes Ursula Brangwen’s consuming desire for Rupert Birkin as chucks his picnic ingredients, “apples and hard chocolate”, into his car (it wasn’t just that meagre picnic which satisfied the pair) and who could forget the humiliation of Mrs Bates at the top of Box Hill in Jane Austen’s Emma.

Artists have also used picnics as a subject for their work, Manet’s ‘Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe’ is another entry into the erotic picnic category, Bruegel painted happy harvesters lean back against a tree to glug wine and chomp bread and Renoir’s well-dressed Parisians are shown to live on a diet of simply grapes. Traditionally, guests attending a picnic would have to contribute a share of the food, but soon these modest communally focussed origins were banished by the bloomin’ aristocracy. They brought them indoors from outside, got the servants to make the food and nibbled instead of chomped, but the people fought back and took picnics back where they belong. Luckily, we don’t have to have to stick to the formalities of a picnic these days, it is out with the hamper and in with the rucksack. Whether you’re a fan of a decadent picnic like Manet, an uptight formal affair like Austen or simple bread and cheese like Mr Ramsay, here are a couple of recipe recommendations specifically chosen to be enjoyed out in the sun. Pasta salad with feta

Ingredients: Pasta, Red Onion, Cherry Tomatoes, Black Olives, Feta Cheese (dressing), 1 Garlic Clove, 1 Tablespoon Capers, Handful of Parsley, Olive Oil, 2 Tablespoon of White Wine Vinegar, 1 Tablespoon of Water, Black Pepper.

Make dressing. Chop garlic, capers and parsley. Blend oil, vinegar and water and add the garlic. Mix together and season well.

Boil pasta and pour the dressing over it while it’s still warm.

Marinate in a (plastic) bag in the fridge overnight or for a few hours.

Chop the vegetables, crumble the feta and mix everything together with the pasta. Flapjacks

250g Jumbo Oats, 125g Sugar, 125g Syrup, 125g Butter.

Heat oven to 200C. Mix 250g jumbo porridge oats, 125g butter, 125g light brown sugar and 2-3 tbsp golden syrup. Lightly grease a 20x20cm baking tin with butter and spoon in the mixture. Press into the corners with the back of a spoon so the mixture is flat and score into 12 squares. Bake for around 15 minutes until golden brown. Potato and Red Pepper Tortilla

Ingredients: 1 onion, 1 red pepper, 4 Garlic cloves, 8 free range eggs, chopped rosemary, chopped parsley, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, butter.

Using a frying pan (which has a lid) slowly cook the finely chopped onion, pepper and garlic in butter and olive oil until soft – be patient, stir methodically, it should take about 15 mins. Season.

Break the frying with 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, then quarter the potatoes, finely slice these quarters and then cook for another 15 minutes. Add the chopped rosemary. Put lid on pan.

When the potatoes are soft add the beaten eggs and put the lid back on. Season. After another 15 minutes, the edges and base of the tortilla should be approaching golden, but the middle a little wobbly. Now comes the fun part: run a spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen it, then place a plate over the tortilla and with confidence, swiftness and panache invert it onto the plate, put the pan back onto the stove and slide the tortilla back in to finish the cooking. When cooked, allow to chill, pop in the fridge overnight and bring to your picnic with pride. Homemade Elderflower Cordial (River Cottage Recipe)

Ingredients: 25 Hand Picked Elderflower Heads, 1kg Sugar, 3 Unwaxed Lemon and 1 Orange. Inspect the elderflower heads carefully and remove any insects. Place the flower heads in a large bowl together with the orange and lemon zest. Bring 1.5 litres water to the boil and pour over the elderflowers and citrus zest. Cover and leave overnight to infuse. Strain the liquid through a scalded jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar and the lemon and orange juice. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes. Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles. Seal the bottles with swing-top lids, sterilised screw-tops or corks.



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