What is your idea of the perfect picnic? A picnic sort of implies an event in itself, i.e. you choose to set off somewhere beautiful to eat outside, although I think this is fairly rare now. When I was a child, my brother, whose birthday was in August, often chose a picnic for his birthday “party”, usually beside a shallow river in which all the children used to play. Nowadays we might decide to pack a meal for an open-air concert, a day at the races or some other special event, but less often do we just pack up our lunch and head out for a day, so easy is it to find somewhere to buy food and so affordable do we now consider this option. Yet I think we miss out – not only on the type of food that constituted a simple picnic, but also on the freedom to spend time in the countryside rather than in search of a pub.
In addition to memories of my brother’s birthday picnics, other fond memories include the greatest Cornish Pasties I have ever eaten, made by a Cornishman living on Orkney, and eaten on the beach in less than perfect weather. But sheltered amongst the rocks the warm pasties gave sustenance to both body and soul.
Pasties are, of course, the classic example of what constitutes ideal picnic food – easy to eat and transport. Commercial versions are a world away from homemade, although it has to be admitted that they are time consuming to make. My advice would be to freeze some so that they can be cooked on the morning of the picnic and eaten, hopefully, still warm.
Meeting the same “ideal picnic food” criteria are pork pies, although in this instance it is still possible to buy very good examples. The best of these that I have ever eaten was actually in Italy, but made by the British Pig Association to showcase traditional British Food. What made these so remarkable was that they too were eaten warm and such a revelation that it encouraged me to have a go at making them at home. I include a recipe in case you are similarly inspired and made in a tin (rather than traditionally free formed) they are not actually that difficult.
Freshly cooked is what elevates these familiar picnic favourites – Scotch Eggs are another example, for which I have given a recipe here before. I also love egg sandwiches when they are freshly made, although I would never choose to buy them ready-made. They are my standby for a fairly impromptu picnic on days when the weather just demands to be enjoyed.