There’s nothing quite like the Great British summer. We never know exactly when the actual hot weather and sun will arrive – or how long it will last. But we do know how to make the most of it when the sun finally makes an appearance. In fact, the Great British picnic often plays a starring role! Did you know that June 17th-25th is National Picnic Week ?
We probably all have our favourite eating locations, but do the culinary contents of your hamper do justice to the surrounding scenery? The best al fresco dining should feature so much more than a selection of sad, soggy sandwiches. Need some expert inspiration to help you upgrade your picnic repertoire?
Despite its reputation as an iconic British pastime, the picnic’s origins appear to be rather more continental.
Apparently, the word picnic derives from the 17th century French word “pique-nique”, a term used to describe a social gathering in which attendees each contributed a portion of food, or other useful item.
The word is based on the verb “piquer”, which means “pick” or “peck”. The rhyming addition “nique” means “thing of little importance”.
While picnics seem like frivolous fun, I think they incorporate serious benefits too, boosting mood, mental and physical health. They also offer excellent bonding opportunities with family and friends. Eating together is often seen as an important occasion, and the idea of sitting down to share food in nature is something to be encouraged. However, we’re not always so lucky with the British summer weather. So, I believe that making the most of any opportunity to get outside and set up a spread is not something to take for granted.
Freshly-baked baguettes make perfect picnic food. GBBO’s Alice Fevronia fills hers with cheese, and she adds a generous side serving of crisps
Whenever anyone asks me about picnic ideas, I think about the practical. The last thing you want at an outdoor, food-inspired get-together is something that’s difficult to cut up and serve.
So, making things that can be shared easily, and won’t be too difficult or messy to eat with your hands, is a must. I think individual mini pies and tartlets are great. So are cakes and treats that you can easily divide up and pass around.
Homemade picnic food is amazing. But I’m also a big fan of those clever picnic ideas that make life easier. Little fillers, like crisps, cured meats or olives, are always popular. Just make sure there’s a good variety – and enough to go round! Your homemade offerings can be the star of the show, of course. But every great picnic needs those moreish bits that guests can keep grazing on.
You don’t need a fancy hamper to transport your picnic, but a cool bag will keep food chilled and safe to eat as the temperature rises
I think that everyone has their own ‘must-haves’ for a picnic, depending on individual tastes. But my personal favourites are a good baguette with some soft cheese plus some crudités and lots of delicious dip. For me, no picnic is complete without some hummus and sour cream and chive dip. Not forgetting dessert, of course! But there must always be crisps (preferably salt and vinegar). I have very little self-control where crisps are concerned, and can happily make my way through a sharing bag in just one sitting.
Packing the perfect picnic
The best picnic ideas on the planet won’t survive inadequate transport. But that doesn’t mean you need to splash out on expensive, state-of-the-art equipment. Start with the staples and go from there. Stylish hampers and matching plates and cutlery look lovely, but remember, it’s the food and company that really matter. I do think a washable rug is important, though.
Need some new picnic ideas to impress your guests? Try these delicious cherry tomato and cheese tarts, one of Alice’s favourite alfresco recipes
I always recommend packing any perishable items (such as meat, fish, dairy) into a cool bag, to keep them safely chilled. If possible, store any salads in an airtight container, with some paper towel to soak up any excess liquid. In fact, pack plenty of these because the best picnics inevitably get messy at some point or another!
And, if you’re taking salad dressing, transport it separately, and only add it to the salad just before you serve it. Otherwise, everything gets too soggy, as the acid in the dressing will break down the cell structure in the salad leaves.
The main attraction always requires some sterling support. Coleslaw, pasta and potato salad are some of Alice’s top picnic picks
Did you know that we buy around 80 million Easter eggs a year in the UK? Non-chocolate versions are believed to be a symbol of fertility and represent the rebirth of nature after the dead of winter. Giving chocolate Easter eggs began in France and Germany in the 19th century, before becoming an annual tradition in the UK too.
I think the best picnics feature a few main items, complemented by a range of snacks. I always serve these cherry tomato and cheese tarts. They’re a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and are delicious hot or cold. Personally, I don’t think that crispy greens fare too well under a hot sun. So, for side dishes, I recommend things like crunchy coleslaw, pasta or potato salads.
The best picnic ideas should always include desserts. I tend to choose mini desserts, or bakes that can easily be divided into sharing-sized pieces. But whichever desserts you’re planning, be mindful of the weather. Glorious sunshine is always the most sought-after ingredient. But you don’t want your chocolate pudding melting into puddles or any fresh cream going off. Offer tarts, brownies, cookies or tray bakes instead.
Don’t forget dessert! Sunshine and chocolate pudding aren’t the best combination, so go for bakes or brownies instead
Lastly, don’t forget you’ll need something to drink with your delicious picnic food. Whenever I eat outside, I always seems to want things that I don’t usually drink at home.
I’m really not a huge fan of fizzy drinks, but they just seem to suit a classic picnic spread. I also love chilled fresh orange juice. And if it’s a really smart picnic, I’ll have that with a glass of prosecco, as a treat!
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