All credit to my wonderful sister in law, Joanna, who provided the inspiration for this post.
It’s well into what feels like summer, and as a true Brit, it feels almost obligatory to spend time outside whilst the sun is shining. You never know how long it will last, after all.
Besides alternating between complaining about and celebrating the sunshine, it’s also my British duty to picnic when the weather is nice. And this post is going to celebrate that often underwhelming summer event, but in its most wonderful form.
Picnics for many conjure up images of drizzly day trips with soggy or (even worse), dry sandwiches, a badly bruised banana and a carton of ribena. If you’re anything like me, the highlight of any day out is lunch time, and the prospect of disappointing sarnies and lacklustre kitkats is enough to put a dampener on the whole day, even if there’s not a single spot of rain.
But let’s be honest, if we’re being careful with money, taking a picnic is definitely the most pennywise option. That doesn’t mean you have to compromise though; a picnic has the hidden potential to be as much of a highlight as the best restaurant or cafe visit.
So here are my five top tips for making your picnic truly special, the worthy spectacle of your day.
Without breaking the bank.
Or having to suffer a grotty sandwich.
Invest in good equipment
Ensuring your picnic containers are up to standard is an absolute prerequisite if you want to enjoy a variety of good quality foodstuffs in the great outdoors. That means seal-tight food containers, a sturdy hamper or carrier, and plates/glasses/cutlery that make your food appetising. The last thing you want is leaking takeaway containers and excessive plastic wrap making your lunch sweaty and limp. And finding some robust plastic plates which are attractive and reusable make a huge difference to your enjoyment of the picnic experience. Ice blocks and freezer bags, whilst a tad cumbersome (and lacking the romantic aesthetic of the traditional hamper) really help retain the freshness of your meal, and ensure your drinks and salads are chilled to perfection. And perfection, after all, is what it’s all about.
2. Make a GOOD sarnie
Ok, so I’ve spent quite a bit of time slating the good old picnic sandwich, but in actual fact, the ever popular sarnie is loved by the British for good reason. And it wouldn’t be a picnic without them.You just need to make sure you make one better than you can buy on your day out. My favourite ‘hack’ is making sandwiches on frozen bread (look for premium bread at reduced cost then stick in the freezer), and letting the bread gently defrost as you travel to your picnic destination. It means that the bread will taste perfectly fresh when you’re ready to tuck in, and the curse of dry, or at the other end of the spectrum, soggy, sandwiches will be banished.
I always think it’s nice to try different fillings for a special trip, so why not do away with the predictable cheddar, and experiment with fillings such as brie and grape, feta and avocado, salami and cream cheese, or my current favourite, minted lamb mayo.
3. It’s all about the salads
Summer is the time to experiment with zingy, light flavours, and although it’s not necessarily typical picnic fodder, I think a summery salad can really make a picnic special. Alongside, or even instead of your more traditional pork pies and scotch eggs, why not try making a more cost effective and healthy salad? All you need is a base of a grain, be it pasta, rice or couscous (try Israeli, or ‘giant’ couscous-my favourite) and some vegetables, nuts or seeds, and salad leaves. Mix them together and dress as you’re about to eat; store your dressing in a jar with a reliable screw lid. You could even garnish with some pre-chopped feta or olives at the last minute (to avoid wilting) to add a bit of pizzazz.
4. Bring a bottle of bubbly
A super way to elevate your outdoor meal to something a little more eventful is by adding some fizz to the occasion. Being cautious about costs, I’m not suggesting you splash out on vintage champers (though I must say, I LOVE a bottle of the real stuff), but you can pick up some fabulous sparkling wines at the Supermarket for well under a tenner. Aldi and Lidl have some incredibly good value and excellent quality offerings (if you don’t believe me, check out what The Telegraph has to say here). You’d be mad to miss out on ‘one of the world’s best sparkling wines’ for a mere £7.99. It could really make your picnic pop. (See what I did there….?)
5. Cake it up
Everyone loves something sweet to round off a meal, and a picnic is no exception. I love fresh fruit, and whilst it’s a great addition to any picnic (try watermelon slices-super popular with kids), you can’t beat a good dose of the REALLY good stuff- cake.
You have to be a bit more careful about the kind of baked goods you bring. Iced cakes, particularly those with lots of frosting don’t travel particularly well, and can go a bit runny in the heat. A fruit cake is much sturdier, and I think my banana crumble loaf would be perfect (recipe here). You could even go super British and bring homemade scones (be sure to bake them the morning of the picnic or they’ll not be at their best) and then split open and smear with copious amounts of clotted cream and jam as you sit down to eat. I can’t think of anything better to round off a picnic. Or any meal, now I come to think of it.
So go and enjoy the great outdoors this summer with gusto. Forget the dark days of plastic cheese sandwiches, melting choccy biscuits and tepid yogurts. Make your picnic the spectacle of the day, and with a bit of effort you’ll have a meal to remember.
And some cash left in your wallet.