A warm, sunny spring weekend is the perfect excuse to pack up a picnic basket and enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you set out on a long hike, find a sheltered spot on the beach, drive to a local park or simply lay out a blanket in your garden, a picnic done well can be pure bliss.
We have a sign around here that the days are getting longer and the mercury is climbing; the big horse with his bright blue painted cart appears in a nearby village. He is put away for the winter but a couple of weeks ago he was back in his spot, standing as proudly as ever. In a few weeks time the rapeseed all around him will have ben cut and his cart will be filled with flowers which the locals tend and care for.
Whether you’re enjoying the first days of really warm sun or finding your scarves and cherishing the colours of autumn in the southern hemisphere, a picnic lunch is always welcome. There’s no denying it, food eaten outdoors always tastes better. Picnics should be about having fun and relaxing.
We have just a few rules: real cutlery and avoid paper plates, they always go soggy or blow away in the wind! A pretty rug is a must for atmosphere and simple food with fresh ingredients.
Chilled rosé, lemonade and sparkling water
A selection of French cheeses
Homemade hummus, (two flavours; garlic and red pepper)
Quiche (two flavours; ham and leek, and mushroom)
Salad (Keep the dressing separate, no one wants a limp lettuce leaf!)
Hard boiled eggs
Carrot and celery sticks
Some fresh fruit
and a real surprise for dessert!
Whether you buy store bought pâtés or make your own, (homemade smoked mackerel is my absolute favourite) store them in little Kilner jars, they look so pretty and transport easily.
Bring along a few essential items:
Kitchen paper and a rubbish bag
a sharp knife
and a small chopping board.
And if you’re in France you can buy your wine by the glass, as I spotted in Carrefour supermarket by the beach yesterday and the cutest mini bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, some also flavoured with a touch of lemon, just 2″ tall they are perfect individual portions!
Choose your location carefully and consider the angles, make sure the view is good in all directions, especially when you are lying on your back looking up at the sky!
and don’t forget a small container for water if you bring your favourite four legged friends along!
And then we come to what our children always consider the best part, the dessert, and I have a little trick that will make you a legend among picnickers. Eton Mess.
I get lots of emails about meringues, they seem to have this stigma about them that says they are difficult, time consuming etc. I gave the tips and recipes in my post, The Simplicity of Food, but a simple rule of thumb is: twice the sugar to egg whites. So if you’re using 4 large egg whites then you will need 8 ounces of sugar. The trick is in the beating. Beat the whites until stiff, add the sugar slowly and then continue to beat for several minutes until the mixture is very stiff and stands in peaks. If there is one thing not to cheat with, it is meringues, the store-bought ones are very dry and taste like sweet cardboard, there simply is no comparison. I cheat on all sorts of things when I am in a rush, I buy pastry if I have little time, a jar of organic tomato sauce if I have none left in the freezer and I have no qualms about doing so, but I won’t cheat on meringues!
What makes this dessert so easy is that it can be broken or squashed during transit, it doesn’t matter a jot, no special care and attention is required.
Bring a whole meringue, (which can be made a couple of days in advance), a tub of strawberries and a carton of double cream.
When the time comes for the sweet treat at the end of the meal, break up and smush the meringue in plastic cups to serve.
Add a good dollop or two of cream
and the fruit of your choice, we chose strawberries because the local ones are in season right now.
Sit back, savour and enjoy!
Our picnic was under the spreading chestnut tree in the garden, the petals fell like confetti all around us. Sadly I was in a rush to take Gigi to tennis, but the others remained after we had left, lying back on the blanket, listening to music and chatting for a good hour, just as weekends and lazy days during the holidays should be. I hope you are having a fabulous weekend and that this has given you a few ideas for the perfect picnic!