With social gathering restrictions in place around the world, there has never been a better time to have a picnic. But forget the days of old with a packet of chips and soggy sandwiches wrapped in plastic. Picnics have grown up and we should put as much thought and effort into them as we do when entertaining around the dining table. I think this might be the new norm for meals with friends this summer.
We’ve gone back a hundred years to how the Great British Picnic used to be. In Victorian times they were the grandest of affairs, when staff rolled out incredible feasts. Think Downton Abbey in the 21st Century! And if you are worried, or you have even greater restrictions where you are, ask your friends to bring their own food and napkins and glasses and plates. But keep it upmarket at all costs. Be strict about the rules. That doesn’t have to mean expensive, but it does mean making an effort. I promise when you have found find an idyllic place to spread your rug, the smell of grass or seaspray in the air, the taste of homemade pies, cakes and fresh strawberries will make it all worthwhile. Somehow everything is just that little bit better when eaten outdoors.
But wait, theres an enormous difference between a packed lunch and a picnic. The former makes me think of plastic containers and something hurriedly flung together, it makes me think of school lunches! However, the word ‘picnic’ for me conjures up a magical feast. Picnics are about the foods you love.
Today we set off on our bikes for our great picnic.
Last night, I asked everyone in our family what they wanted for today’s picnic and we made it work from there. Each person had a choice. It’s all about throwing lots of ideas around, the more varied the dishes and the more numerous the flavours quite frankly the better.
The other important rule is picnics must not be rushed. Which brings me back to the variety of foods. Think of it as a tasting menu. There is no one main course; instead you can pick at this and that, try something new. Forget the rules, there are no rules! The whole idea is it is a long lazy drawn out affair. With plenty of time to lie in the shade, tell stories, day dream, just to be. If after an hour you feel a little peckish again, then you can just tuck in and sample something else.
Perhaps this is why I love picnics so much, I love the luxury of eating outdoors in the middle of nowhere with a fabulous spread of food that at the same time manages to be incredibly informal. There is no place for nouvelle cuisine and the latest trend when eating on a rug on the grass in the middle of a field.
A picnic well done is hard to beat and homemade really is the best. My advice is that fresh food always tastes better. We had a real mixture of foods. I made French baguettes so that when we set off they were still warm from the oven. We made salads, a classic green one and another with chickpeas and a third that was slightly more exotic with citrus fruits.
Put the dressings in separate jars (old jam jars are perfect for this) so that nothing goes mushy in the heat. Roddy made Scotch Eggs, an English classic that you cannot buy in France and one that he has perfected over the past couple of months.
We had paté and cheese and a home-made tomato tart. Melon, cherries and olives to pick at.
Homemade iced tea to drink.
And for dessert I made meringues. I whipped some cream and put it in a jar and chopped up some strawberries. The basis for a classic Eton Mess. Basically a pavlova that is all crushed together. Perfect, so if the meringues gets crushed it doesn’t matter, that’s how they’re meant to be! No stress!
Believe me it is worth all the effort because a delicious picnic on a lazy spring or summer afternoon is truly one of life’s greatest pleasures.
I have to add a little note at the end of this because it seems to me almost thoughtless to be writing about such trivial matters as picnics and the like when America is currently suffering so terribly. My heart bleeds for what has happened. We are all struggling with Covid-19 and now this. The news is appalling. I often wonder how can racism still exist in today’s modern society. I don’t care about the colour of the skin, we’re all the same, I care about the person and I am distraught at what is going on.
So why do I still write about such frivolous subjects? Because life continues. I’ve seen so many businesses struggling here in France. I’ve seen people hurting very badly. We are not immune to this, we are not living in some fantasy world, we are in the same boat as everyone else, wondering how to make ends meet when our income has all but dried up. But, I still believe we need to stay positive and to realise that there is still good in the world and so much to be grateful for. So I continue to write about what gives us, as a family with teenage children, pleasure. Very simple down to earth enjoyment. No eating in restaurants, no holidays, no shopping trips. Just good old fashioned honest fun. Lots of giggles, lots of laughter. We returned on our bikes, singing loudly “We’ll meet again, don’t know where don’t know when”. We all agreed, we are incredibly lucky, we all agreed the simple things are what we need right now. We need to keep smiling.
To anyone suffering and to all in America my heart goes out to you. xxx