The Return of The Great Picnic

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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We had paté and cheese and a home-made tomato tart. Melon, cherries and olives to pick at.

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Homemade iced tea to drink.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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To anyone suffering and to all in America my heart goes out to you. xxx

 

90 thoughts on “The Return of The Great Picnic

  • It’s a heavy feeling of sadness here. We have to be better. How can racism still have such a hold on us. Donating today to all the organizations that work for a solution to this unending hatred.

  • What a lovely picnic in an idyllic setting. Love the menu!!!!
    Here in America, the rioting is not about racism at all but frustration coming from the Covid as well as political – Antifa mostly, who buses young people in from all over. 80% of the rioters are not from the city they are rioting in. It is tragic but we have a great President who has made many wise decisions.

    • Amen! I have a son living in SF and that is the case there. Innocent people and businesses pay the price and by people who really neither know nor care about the event that occurred, just an excuse. Doubly sad on top of all people are going through right now. Your pictures made me wish I was there and could try some of your food. Looks like a great time! God bless and thanks for sharing! 😊

    • I feel like I need to respectfully disagree with the previous statement. The post, menu & pictures are just what my heart needed to read today. However, the racism in the United States is truly real & sad. And fueled by twitter

    • Thank you for making this clear. The original act was horrific and disgusting and the perpetrator I know will be severely punished, but these riots are because of a far different agenda.

    • Margianne, if you will actually read some news reports, you will see that the Minnesota governor and others were initially given false information re: the arrestees being from other states. Every local mayor and police chief wants to believe that the “troublemakers” come from outside their area. But wishing does not make it so. The vast majority of arrestees were from the Minneapolis/St.Paul area. And those were only the ones committing crimes. Looting is always wrong, opportunistic, and must be punished.

      Almost all of the peaceful protesters were local. They are fed up with the wanton disregard for the lives of black men in America by racist police officers who are given cover by others in the “code of sikence.” As a former prosecutor of more than 30 years who has great respect for the majority of non-racist hard-working police and detectives, I know what I am talking about. You and your “Black” friends (assuming they exist, and are not just your employees telling you what you want to hear) are in denial of the facts on the streets of the U.S.

      Susan, apologies for this tangent, but I cannot let her comment that what is happening in America is “not about racism” stand. America is in a war for its very soul, on many battlefields today. God help us all.

      • I have talked with Police and they say differently. You are saying that most were from that area. Others say differently including people in the know there. More Whites are hurt than Blacks on the street. No denial of the facts. These riots were caused by mostly Antifa groups and it is NOT about race. And yes, my Black friends are upset about all of this in the name of “race”. These are RIOTs…not protests. You are totally incorrect and need to look at the facts. You are obviously attempting to back the Antifascist movement which is a terrorist organization funded by Soros and chronies. What you say and do is a travesty to our Great Nation!!!!

  • Dear Susan – thank you for sharing the pleasant details from your day. A picnic with your family, riding bikes, the beautiful French countryside – sounds like heaven and as I read your narrative, it was a nice diversion for me, if even only for a short time.
    Speaking for myself here in the US, it is such a disturbing time and I appreciate you sending kind thoughts to us. Racism is so sadly at the forefront here and it disgusts and frightens me. Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts.

  • The picnic & the surrounding fields remind me of the farm area where I grew up. My Mom could fry the best chicken!! & my Dad made homemade ice cream, especially on Sundays. We are amazed at the happenings here & along with the virus wonder what is going on?! We can only keep on! Thank you so much for the pictures too!!!

    • I thought this to be a beautiful journey into early summer countryside and was all ready with my scotch eggs recipe when the term ‘great President’ took my eye . . . the biggest hug Susan, but I feel so sick to my stomach I am unable to continue’ . . . you would not like what I would say . . . .even from far away Down under . . . .kudos to you for your style but naturally I agree with Pierrette . . .

  • I agree with Margianne re: your lovely picnic, but disagree vehemently with her Fox News version of the George Floyd based protests. The great majority of the protesters in each city are demonstrably locals who are all at a peak of frustration that America does not seem capable of policing its police. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? If I were still living in the U.S., I would be in the streets myself.
    The protesters are angry, yes, and some feel driven to violence and setting fires because otherwise they cannot be heard. Simultaneously there are certainly criminals in every city who are looting and destroying property under cover of these protests. They should, and will, be prosecuted. But this nonsense about 80% being outside agitators has no basis in fact. It is a rightwing fantasy propagated to deny the truth of righteous people in major cities of the U.S. crying out for justice.

    • I feel sorry for you Ellen. My Black friends also feel sorry for you. My version is not FOX news I don’t believe as I never watch it. My version comes from my friends in the community who are so very sad that their people are totally imprisoned by the LEFT which you are a part of apparently. As for the 80% not from the area…excuse me…this comes directly from people within the affected communities. As I said…I feel very sorry for you. As you don’t like our great country you are encouraged to leave.

  • I too am very distressed by your comments Marianne. Where are you getting information the protestors are from Antifa? That is directly from Fox News. Every news source I have read points to local citizens who have reached the point of frustration. Donald Trump has inflamed an already horrible situation with his comments. He does not represent me as an American. The time has come for violence against our black brothers and sisters to STOP. This is not who we are. We are better than this. When you claim that protestors are from Antifa you demean the ordinary citizens who have had enough. Please please open your heart.

    • Love a proper picnic in Europe. Living here in Australia I discovered many years ago that ants are determined critters and Kookaburras are thieves! Still I aim to try having something akin to yours whilst we have the cold but sunny weather sans bugs!

  • Please this is a beautiful,well written blog about family in France having a picnic.Can we hold our opinions and politics to ourselves! We can be mindful and concerned about all the problems in the United States but in our country and we need to come together and live with understanding and care for everyone. Love your neighbors..”.where love is thick faults are thin!” Let us all try harder to get aong and enjoy picnics that include your neighbors…regardless of color or politics.

  • Listen, they charged this cop with murder and manslaughter. What more could be done. He will be held accountable, and I anticipate that the other three officers will also be charged. Don’t forget, whites are also killed at times by police.

  • Please do not think that Marianne represents the majority of Americans. She does not. I am horrified by her comments. She denies getting information from Fox News, yet that is the only news organization who reports that Antifa is behind the protests all over the country over the murder of George Floyd. Most Americans are deeply saddened and angry over the killing of our black brothers and sisters by the police. Donald Trump only inflames an already intolerable situation with his comments. He does not represent me as an American. I am ashamed of the image our country has in the world. However, I do think most Americans are decent, honorable people who do not condone Trump’s behavior and comments and who are in sympathy with our African American citizens.

  • What a lovely pique-nique!! You are kind to share your wonderful outing and how creative you and your family are……
    to make a beautiful outing in the countryside into a “feast”!!! Love the meringues and the Scotch eggs (maybe share
    a recipe sometimes). My regrets that some readers have chosen your newsletter as a means of political statement.

    • The recipe is easy, Robert. A 500gm packet of sausage-meat will make six scotch eggs. Put it in a bowl and add a tablespoon of olive oil, and seasoning to your taste (we add garlic salt instead of regular salt, for example, and add plenty of chopped herbs – thyme and oregano are good). Into a saucepan of boiling water put six eggs from room temperature. Boil for eight minutes at a rolling boil, not a maddening frenzy. When done, rinse well in cold water immediately and let stand for 10 minutes before shelling.

      Divide your meat into six portions. Take each one and pat it flat in the palm of your hand like a large ‘beefburger’, and put an indent in the middle into which you place a shelled egg. Using both hands, wrap and squeeze the patty of meat up, around and over the egg, as if you were making a nice smooth snowball. Put to one side and do the rest. In a jar with a lid shake two raw eggs into a wash and put that in a cereal bowl. In another bowl put two cups of breadcrumbs, and in a third bowl put a cup of white flour. You may need to add more flour or breadcrumbs as you go, so do not put them away….

      One at a time, dust each Scotch egg in the flour, then in the wash, and then cover in the breadcrumbs. You’ll find this easy to do, and the more gentle you are the easier it is to retain the shape of your Scotch egg. Once you have covered them with breadcrumbs it is easy to roll them into a perfect roundness.

      Put the finished eggs on greaseproof paper in a baking tray and cook for 45 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 180˚ C. Your ‘mileage’ may vary according to your oven. Eat hot or cold. A normal adult will eat at least one and a half, just as a warning! Mayonnaise, mustard, chutney and other sundries are all good with these.

      Put more sausage meat on your shopping list for the next week as you’ll want to do them again. Home-made Scotch eggs make shop-bought ones look anaemic and tasteless – you have been warned 🙂

  • Epic idyllic picnic! Really, amazing. My husband says picnics are “eating food in an inconvenient location” which is in total opposition to your luxurious descriptions. Perhaps, in Australia, we have more bugs – ants, flies, wasps, mosquitoes etc. Can’t say. I haven’t spent a lot of time in France. Perhaps he has had the “packed lunch” style, rather than the 19th Century style. I must admit, I’m impressed that you carried that incredible feast on your bicycles! A feat of cooking, packing and organisation. But clearly, well worth it!!! I am unmistakably envious!

  • Your picnic looks and sounds wonderful. We all enjoy your posts and that is why we follow you, Susan. Also thank you for your kind words concerning the ugly situation in The States.
    The political back and forth replies have no place here.

  • Now, that’s what I call a picnic! Thank you for reminding me about scotch eggs. I’m going to make some for our next picnic to be held this week with a few friends.

  • You all look so well. The food looks lovely and so pleased that you are all able to go out and picnic, in a beautiful area. Can’t wait for our next visit. Stay safe family Hays
    .

  • Today, my husband and I celebrate our 63rd Wedding Anniversary and It got off to a good start with a lovely story of the Hays family picnic with excellent photos. Very uplifting and a great reminder of the simple things in life. Thank you so much, the world needs more people like you!

  • I LOVE picnics….and have them often 🙂 But I have to ask, where do you get the sausage meat for scotch eggs, and whipped cream? So hard to get double whipping cream here in my region. It never ceases to amaze me that a dairy rich country like France doesn’t do double cream and clotted cream! 🙂

    • Hi Al! Whipping cream for us is created by taking a pack of whole (entier) pouring cream (typically sold in packs of three, I’m sure you know them) and whipping them in the mixer. You do need to make sure the cream is COLD! Sausage meat is available alongside sausages on most supermarket shelves. Look for the words “farcie” and “hachée” on any pack that looks like mincemeat.

      • Thanks. Yes I know the cream, so no probs there. Sausage meat as in ‘farcie’ seems to be very different, but perhaps my tastes have changed. Of course, I can always buy suasages and remove the meat! Hope life is good and all are safe and well 🙂

  • Love a proper picnic in Europe. Living here in Australia I discovered many years ago that ants are determined critters and Kookaburras are thieves! Still I aim to try having something akin to yours whilst we have the cold but sunny weather sans bugs!

    • Hi Virginia – thank you for your comment. Ants exist here too but of course French ones are not man-eaters like some of yours. I seem to remember there is one variety you have there that even the cattle run away from!

  • A delightful post and an excellent reminder of the better things in life. I enjoy your positive attitude and determination to make the best of the current situation. I haven’t made Scotch eggs in years!

  • Yes, I agree. Picnics should be grand, real napkins and forks, lovely food with delicious choices. Looks like your family had a wonderful day. You are so right, we have to find ways to stay connected and have fun. I’ve been inviting friends over for driveway visits where they bring their own chair and a drink and we sit apart but have chat time. Keep up the positive posts, we all appreciate the effort you are making with your own family, and to share with your readers.

    • That sounds like fun, Carole. We are doing the same, but at each end of the lawn. It is wonderful to see people who you’ve not talked to for a while. Connection is very much the name of the game 🙂

  • A wonderful and heart-warming post, as I just knew it would be, reading the title and starting the text, viewing the photos. I totally agree with everything you said.
    One of my very best and funniest picnic events was, bizarrely, an indoor picnic. Many, many moons ago, when we were young and carefree, we spoke to friends after Sunday church service. It was raining hard and we said: What we should do actually, is having a picnic at our place…. Silly as we were, we agreed that they would come to our flat at 2pm and bring their choice of ad-hoc picnic fare and we would prepare ours….. They came at 2pm, him in heavy mountain shoes, Rucksack on his back, both in heavy mountaineering garb, and their dog with a hanky around the throat. We laid out a plaid on the living room floor, unpacked our straw baskets and had the feast of all feasts. It didn’t matter that it rained, our Sunday Meals were sleeping in their respective fridges, WE HAD A BALL…
    Sadly, never had any photos; they would be priceless now – but the memories still make me smile very often.
    Thank you for sharing over and over again your cheerful, positive heart and your family with us. We love you so and miss you terribly.

    • Hi Kiki, thank you for sharing that memory, and yes – picnics can be the best of times with the right food, the right people and no ants or wasps! We will see you again soon, hang tight XX

  • Leave it to you and Roddy to put together such a glorious feast! Thank you for sharing your lovely day with the family. The situation here in the States is unbelievable. I am still working from home, but very fortunate that I am able to do so.
    Hugs to all, Nancy

  • I would be happy for you to omit all replies of a flaming political nature. They don’t belong in your lovely blog.

  • PS: Roddy, you never told me – I have yet to have my first Scottish Egg and your ‘job’ is to introduce me to that specialty…. OK?
    PSII: PLEASE this should be and stay the oasis of peace, beauty, mutual understanding – so if you can’t keep quiet on politics, please stay away. We are ALL aware of what’s going on worldwide but that doesn’t mean that we should voice our opinions on not-politic related blogs.

  • i would pay any amount of money to have joined you for that wonderful food….never heard of eton mess but oh how divine it sounds…and the scotch eggs and the salads and freshly baked baguette…oo la la….we here in the usa are appalled at peoples behavior…they are free to break in and burn and loot others businesses, yet we are still not allowed to open our businesses…nothing makes any sense…enjoy your beautiful family, nature and the sunshine and the gorgeous place you live ❤

  • Stop it! Proverb 26:24-26. This post is precious and not the place for hate. I love your ability to bring us together and to make us remember the good things in life. We must learn from our mistakes and move on.

  • Oh, dear, I wish I’d eaten lunch before reading this as my lunch won’t be nearly as delicious or beautiful. 🙂 I love the shot with the poppies, too–food for my soul. Thanks for the delicious post and stay well.

    janet

  • Your picnic is beautiful and balm for a troubled soul. And it makes me glad that I’ve hung onto an old-fashioned picnic basket, thinking that I will, indeed, use it one of these days.
    But, as others said, I’m afraid there is seriously erroneous commenting up-thread. “Antifa” is being used as a term of disparagement and political division, when it is merely short for “anti-fascist”. The rioting in the US *is* about systemic racism, and there are reliable reports of “outside agitators” causing violence at otherwise peaceful demonstrations. Unfortunately, there is no functioning national government now, so it’s likely to get very messy.

  • A delicious spread of food. How nice it is that we can all get out and enjoy life a little bit more these days.

  • How I loved your post, and then your comments about the current tragic situation. I have struggled myself with how to respond and whether I might seem frivolous if I continue to write in the same vein. Believe me, the fact that we force ourselves to stay hopeful and positive does not mean we are in denial or are not feeling pain. But if we allow ourselves to be consumed by it, we can never move forward and never help our broken country to get to a better place.

  • And one happy memory… as an Italian-American, our childhood family picnics were
    massive gatherings at regional parks, sans hot dogs and hamburgers. Our menu was lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, etc.!

    • Brilliant! Eggplant parmigiana – that brings back memories. My mother loved aubergines and cooked them in a variety of different ways. Roddy says he had plenty as a child too, but also likes pollo parmigiana! 🙂

  • wish i was on your picnic, food sounds amazing. Before lock down would take granddaughter out for the day and always had a picnic, and the fun was seeing her delight opening her little tin and finding what cake was inside just for her…

    Mind for a couple of months she had a custard tart, which ended up all over her face, but she clearly loved them as shown by the look of disgust one day when I put in a chocolate cake instead… was not popular for a least ten minutes that day!

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