The sun is shining so roll out a blanket and dust off the hamper. Follow The Field's guide to National Picnic Week for the greatest al fresco feast of the summer
With the sun shining and the countryside in full bloom, there’s no better time to enjoy a proper picnic. Leave the lavish affairs for Ascot and Glyndebourne and try a more “Ratty and Mole” approach. All you need is a checked blanket, a feast of treats, a handful of chums and the countryside. With National Picnic Week returning from 16-25 June, follow The Field’s guide for the greatest al fresco feast of the summer.
A picnic used to be an event in itself, to enjoy some scoff and the great outdoors. Now they are aggressively competitive affairs attached to other entertainments. As Jeremy Musson ponders what makes a proper British picnic? he advocates returning to simpler pleasures.
THE FIELD’S TOP PICNIC TIPS
The Field team are not ones to pass up good scoff. And that naturally engenders a love for picnics come summertime. Follow the team’s advice for the best snacks, spots and substitutes, should the weather not follow the forecast.
Jonathan Young, Editor
“Best picnic tip: Pack a spinning rod, knife, lighter and tin foil. You will have everything you need to catch and cook mackerel over a driftwood fire.
“Pack cooled sausages into the bottom half of a hollowed-out cottage loaf. Put on the top half and wrap the lot on foil. The bread will keep the sausages warm and you then eat the bread. No washing up.”
Alexandra Henton, Deputy Editor
“Best food: Coronation partridge or pheasant – uses up the seasonal glut lurking in the freezer, and far tastier than bland chicken. To coronate like a cheat simply add mango chutney to your mayonnaise. To do it properly see Connie Spry.
“Best games: Cricket stumps or Badminton rackets are easy to pack, and will amuse the smalls.
“Best spot: I love a sociable picnic – so Car Park number 1 at Royal Ascot, or the Member’s Car Park at Burghley are top spots. For the ‘two of you and a basket’ type of excursion head for a grassy spot by a secluded brook, or a windswept dune on the North Norfolk coast – Thornham and Burnham Overy Staithe require a good walk.
“And finally a flask – a picnic is not a picnic without a flask. I love my green Stanley, and never set off on an excursion without it.”
Di Cross, Chief Sub-Editor
“We live near Mottisfont, so love to pop down there and picnic on the lawn or by the river when the weather’s nice – though have got a bit lazy now there’s a good NT tearoom! As a family, we love open-air theatre, so tend to organise a trip to see a Shakespeare play most years. Nowadays it’s a good excuse for a day/night out with friends and there tends to be a lot of fizzy stuff as well as the food.
“Think veggie quiches, LOADS of salad – which we love – bread rolls and then brownies and strawberries to finish is pretty much our staple. Sorry, nothing revolutionary!!
“Advice: Have learnt the hard way to avoid things that melt – e.g. chocolate! And eat near the car, leave heavy items behind – or take a donkey….”
Sarah Pratley, Content Assistant
“Sometimes walking a little further before laying down the blanket is completely worth it. We live in Kent, the Garden of England, and – as the name suggests – there is plenty of space for everyone to picnic without squashing together like sardines on the village green!
“My mother makes the best sausage rolls and homemade is definitely the way to go. But if it’s a last minute affair or certain parties refuse to produce the goods (and others are without the talent!) Higgidy make a great sausage roll. The Herby Pork and Pancetta variety will not disappoint.
“For those in town London’s many parks are great for picnics, though Hyde Park is preferred for a post-picnic pedalo. But beware of over-confident squirrels. We were chased from our spot by one heckling us for strawberries!”
THE FIELD’S BEST PICNIC RECIPES
During the season, how to make the ultimate point-to-point picnic is the only guide to follow. But summer requires something lighter and brighter that won’t make a melted mess. Here are our favourite recipes, whether you want simple scoff or a spectacular spread.
The Main Event
Bitesized morsels are ideal for those that don’t want to miss a moment of the village cricket competitiveness. Pancetta and rosemary arancini stuffed with olives and mozzarella make a jolly nibble. And the Greek-inspired asparagus and feta pastries are moreish morsels ideal for the picnic hamper. Both are excellent for those that want to scoff without sitting out a round of Frisbee.
Bread and pate is a summer picnic staple. Yorkshire and Italy combine remarkably well for this tear and share Wensleydale focaccia with tomato and onions, and it freezes excellently – perfect for last minute al fresco feasting. Pigeon pate is incredibly simple to make, and it puts extra pigeon breasts to good use.
And finally, you can’t have a picnic without sausage rolls. Venison sausage rolls are a long-time Field favourite, and will add a gamey twist to your picnic.
A picnic requires a pud, even if it’s just strawberries scoffed straight from the punnet. But for something a little more impressive, try strawberry and mascarpone profiteroles with salted caramel sauce. They are perfect to package up for picnics.
An Accompanying Tipple
A homemade elderflower cordial is guaranteed to impress. Follow our best elderflower cordial recipe, and remember to pick the blossom when it is cream, rather than white.
But a picnic is undoubtedly more fun with a bit of booze. Don’t put the whisky away for winter, try our ‘Reach for the Skye’ whisky cocktail. A combination of whisky, raspberry and mint, even purists would approve of. And finally, Pimm’s is a summer essential. Try our homemade Pimm’s recipe for something a touch stronger than the shop-bought stuff.
NATIONAL PICNIC WEEK: GET INVOLVED
Founded a decade ago, National Picnic Week is back from 16-25 June. And with a heatwave set to hit the UK, a record number of picnics are expected this year. The aim is simple, get the British public outside enjoying the summer with a picnic, friends and food.
Adam Cox, Founder of National Picnic Week says “With a heatwave expected, we’re expecting more picnics during National Picnic Week than ever before. I’d recommend in addition to taking a wide variety of food and a nice large blanket to bring the sun tan lotion. We want the UK to celebrate the very best of our parks, beaches and scenic sites so get organising your picnic now!”
94 million picnics are packed and enjoyed each year in the UK, and it is expected that 70% of Brits will have at least one picnic this summer. Picnics are hardly a new pastime, but picnicking habits have certainly changed over time. We are now 285% more likely to pack a tub of hummus than 15 years ago. And back in the 70s, the humble cheese sandwich was the most popular picnic snack. Today it is a bag of crisps.
Unsure where to picnic? National Picnic Week have handpicked the very best spots up and down the country, locations chosen for their outstanding natural beauty and historical significance. The overall winner was The Jubilee Gardens in Beer, Devon, for the stunning view of the beach and village atop the idyllic hillside. But follow the map below to find your local spot.
“Picnic Week is all about coming together and trying something new, getting friends and families out to the best places that the UK has to offer. Add some variety to your picnic by taking three foods you have never taken to a picnic before” urges Cox. Our best picnic recipes would be an excellent place to start.
So gather up your blanket and hamper, stuff it full of The Field’s favourite recipes, and get outside to enjoy the countryside. And once you are back home, don’t forget to share your pictures with us on Twitter and Facebook. Happy picnicking!