Eating outdoors in fine weather is a delightfully relaxed and informal way to enjoy delicious food. Whether at the seaside, in the country, local park or even in the garden, a picnic is a well-loved British tradition and we remain resolutely optimistic that the sun will shine!

Eating outdoors has always been popular. The great hunting feasts of the Middle Ages, which took place before the start of the hunt, were a very important part of the proceedings and included pies, cooked hams, roast joints of meat, poultry and sweet tarts. The word ‘picnic’ was first used around 1740 and was probably derived from the French verb piquer (to pick at food) and nique (something small of no value). Picnics have long been a popular feature of English summers, particularly at traditional time honoured events such as Henley, elegant hampers at Glyndebourne, hearty hampers for the start of grouse shooting on the ‘glorious twelfth’ of August, cricket teas at Lords…. Whatever the occasion picnicking has never fallen out of favour.

Picnics reached their peak of popularity and were very fashionable in the Victorian era – Charles Dickens mentioned them in his books. People met at friends’ houses to dance and eat- outside if the weather permitted. Everyone brought along a contribution to the food, but gradually the idea took hold that just one person should be responsible for organising the food.

Queen Victoria was very fond of picnicking at Balmoral. It was customary for ladies to sit and sketch the scenery, while the men foraged for fungi, plants and fossils. Collecting items associated with nature, e.g. butterflies and flowers, was a Victorian passion.

A Victorian picnic must have involved a tremendous amount of work and long hours in the kitchen, but nowadays, thank goodness, arranging a picnic is much easier! Coolboxes, plastic containers and thermos flasks make the food easy to transport and also keep it fresh and cool. The food, whether simple or elaborate should look appetising, taste delicious and travel well. Forget boring soggy sandwiches and tasteless shop bought cakes- try these simple recipes for a picnic that everyone is sure to enjoy. Take bags of ready washed salad leaves for convenience, plenty of napkins and cutlery, an attractive tablecloth and remember to pack the salt and pepper.

PIGS IN BLANKETS
Children especially, love these sausages wrapped in rich pastry.

225g/8oz plain flour
110g/4oz butter
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
Large pinch salt
450g/1lb chipolata sausages, cooked and cooled
Beaten egg to glaze

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and rub in the butter. Stir in the herbs and salt. Add just enough cold water to bind to a firm dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for about 30 minutes. Roll out thinly on a floured surface and cut into long strips about 6mm/¼ inch wide. Brush with beaten egg and roll the pastry strips around the sausages in a spiral. Brush with beaten egg and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes Gas 6/200ºC/400ºF, then cool on a wire rack. Pack in a rigid container.

BRIGHTON ROCK CAKES
There’s nothing rock-like in the texture of these tempting little cakes! Rosewater imparts a lovely flavour.

75g/3oz butter
75g/3oz Golden Caster sugar
75g/3oz ground almonds
110g/4oz sultanas
140g/5oz plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon rose water (optional)
Beaten egg to glaze

Cream the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add the ground almonds and sultanas, and then stir in the flour with the eggs and rose water. Mix to a stiff dough and place small mounds of the mixture on a greased baking tray. Glaze the buns with a little beaten egg and bake for 12-15 minutes Gas 7/220ºC/425ºF. Cool on a wire rack.

FRESH LEMONADE
A thirst quencher that’s much more refreshing than commercial sugary fizzy drinks.

4 lemons
225g/8oz Golden Caster sugar
1.8 litres/3 pints boiling water

Using a vegetable peeler, thinly pare the rind from the lemons, and then squeeze out the juice. Put the lemon rind and sugar into a bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir to dissolve the sugar, cover and leave for 24 hours until completely cold. Add the lemon juice (add more sugar if you wish) and strain into a chilled thermos flask. Makes 8-12 glasses.

If you’d like to find out about more British foods and traditions, visit my web site:Carol Wilson

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