Heading out on a British picnic is like playing Russian roulette with the elements. Sitting in a shaking Ford Escort, buffeted by the wind on the edge of the rain-swept beach. Wet dashes to grab thermos flasks, foil-wrapped sarnies and hard-boiled eggs from the boot of the car. With grim determination did we forge our way into the British weather and sit, huddled together for warmth, under brollies and oilskin ground sheets. We weren’t alone, there were other families, encouraging paddling in the sub-zero sea, forced on ten-mile hikes up mountains in sandals, wellies and a cardie, overtaking professionals roped together in survival gear.
Of course, there were the beautiful days too, so few and far-between, where the heated haze sat low over the grass and the flies buzzed lazily over our heads. We dangled hot feet in the river, made daisy chains or lay on our backs, too hot to chase a frisbee, on a scratchy wool rug making shapes from the low fat clouds floating leisurely across the blue sky. The child who found a sprinkler was rich indeed.
The endless summer holidays made you feel like a free-range human – no school, no rules and often no clothes. Here are some easy – emphasis on the easy – picnic recipes to conjure those balmy days. All store well in tupperware.
Proper Ham and Cheese Sarnies
I realise that a recipe for a cheese and ham sarnie is like teaching your granny to suck eggs, but it seems that somewhere along the line we forgot how to cook the ham ourselves, which is a pity given how much more delicious it is to bite into a fat, succulent piece of ham than the slimy, salty, flavourless stuff you get ready-sliced in plastic packages. If you like such things (and on occasion I do) then go for a fruity, strong cheddar – the sort that tickles the roof of your mouth. But if you prefer the flavour without the oral assault, Lincolnshire Poacher is perfect.
For the ham
2 kg gammon
3 pints of water
2 bay leaves
Put everything into a pan and bring to the boil. Simmer with the lid on for about 2.5 hours. Reckon on about 1 hour per kilo if your gammon joint is a different size. Remove the ham and leave to cool. Don’t discard the remaining liquid as it makes fantastic stock.
Cut the cheese and ham into generous slices and ‘sandwich’ between some crusty bread spread with butter (oh go on, you’ve come this far). Wrap in foil and off you go into the great outdoors.
Coronation Chicken (serves 6)
In days of old, you would have had to boil the chicken first. Thankfully these days we can be less particular – roasting is allowed. Alternatively, buy the thing ready-cooked.
1 cooked chicken (pick the chicken off the bones and where neccesary chop into mouth-sized lumps)
2 ripe mangos (chopped into bite-sized pieces)
1 tbsp mango chutney
4 tbsp mayonnaise
1 red onion, chopped finely
2 tsp mild curry powder
Mix together the chicken, mango and onion. In a separate container mix the mayonnaise, curry powder and mango chutney together and stir in with the other ingredients. Serve with crusty bread.
Quails Eggs (serves 6)
The hard-boiled egg has long been a stalwart of the British picnic. Try these for a little difference
18 quails eggs
Don’t cook eggs directly from the fridge as this makes them more inclined to crack, particularly if you plunge them straight into boiling water.
Boil the eggs for 5 minutes. Remove and run under the cold tap to cool. When you’re ready to serve, peel and dip into the salt
Potato Salad (serves 6)
1kg bag new potatoes (boiled, skins left on, and chopped in half or quarter, depending on how big they are)
10 cornichons (thinly sliced)
Bunch of chives (chopped)
Quarter red onion (finely chopped)
3 tbsp mayonnaise
Mix the ingredients together in a bowl.
I honestly don’t know why this is called Sludge Cake. Maybe it’s the North East moniker for what is suspiciously similar to refrigerator cake. Maybe it’s one of those funny family things. Who cares, it’s great for picnics.
Large packet digestive biscuits
2 tbsp cocoa, heaped
2 tbsp golden syrup (yummmmmm)
150g Dark chocolate
Crush the biscuits and add the raisins. Melt the butter, syrup, sugar and cocoa. Pour the melted mixture over the biscuits and raisins and mix well.
Press into a toffee tin and leave to cool.
In a bowl over a pan of hot water melt the dark chocolate. Spread the melted chocolate over the biscuits and put in the fridge until the chocolate is set. It can now be cut into rectangles. Will be fine for at least a week if kept in an airtight container.