Saturday 24 August 2013

Picnic ideas, tips and recipes

Who doesn't love a good picnic? There's something terribly British about taking a packed lunch and thermos to the beach or a park, and you can be as simple or posh as you like. Picnics were a staple of my childhood, often in the New Forest or Longleat; I remember the grown-ups sitting on folding chairs they had in the back of the car, while my sister and I played shuttlecocks. One particularly memorable picnic saw a New Forest pony with its head in the boot of the car, seeing what it could help itself to, and another time I recall eating sandwiches sitting inside the car on Poole Quay with torrential rain coming down outside.

In many ways, you can't go wrong when you have a picnic, as long as you have good food and your friends or family. But there are some 'dos and don'ts' I have picked up over the years, which I thought I would share with you. Read on and you will find plenty of tasty recipes and meal suggestions as well.

Tips for a great picnic
-      If possible, scope out in advance where you are going, and check if there are nearby amenities (e.g. toilets, a cafe to buy cold drinks, an ice cream van).

-      If you always eat sandwiches at work or your children take a packed lunch to school, try to think of something a bit different for your picnic. Finger food is far more fun to eat than great big sandwiches. Whether it's sausage rolls, strips of pitta bread and houmous, or snack boxes filled with salad, the possibilities are almost endless. If you do want to take sandwiches, why not try wraps, or filling chunks of crusty bread?

A pan bagnat is an interesting take on a picnic sandwich - scoop out the soft bread inside and fill with layers of different ingredients. Check out my recipe for pan bagnat here.

- Scones are filling too, and easy to make at home - check out these ham and cheese scones.

-      Avoid anything too messy or that will attract insects.

-      Traditional wicker picnic hampers are beautiful but not all that comfortable to carry especially if you have a way to walk. Try not to take too much - decide if perhaps you can buy cold drinks when you get there - and try not to overcater so you don't have to take leftover picnic food home.

-      In fact, share the load - children can carry small bags or backpacks. The Dot Com Gift Shop sent me this one to review, which costs £9.95. The design is really cute - probably better suited to a girl but it could be unisex.

 It is pale blue with woodland animal print, and as well as the main pocket has a small zip pouch on the front, and the straps are adjustable, so children could use this for school or trips as well as picnics. To give you an idea of size, the bag is about 11 inches high and 10 inches across, so should be very manageable for a child. I have a friend whose little girl would love this!

- Children could even carry their own individual portions in these fun lunch bags, which also help keep the food cool.

-      If you do want to take drinks, why not freeze small bottles of water or squash; if it's a nice day they will have melted enough by the time you get to the picnic, and you can use them to help keep other food cool.

- Adults may appreciate a thermos of tea or coffee, but don't forget you can use a thermos to keep cold drinks cool. You can also use a thermos for a gazpacho (cold soup) - there are plenty of recipes on the internet.

-      If you are meeting friends, check in advance what other people are bringing - there's no point ending up with nothing but six baguettes and half a dozen packets of sausage rolls. Having said that, these chorizo sausage rolls are really nice.

- Another idea if you like pastry is this puff pastry tart; I've topped mine with goat's cheese and butternut squash but the flavour combinations are almost endless.

-      And while most picnics are carb-heavy, don't forget the fruit and veg. Ideas include carrot and celery sticks and dip, strawberries and cream or frozen berries that you can pop straight into your mouth.

- When it comes to salad, don't just think lettuce, tomato, cucumber - how about a couscous salad using.....  pasta salad always travels well and is a good way to sneak in a few extra veggies. My personal favourite is potato salad- there are plenty of variations you could try, from a traditional mayonnaise base to a honey and mustard dressing. Here's a low fat version that I like.

-      Take something to sit on - even though it may be bulky, a blanket or mat really does add to the picnic experience. It's more comfortable, helps mark out your picnic area, and gives you something to put all the food on even if people are actually sitting on the grass around the mat.

-      If possible, cut cake, quiche or other dishes into individual portions before you go, so you don't need to take a big knife with you.

Homemade salmon and dill quiche

- The Dot Com Gift Shop also sent me these snack boxes to review - they will keep portions separate on your picnic and can be used again and again in the kitchen or lunchboxes. The fruit print and bright primary colours are fun and the four different size tubs stack inside each other for convenient storage. The largest box is just under 5 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep; the next is just over 4 inches in diameter and 2 inches deep; the third is 3.5 inches in diameter and just over 1.5 inches deep and the smallest is 3 inches in diameter and 1.5 inches deep. They retail at £6.95 for a set of four.

- Food covers are bulky to carry but if you are travelling to your picnic by car - or indeed having it in your back garden - it may be worth investing in a couple of these food covers to keep the flies away.

-      If you are out and about, bring a bag to put all your rubbish into.

- Speaking of rubbish, disposable plates and cutlery aren't great from an environmental perspective, but they do mean you have a lot less to carry on the way home. These wooden knives and forks are nicer than the cheap white plastic variety in my opinion. Alternatively this pretty vintage style is reusable but lighter than carrying around metal cutlery. Paper cups are definitely a good idea too.

-      Don't forget napkins and wet wipes for messy food, and a corkscrew or bottle opener if you're taking wine and beer.

- Most picnics wouldn't be complete without something sweet to round off the meal. Bear in mind it needs to travel well; my suggestions include this lemon curd swirl cake, nanaimo bars, toffee walnut blondies, millionaire's shortbread or double chocolate muffins.

- It's not just about the food - games are a great way to keep children occupied and what adult can resist joining in with a game of Frisbee, or flying a kite?

- If your picnic is in a park or even in the woods, you can make your own nature trail: while I hated creepy crawlies as a child (and still do). some children would love this bug watcher and binoculars.

-      Stay safe in the sun - wear a hat and take plenty of sunscreen (and use it!). Also  take a mini first aid kit including treatments for insect bites and stings.

-      Don't forget your camera!

- And hopefully you won't need one of these on your picnic - but you never know!

Disclaimer: I was sent the rucksack and food containers by the Dot Com Gift Shop to review. I wasn;'t asked to write a positive review and the other products from their website are ones that I chose to mention myself.


  1. I feel an urge to go for a picnic now!

  2. I want a picnic now
    Feeling rather peckish :)

  3. Fantastic picnic ideas - delicious and a lot of fun!
    Mary x


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