Our cooking expert Tom Rutledge shares his top tips to pull off the perfect picnic this spring!
The sun is out and the sky is blue. These two factors alone are enough reason for a trip to the beach, but the currents whipping along the coast make a dip a decidedly fresh option. Far better, is a visit to the park. Buds are bursting and the grass is lush. The temperature is at a level Goldilocks would approve of. At no time in the year do the elements conspire to produce better conditions for a picnic.
So, how then to structure the perfect picnic? At one level, eating outside should require no further instruction. It inevitably taps some primordial instinct - after all our forebears must have learnt to eat before they learnt to erect shelter. But despite getting closer to nature it doesn't always follow that things become more simple. And simplicity, along with good company and splash of prosecco are surely the keys to a splendid outing.
Here are my top tips on how to pull off a perfect picnic:
1. Keep it simple
Fine dining has its place, but it is not the park. There's a reason why restaurants are equipped with chairs, tables, and other appointments conducive to comfort. Not that being stretched out on the ground is any great discomfort mind you. It's just that some things are best eaten upright. Similarly, there are foods that will not travel well and your efforts in making them will be swiftly undone by a speed hump and exuberant cornering. Picnic fare is tried and tested, by all means be creative with picnic foods, but don’t try to transplant an extravagant lunch party to the park.
2. Fingers are better than forks
One of the chief joys of a picnic is to exercise your god-given right to eat with your fingers. What's taboo at the table will be accepted on the rug. It's the most natural way to eat while still keeping your trousers on. Try to go for things that can be held, and eaten from the hand. And steer well clear of sticky, gooey, runny things. Not only will they end up all over everyone’s hands, you could end up being accompanied by an army of ants.
3. Teeth are better than knives
Do your cutting in the kitchen rather than your paring in the park. Use a fork if you must, but knives are no fun on a picnic at all. If you can't stick to finger food, make sure you stick to bite sized fork food. Nobody likes the precariousness of a flimsy knife and a flimsy plate perched on your lap. Both are likely to give way before the intended subject of the surgery and you may end of with your lunch in your lap and, indeed, with your trousers off.
4. Everything at once
A picnic is not a 5 course meal with a prescribed schedule attached to the bill of fare. The rug should be laid down and then everything should be laid on the rug at once. Cheese before sweet? Sweet before cheese? Who cares? You're outside, and eating with your fingers. Everyone should do exactly as they please. And it's annoying to fill up on corn chips when you didn't know there were cupcakes lurking in the bottom of the basket.
5. Pack it up
Get creative with your packaging and presentation to maximise convenience. I don't think anyone in the world has ever had a problem with a chicken finger sandwich - but a whole tub of them can be fiddly. Why not make a whopping great chicken baguette that everyone can have a chunk of? And when packing always consider whether the container can be used for serving as well. Think individual jars or noodle boxes rather than a big bowl that will require additional plates.
6. Enough, but not too much.
Not having enough food is bad news, whether it's a dinner party, brunch, or a picnic. But what's worse news is schlepping all your leftovers back from the park to your house because you over cater at a picnic. It's a balancing act, to be sure, and the main point here is not to get too carried away.
7. Share the load
Picnics for two are nice. But picnicking with many is when it gets really fun. The joy of a big picnic means many people are on hand to lend a hand in the catering as well as on the cricket pitch. Divide and conquer with your mates when it comes to laying on the spread. Coordination doesn't only reduce the cost for you, it also means you don't end up with a blanket full of all the same things.