Friday, 12 August 2016

How to...Plan the perfect picnic

Zafferano Catering Ltd’s Jo Moody offers readers some gastronomic inspiration, showing you how to plan the perfect picnic this summer.

Food historians tell us that the concept of the “pique nique” evolved from the elaborate tradition of moveable outdoor feasts, enjoyed by the upper echelons throughout the ages. Medieval hunting feasts through to Victorian garden parties have all helped mould the way we dine “en plein air” today.

And how do we dine? Any way we like! The great British climate means that today’s picnic can either be a hastily assembled al fresco lunch gleaned from the shelves of the local deli, or an elaborate “Glynebourne-esque” multi course supper eaten stoically by candlelight… under a dripping awning.

In either scenario there is still a true sense of occasion to eating al fresco which is of course reflected in the menu.

Not surprisingly, our continental cousins, with their reliable climates have nailed the art of picnic packing and whether in France, Italy or Spain, the heroes of the picnic basket are always fresh bread, local cheeses, cured meats, fresh fruit and possibly a jar or two of marinated vegetables, zingy pickles or a rich paté or rillette (potted meat). All timeless and delicious!

In the UK, thanks to the limited window of opportunity, picnics are less casual affairs and demand more thought and ostentation. We might follow the Continental model but we want more bling for our buck with a guest appearance of lightly-smoked Loch Duart smoked salmon, super-rare roast sirloin of beef with freshly grated horseradish crème fraiche, or fresh white Cromer Crab with a punchy mayo, combining the brown crab meat with smoked paprika and lemon.

British produce is undoubtedly the star of the show with chargrilled asparagus, Jersey royal potatoes and Summer berries topping the bill every year; although we’re not adverse to embracing our inner-Mediterranean with a flask of chilled gazpacho to keep Summer temperatures at bay.

And to drink? Forget the bubbles, instead replace with a delicate blush Provence Rosé or even a chilled Fleurie, perry or cider. Fill a water flask with ice cubes, take a watermelon and knife and the whole party will be quenched all afternoon long.

Like all entertaining, the setting is as important as the food and whether sprawled on tartan picnic rugs with mismatched cushions and eating from a cooler-cum-rucksack, or sat at a pop up table and chairs unpacking the Fortnum’s Hamper, the surrounding paraphenalia goes a long way to create the right ambience.

However there are some rules. Whether a casual, thrown together picnic or an elegant Summer season soiree, napkins must be linen (even vintage tea-towels are preferrable to paper serviettes), cutlery must be sturdy and drinks MUST be enjoyed from proper glasses, although swap stemmed glasses for chunky Picardie tumblers which are durable, stackable and fiendishly stylish.


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