Pack up a Picnic and Enjoy the Great Outdoors By Lynne Heard

A picnic may have many different meanings and hold a whole variety of memories for each and every one of us. Some may see a picnic as a romantic affair to be shared with a loved one, with shared food and a bottle of wine, in fact my husband proposed to me on a picnic in Stratford-upon-Avon by the river over 26 years ago!

For me, a picnic also brings back many memories of inexpensive family days out as a child, which were always my favourite childhood memories. For others, it’s also a chance to spend time with friends and catch up, even if it has had to be at a social distance in recent times. Meeting up with friends and extended family members outside during the summer months has never felt more enjoyable, especially since that freedom was taken away from us for a good few months in the spring.

Whilst many people do choose a countryside spot for their picnic, there are lots of other settings to choose from, such as local parks, the grounds of stately homes, sitting along the river bank, or a day trip to the zoo or safari park. And if you don’t actually feel like travelling very far one day, a picnic is also a lovely thing to do with family or friends in your own back garden, and it’s not so far to be carrying all the stuff!

For many people, a picnic consists of traditional items such as sandwiches, crisps, sausage rolls, boiled eggs, cake and fruit. However, adding a touch of a Mediterranean feel can really mix things up for a change! Things like deli-style cold meats, pasta salad, French bread and cheese, olives and hummus, can be a lovely change from the traditional pack of sandwiches. You can also choose to create items from special picnic recipe books or make up some of your own.

One of the tricks of successful picnicking is packaging up the food correctly so that things don’t get squashed and crushed beyond recognition and drinks don’t leak all over the food. There is nothing worse than trekking for a couple of miles in the hot weather, to finally sit down to your family picnic, and find that your hard work in preparation has been ruined in transit.

Use special plastic containers, cling film, tin foil and sandwich bags, or buy things pre-packed and make sure to put the heavier items at the bottom, so as not to crush the lighter, softer items. You could pack everything into a cool box or cool bag, or you could even splash out on a traditional picnic hamper. My parents bought me a lovely picnic hamper for a special birthday a few years ago, and since then they have both sadly passed away, so using the picnic hamper now feels extra special, and reminds me of them and our lovely family picnics when I was younger.

Taking the right equipment can be just as important as remembering the right ingredients. You can buy brightly coloured plastic plates, cups and cutlery to enhance your experience these days. In addition to the plates, cutlery and cups, a small chopping board and sharp knife (carefully packaged) can be useful, as well as a roll of clingfilm to wrap up any leftovers. It’s a good idea to remember to take napkins, kitchen roll, wet wipes and hand sanitiser, as eating a picnic can get messy, especially if you are sitting on a rug rather than at a table. Remember to take some rubbish bags too, never leave litter behind.

It’s not just about the food and drink. Most picnics include some form of group exercise, and fresh air and exercise is a great boost for the mind, body and soul, especially this year, which has been very difficult for many of us! And if the weather isn’t being kind, you could always create a ‘carpet picnic’ inside the house, it can be great fun for kids and adults of any age!

Easy Picnic Recipes

Here are some easy and tasty homemade picnic ideas, ideal for kids and adults alike!

Ingredients

Spiced Bean and Carrot Patties
Makes 15

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and grated
1 tsp harissa paste
400g can cannellini beans, drained
400g can red kidney beans, drained
3 tbsp freshly chopped mint
100g fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for shallow frying

Easy Hummus
Serves 6

425g tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp tahini paste
Juice of 2 lemons
50ml/2 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to season
Paprika
A few stoned black olives

Lamb Koftas
Makes 12

350g lean minced lamb
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tbsp fresh chopped coriander
Squeeze of lemon juice

Spiced Bean and Carrot Patties

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and fry for 5 minutes until softened. Cool for 5 minutes then place in a food processor with the carrots, harissa paste, beans, mint and breadcrumbs.

Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper and process for about 30 seconds until well blended. Shape the mixture into 15 small round patties. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Shallow fry the patties in hot vegetable oil for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper then serve with salad and dressing.

Easy Hummus

Place the chickpeas, garlic, tahini and lemon juice in a processor and blend on full speed until the mixture forms a paste. On a low speed gradually add the olive oil. If the mixture looks too dry add a little warm boiled water to soften. Taste and season well with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if needed.

Serve sprinkled with paprika, a drizzle of olive oil and black olives. Add a selection of crudites and strips of pitta for dipping.

This recipe can be made up to 3 days in advance and can be put into a screw top jar or tupperware for transporting.

Lamb Koftas

Soak the wooden skewers in cold water first for about 20 minutes to prevent the ends burning under the grill.

Place the mince, onion, garlic, spices, fresh coriander and lemon juice in a food processor. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then process until very finely minced.

Divide the mixture into 12 and using clean damp hands, shape each into an oval. Push each oval onto the end of a long wooden skewer and place on a foil-lined grill pan.

Cook under a preheated medium grill for 8-10 minutes, turning frequently, until browned and cooked through.