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Pack up a picnic and you can be sure of rain…

August 7, 2011

I love a picnic.  What’s there not to love?  Little parcels of tasty morsels; gently basking in dappled sunlight; chilled refreshing jugs of Pimms and lemonade; luscious cool grass, tickling your feet as you stretch and relax on a soft and comforting tartan blanket…

Oh no, wait.  That’s how picnics are supposed to be…

In reality, many of them mirror our afternoon picnic on a grassy hill at Tolethorpe Hall yesterday, where we’d stopped for a spot of high tea, before enjoying ‘A Winter’s Tale’ performed by the Stamford Shakespeare company at the Rutland Open Air Theatre in the grounds.  That experience spoke more of huddling together on portable camping chairs, warily eyeing up the big grey clouds poised dangerously over our heads, that were spitting out the occasional fat droplets of rain to try to dampen our spirits, whilst we were trying to ignore the howling wind and the wasps determined to join us for spot of jam and cream on scones.  Despite this experience (and many more aside), I still love a picnic.

They are jolly sociable.  Even as we feared getting wet or falling backwards and rolling off down the hill, there was a comradeship as we knew we all shared the same fate, and come what may, we’d face it together!  They are twee – all the wicker and checked fabric is enough to send any self-confessed Kidston fan over the edge.  They are informal, fun, can be as long or as short as you like, and can be as cheap or expensive as you like – in fact, more flexible than your flexible friend!

But of course for me, it’s all about the food.  When I was asked to put the picnic spread together, I didn’t plan a last-minute shop in the supermarket to fill my trolley full of scotch eggs and pork pies (though I wouldn’t condemn anyone that did).  No, no, no.  I got out my posh notebook, the one where I jot down all my foodie thoughts and began my one-woman crusade to provide the best picnic the slopes of Tolethorpe Hall have ever seen!  Not sure if I quite managed it, but it was a pretty good nosh up – here’s what I made:

  • Salmon Croûtes – thanks to a lovely little recipe in Olive Magazine last month (page 44 July, for those of you that have it)  Basically, succulent salmon fillets wrapped and cooked in puff pastry, and then cut up to the size of sausage rolls.  I wasn’t so sure about how these would turn out, but my goodness, they are super delicious cold!
  • Egg Mayonnaise, mixed with some crunchy spring onions – just hard-boiled eggs, a good load of Hellman’s (I had to cut corners somewhere!), generous amount of salt and pepper and the scallions.
  • Olive Tapenade – 350g black olives (pitted), 5 sun-dried tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of drained capers; 2 garlic cloves; teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves; tablespoon Dijon mustard; juice of half a lemon and 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil – whizz the whole lot up in a blender and Bob’s your uncle.  This is a vegetarian version – add a few anchovies if you don’t have a boyfriend that moans at the very sound of the ‘A’ word!
  • Sausage and Pickle Rolls – made using my normal method, but instead of onions or leeks, I just spoon some pickle on top of the sausage meat before wrapping up the pastry.
  • Chicken Drumsticks – just some free-range drumsticks cooked in a hot oven with seasoning, olive oil and fresh thyme.  Simples!
  • Mackerel Pâté – my favourite recipe is this one from Delia – so easy, yet so tasty!
  • A whole loaf of Crusty Seeded Bread, thanks to my trusty bread maker (and my lovely family, that bought me it for Christmas)
  • Fruit scones, with Jam and Clotted Cream (I made the scones and jam, but wouldn’t know where to start with the cream!)
  • Cup of Tea Cake (recipe to follow in a couple of days)

What do you think? Is that a good picnic?

Apparently picnics date back from medieval times, when the wealthy used to have elaborate outdoor feasts for the hunting.  Good to know the wealthy of Stamford are keeping up the tradition as they went hunting for a dry, sunny patch of grass yesterday!

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