When Mole inspected the contents of Rat’s ‘fat, wicker luncheon basket’, he found inside it “coldchickencoldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkins
He was an instant convert. As was everyone who ever read, or had read to them, Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in the Willows. Which is as it should be. Because if there’s one thing in life as much fun as messing about in boats, it’s picnicking.
I think it’s got something to do with being allowed to eat with one’s fingers. Whatever. Food always tastes better out of doors.
KG wasn’t the only writer who made the most of the power of picnics to seduce readers. Characters in Enid Blyton books were at it all the time. Take the Famous Five.
They were always on the scrounge from kindly farmers’ wives who would effortlessly conjure giant slabs of sticky gingerbread, fruitcakes, loaves of fresh white bread and slices of home-cured ham, hardboiled eggs and pork pies. And of course, lashings of ginger beer.The hedgerows segmenting the storybook land over which out intrepid heroes rambled provided juicy blackberries, and Julian was always pulling a battered tin frying pan from his rucksack in which to sizzle a few sausages for supper. They certainly didn’t starve.
Mind you, nor did we at the races the weekend before last – an annual outing to the Wellington Cup to gamble and guzzle fizzy wine. And where the horses always run a distant second to The Picnic.
We usually have about 30 to feed. And while there have been years in the past when I’ve spent the day napping under a tree, tuckered out after pulling all-nighters in the kitchen, I’ve got a better handle on this catering lark now. After all, the cook has to enjoy the day too.
So this year I didn’t cook anything at all, just shopped smarter. What’s more, I don’t think anyone even noticed. After all, we had lovely crusty bread and good cheeses, all manner of dippy, spready things out of little tubs from the supermarket, piles of avocados, crunchy vege sticks, smoked mussels, salami and cold roast chicken, watermelon, apricots and strawberries – and chocolates for good measure.
Like I said, nobody starved.
And it was all so easy. Picnics don’t have to be that lavish though. Just snatching a few minutes in the middle of the day to stroll to a park and eat your lunchtime sarnies there instead of at your desk will put you in a picnicky enough frame of mind to forget the rigours of work for a blissful hour.
Pan Bagna is the perfect picnic sandwich: filled with strongly-flavoured Mediterranean-style ingredients and fragrant with fresh herbs, it’s a sort of salad Nicoise in a bun. Doused in olive oil and tied up with string the night before, it’ll slice well without falling apart.
one baguette, anchovies, black olives, tuna, eggs, roasted red pepper, tomatoes, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil
Stone the olives, drain the anchovies and tuna, hardboil the eggs and slice the pepper and tomatoes.
Cut the bread in half through the middle, layer all the ingredients artfully on the bottom half, pack on lots of fresh basil, and drench the lot in olive oil.
Press the other half down on top and tie the sandwich tightly with string. Wrap in tinfoil and refrigerate overnight (anything from four to 24 hours is fine but the longer you leave it the easier it will be to slice).