Monday, 3 August 2009

In Which She Has Strong Ideas on What Constitutes a Good Picnic

Another golden rule is: don't lose your cool. Yogi Bear
A picnic is the Englishman's grand gesture, his final defiance flung in the face of fate. No climate in the world is less propitious to picnics that the climate of England, yet with a recklessness which is almost sublime the English rush out of doors to eat a meal on every possible and impossible occasion...Nowhere does the national passion for picnicking show itself more clearly that in our choice of occasions for high days and holidays. No other nation has so many out-of-doors celebrations...All classes and ranks share in this taste; bank holidays see Hampstead Heat turned into one vast picnic ground, and on Derby Day Epsom Downs are so closely packed with people that thew hole population of London seems to have gone a-picnicking. Taken from English Picnics by Georgina Battis-Coombe
Nothing says culinary disaster more than the average English picnic. Yet we're a hardy race venturing forth into the countryside, proclaiming that he weather will turn eventually, putting up with things and NOT COMPLAINING about the limp ham sandwich, warm pop and slightly crushed packet of cheese and onion we're presented when we need to find a little nourishment. This state of affairs, gentle reader, is not for me, when I picnic I like to have a proper feed, something nice to eat which restores my aching mind and body. This is because when I picnic it is always after I've erected an eight man tent. Let me expand on that. When I picnic it is always after I've erected an eight man ten WITH THE DH. Ah, the DH, the sweariest man in the West Midlands (and that, gentle reader, is saying something). Don't get me wrong, he doesn't swear that much at home, he saves his swears for special occasions: assembling flat pack furniture and putting up the tent: but when it does come out it pours forth in a torrent of foul, if creative, Anglo-Saxon, it's like an x-rated Norse saga of a swear, he can swear in blank verse, it doesn't stop, there are rhyming couplets and sub-plots, characterisation and surreal montage. Basically, the man can really, really, swear. So whilst standing in the middle of 20kg of canvas with my arms holding not-so-lightweight-pole-A aloft for what seems like an eternity I am simultaneously following the DH's foul instruction, attempting to make sure the kids don't listen to DH's foul instruction, and smiling apologies to the couple in the deck chairs reading The Daily Mail who are most disturbed by the DH's misuse of our ancient and venerable language.
After this I need to soothe his savage brow, after this I need to soothe my savage brow (it's either I eat, I do something unnatural to him with a tent peg), after this I need to give a peace offering to tently-neighbours, after this I have to physically remove my kids from the adventure playground I've sent them to in order to avoid their dad's linguistic pyrotechnics and to do all of this I need to be prepared. This is what I don't do.
  • I never make sandwiches. They go limp and unless they are made with lovely homemade bread they go soggy. Unfortunately, you need to dislocate you jaw like a python to eat a sandwich made with my homemade bread. Doorstops! Did someone say doorstops?
  • Sponge cakes and cakes with nice icing on are a bad idea. They get bashed about, the icing melts away or goes a bit off, they're a pig to cut unless you have a good knife and plate. Avoid Victoria sponges, carrot cakes and so on if you are to have a successful picnic.
  • Keep it simple. If you are the chief cook and bottle washer, you don't want to stress out preparing and packing a picnic. Don't bite off more than you can chew, as it were. Have three good dishes and some fruit, as a maximum.
This is what I do.
Pop an espresso machine on the campstove and have it fill with bloody good coffee whilst you dish out:
Tabbouleh*, French bread, hard boiled eggs, apricot muffins, oranges and lemon squash
Devilled chicken, potato salad, marmalade cake, apples, and ginger beer
Cornish pasties, homemade chutney, apples, lemon cake and squash.
You know, after this repast the DH transforms back into Husband and Father of the Year and flies kites/goes rockpooling/paddling/sandcastle making and I have another cup of coffee and break out the Persephone book I've been saving for my holidays, and all is well, gentle reader, all is well.
Now, if you want any recipes featured on the picnic menus, speak up and I will email you. But do it quick as I'm off to sunny/torrential** Devon in a bit!
Oh, but before you go. Here's how 1940s Americans liked to picnic. A formal, dignified, affair, I imagine, without the not-so-quet hum of dirty words reverberating in the background...
Almost everybody likes a picnic - except mother. But a picnic can be such a pleasant event for the young and old alike that mother should be able to work out a type of picnic which will permit her to enjoy the novelty in the open air as much as everyone.
Prepared Picnic No.2
Fried chicken
Cold Fried Corn
Sliced Tomatoes Cloe slaw
Buttered Bread or Rolls
Apple Pie Cheese
Milk Tea Coffee
Taken from Meta Given's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking
*I make a big tabbouleh with chickpeas in it and lot of coriander and mint, not so much parsley
**Who can predict the future? Do I really want to know what's ahead? It's best not to mess with the kind of false prophesy they laughingly call weatherforecasting.


Gretchen Joanna said...

Quite inspiring, whether one wants the hardy English version with lots to (not) complain about or your hassle-free yummies. I am feeling a lack of picnicking in my life....

Lisa Richards said...

I just love reading blogs with an English accent! (Yup, I'm an American. But in my head...well, there's that beautiful accent!)

Somehow, my picnic lunches are never this extravagant. I'll have to try harder.

You make me laugh...a LOT! Thanks!

Lisa =0)

debbie bailey said...

You are so funny! I've posted my bike post if you'd care to look.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Gretchen
If I have inspired you to picnic, then I am most pleased.

Hi Lisa
Ooh, I don't know if you'd call my accent that beautiful. I'm very Julie Walters and slightly my head though, I sound like Judy Dench. I'm glad I made you laugh!

Hi Debbie
You know I love your bike! Debbie, you need a basket for the front of it, it would really top it off, you could pop your cat in it...

Nan said...

Oh my gosh, you are the best writer! I loved this. I'm not a picnic girl at all. I'm not a camping girl at all. I like to eat and sleep indoors. :<)
PS Tom just saw the movie Away We Go, and guess what! Diamond Day was on the soundtrack!! Isn't that thrilling?!

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Nan
That's so cool. Is that the movie written by Dave Eggers? Did Tom enjoy it?

PS. Thank you for the compliment.
PPS. We camp because we're broke and because we're green (in that order!).

Angela said...

Please post the marmalade cake recipe some time!
Best wishes for a good time in Devon [w or w/o sun!]

Left-Handed Housewife said...

I think I'm one of those folks who likes the idea of picnicking more than a picnic itself. Still, I have a dream of one day lounging in some beautiful "Enchanted April" location some day, glass of wine in one hand, a big fat chicken drumstick in the other. No bugs allowed, of course, and quite possibly no other people, just me, my drumstick, and a good book.


Gumbo Lily said...

I had a good time laughing it up at you and the DH! You gave a fine word-picture for me.

I'd love to eat Cornish Pasties for picnic. My family isn't fond of the traditional "cold" fried chicken. If I want sandwiches, I take the bread and knife and we build them on site.

Happy holiday!


~~louise~~ said...

I'm still rolling on the floor as I type this. You, dear lady, are just too funny!!!

My camping experience this past week not only reminded me of why we picnic so often here in the US these days (lack of money for High Tea at either the Waldorf or the Plaza:) but how soggy a really poorly made sandwich can get. Thankfully, we had lots of camp fires filled with s'mores, roasted corn on the cob, and the smell of Nascar to remind us why we were there in the first place.

Keeping your tips, drying my eyes and wishing you sheer elegance!

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Angela
'Tis posted!

Hi Frances
Ah, beautiful solitude. Actually, I want an Edwardian style picnic complete wih linen and servants.

Hi Jody
You're dead right a sanwich has to be fresh to be good. I've not tried cold fried chick, but I love the hot variety.

Hi Louise
I have never eaten a s'more. I didn't even know what one was until just recently, but they sound delicious. I'll perhaps try them for bonfire night/Guy Faulks night.

~~louise~~ said...

YOU are going to luv em!!!