One of the best things about the English summer is eating outdoors. Picnics, barbeques, summer evening drinks…there’s always an excuse to be outside. To help prepare you for such joyous occasions, Rita Konig, author of Rita’s culinary Trickery, shares her tips on outdoor dining.
People generally make less of an effort with the table when they are eating outside, but, in fact, this is the time when it is really fun to fuss. When people sit down at a beautifully laid table in the garden on a glorious sunny afternoon, you are at least three–quarters of the way to giving them a really good lunch, and you haven’t produced any food yet.
I am much keener on using tablecloths outside than indoors. Outside tables are generally not as nice as those indoors and so benefit from being covered. I am a huge fan of the antique heavy linen sheets you find in France. They make wonderful tablecloths and their flaxy colour is really smart.Equally great are highly starched damask cloths – a little grandeur in the open air is a lot less stuffy than it is indoors.
I also like the idea of a patchwork tablecloth, made from vintage napkins. Buy them up (cheaply) and stitch them together with a good coloured thread. Make sure that the dye won’t run when washed. Jugs or vases of flowers on outdoor tables look pretty, particularly because you don’t expect them outside.
It doesn’t matter how haphazard an outdoor table is. If you are totally unprepared and have no outdoor furniture, simply take the dining–room furniture outside, or find an old trestle table with benches and add some big, juicy cushions. The advantage of a trestle is that it is so mobile and can be taken down to the end of a garden or into a field and put under the shade of a big tree – if everyone is prepared to carry the lunch down there too.
Shade, from a tree or a big umbrella, is very important when you are eating outside. Some people like to sit in the sun, but children shouldn’t sit in the direct sunlight, and I begin to feel faint just looking at a table without shade. If you can’t offer a tree or umbrella, put hats on the table instead. I like a bit of shade in the evening, too; the night sky can seem awfully big and being under a tree gives you a little protection.
Eating Outdoors at night
For dinner on the terrace all the same principles apply, but you need some light. Nightlights floating in some water in little jars or tumblers look pretty, and candelabras or candlesticks are wonderful on a very still night.
Hurricane shades are the obvious answer, but they do take up a lot of space. Vases can double as hurricane shades and different shapes and colours along a table look great. Hang lanterns in the trees, or get those coloured lightbulbs on garlands and hang them all around the garden with bunting for the ultimate English festive garden.
This is an extract from Rita’s culinary Trickery by Rita Konig.
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