Picnics take a little planning. It’s not what’s being eaten, but how to eat it, that’s the problem. Rita Konig, author of ‘Rita’s culinary Trickery’, has a few tricks up her sleeve for easy and stylish picnicking.
The British are pretty good at picnics. So good, in fact, that the French have adopted our word for them since they don’t seem to have one of their own. And that is saying something, as the French tend to consider all things to do with food their area and certainly not something that we know anything about.
Packing for picnics requires a little skill, none of it necessarily culinary, which is probably why the French have allowed us to corner this market.
There are a few dos and don’ts. I find more dos than don’ts, mercifully. In fact, the only things I think are really dreadful on picnics are pre-packed anything and arriving with a whole load of supermarket shopping bags full of food. So depressing, don’t you think? It means no one has lovingly packed the picnic, which is a large part of the point.
Shopping for picnic paraphernalia
Car boot sales, junk shops and antiques markets are all worth investigating for picnic stuff. Thermos flasks have had many style moments. The high–street shops have stylish stainless–steel ones nowadays, or the Chinese ones which are really pretty, but I have a soft spot for the tartan flasks that were au courant in the seventies and now are hard to find. You will find old flasks in car boot sales, and if you are really lucky you might discover the type with a cane design on the outside, one of the many style classics to come out of the Thermos factory.
For cold drinks, hold on to those bottles with the ceramic and rubber stopper that fancy lemonade often comes in. You can also find them in junk shops and they are good for decanting homemade lemonade or fruit juices into. It’s worth decanting anything that comes in a carton because once opened, cartons can’t be closed properly so tend to leak when moved about. Also, glass bottles are much prettier.
Picnic cutlery and plates
For cutlery, I buy up old stuff from the market. There’s always plenty available and it doesn’t matter if you have a real hotchpotch of different handles and styles. The main thing to avoid is plastic – it is impossible to get anything on to a plastic fork or cut anything with a plastic knife. I really don’t see the point of taking plastic as it is not as if you can break normal cutlery and presumably there is no fear of hijack.
Plates are slightly more difficult, but I do think paper ones are really depressing. I know there are times when they are useful, but eating off something that bends, usually with a plastic knife and fork, is tough on morale, and means whatever you are eating is just that little bit less pleasurable.
Paper napkins are never very satisfactory either. I like to take an odd collection of china plates on a picnic, but they do risk getting chipped and broken if they get knocked about too much in the boot of the car. If they are packed tightly enough in a basket they should be OK, though, so don’t write this idea off altogether.
Enamel plates are a good alternative and look fabulous in the picnic hamper. They make a proper old clanking noise on the way; I rather like that travelling-tinker racket in the back of the car. You can get most things in enamel – mugs, bowls and plates – and some shops have coloured enamel, which is divinely pretty, especially when it comes in fondant colours.
For winter picnics, there are enamel mugs with lids to keep your soup or tea warm and these are equally useful in the summer for keeping the wasps out of your wine. I love drinking wine from enamel mugs on picnics, but I hate those plastic stemmed glasses. Plastic is not good to drink from, ever, and I am not big on metal or silver tumblers either, although they are quite practical.
This is an extract from ‘Rita’s Culinary Trickery’ by Rita Konig.
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