Cooking for the Outdoors
The arrival of May brings with it the enticement of outdoor festivities. I’ve found that one of my favourite ways to ritualise the coming of spring is to plan a fantastic day of picnicking with friends and family. While the payoff is massive, planning a day out can entail more considerations than you might think. If you’re looking to plan a day of picnicking, there are a few tips that will give you a head start in ensuring that your picnic is a great success.
Although London has some stunning parks that provide a great setting for a day of al fresco fun, I always jump at the chance to get away from the city and soak up the beautiful British countryside. For a fantastic day of outdoor festivities, I recommend heading down to Garsons Farm in Esher, which my family and I have frequented for years. A scenic farm only 15 miles from the centre of London, Garsons’ large pick-your-own farm makes for a brilliant day of picking and picnicking.
Picnic food—there really is no better way to eat outdoors. Taking simple ingredients and a picture-perfect setting and putting together the things you want to eat in the sunshine: fresh, vibrant tomatoes, soft fruits, crusty bread and smelly cheeses, to name but a few. A picnic is not a truly successful occasion unless you have sticky fingers and a huge mess to shake off of the rug afterwards!
My ideal picnic basket consists of breads, cheeses, fresh salads, and bright, flavourful dishes. For a lighter option, I like to make Sweet and Sour Noodles with Chargrilled Vegetables—this is a great simple dish that is suitable for serving as a main course or alongside other dishes as an accompaniment. It’s packed with flavour and texture, and the aroma of the herbs is delicious.
I don’t think that a picnic is complete without a mouth-watering cheese. A hard cheese is the safest bet if you want to be able to enjoy it all afternoon. Simple garnishes and a knife are all that is needed…quintessentially British! One of my favourite hard English cheeses is Montgomery’s Cheddar, and there is now a Montgomery made with Jersey milk, which is just delicious! (One of my favourite cheesemongers in London is Neal’s Yard Dairy—they offer a fantastic selection of artisan cheeses). Be sure to bring fresh-baked bread with you to pair with the cheese, as well as great olives and tasty tomatoes – or mix the two for the ultimate picnic salad of Heirloom Tomatoes with Olives, Capers and Basil.
Oysters are also a great food to have on a picnic; obviously care has to be taken to ensure they remain iced and are eaten early, but how better to enjoy the outdoor experience than with a glass of champagne and some oysters ‘au naturel’. Simply serve with bread and butter, a lemon, and maybe a hidden bottle of Tabasco for good measure.
When picnicking with the family, it’s great to put a bit of thought into bringing a refreshing drink for everyone to enjoy. For this, I love to prepare fresh Homemade Iced Limeade—something a bit more unusual than your standard lemonade. Limes are slightly more perfumed than lemons and give a tanginess that is very moreish. Good homemade limeade should have a kick of refreshment, be tangy without being bitter, and be sweet enough that the limes don’t attack your throat. Mixed with chilled beer it makes a great shandy.
Overall, it’s about using those wonderful seasonal ingredients that allow us to spend a few hours grazing in the sun.