Most everyone has a hazy, romantic notion of picnics: a hamper filled with gourmet delicacies and real china. A blanket spread under a tree by the riverbank. A stringed instrument and a bit of poetry…. Okay, maybe that’s a little excessive, but the point is, a picnic is much, much more than lunch packaged up to go. It’s an event to be savoured and remembered long after it’s over, on drizzly February afternoons indoors.
This summer, spend a sunny afternoon having a proper picnic. Treat it as entertainment as much as lunch, as a healthy, old-fashioned way to reconnect with a few of your favourite people, and as a way to get a new perspective on whatever patch of green happens to be nearby. Here are some ideas for what to bring and how to enjoy your picnic.
1. Pack your picnic hampers (or boxes or bags) with foods that are portable—not convenience foods. The simpler the better: think of fresh, ripe, seasonal fruits and cut-up raw vegetables like carrots, fennel, cherry tomatoes, and celery; fresh baked bread from home or a good bakery; cured sausages and cold cuts; tinned fish; and cheeses and olives.
2. Make a few simple vegetable salads, and dips
, like hummus and tabbouleh, or pasta salad dressed in oil and vinegar. Avoid salads with mayonnaise-based dressings. Not only are they less healthy, but they also don’t keep well in the heat.
3. Pre-assemble some sandwiches for your picnic. Spread a very thin layer of butter on good quality wholemeal bread to keep it from getting soggy. Then add a variety of different fillings: avocado and sprouts; cucumber and cheese; ham and cheese; bacon, lettuce, and tomato (pack the sliced tomatoes separately.) Alternatively, bring the ingredients and assemble sandwiches al fresco. If you go this way, you can avoid the layer of butter on the bread.
4. Consider packing real dishes and cutlery, rather than paper or plastic. It’s more work, to be sure, but how much more pleasant it is to eat from mismatched, chipped china, and to drink from glass tumblers? As long as you’re not hiking for miles into the woods for your picnic, this extra effort is well worth the aesthetic pleasure it brings.
5. Bring along a big picnic blanket or two, so that everyone can spread out and be comfortable, and maybe even have a postprandial nap. You might also bring a book, a Frisbee, and maybe even a guitar. Remember, this is not just lunch on the go: it’s an afternoon to remember.