Culture: Packing a punch
Summer’s here and we all love a picnic, but we can be a bit boring when choosing food to put in the picnic basket. Here Maria Broadbent shows us how it should be done. . .
Picnics, holidays, festivals, outdoor events in general – all require sustenance. Many of these places will have an array of eat in and/or takeaway options. However, this can become costly, unhealthy and repetitive. So I thought I would share with you some inspiration for summer food on the move.
I remember as a child in the 70s going to the seaside or up into the Peak District in variable weather conditions and consuming food that had been packed for the day trip. This would always include cream cheese and tomato sandwiches, cucumber spread sandwiches and maybe egg and cress (but not with mayonnaise). We also would have bought cakes – which felt like a treat as we always had homemade at other times. Hula Hoops, strawberries and maybe a pack of cheddar biscuits to share. My aunt who lived on the east coast would pack a series of uninspirational Tupperware tubs with tomatoes, cucumber, rinsed lettuce and hard boiled eggs – even as an eigth-year-old I must have had stirrings as a foodie. . . as I was aware that there had to be a more interesting way.
I could never help thinking that sandwiches were called sandwiches simply based on the fact that invariably the main ingredient ended up being sand!
The French revelation
In the early 80s we started going to France in the car. We would stop off in little villages and buy french bread, pâté, cheese and the most amazing patisserie. Mum had a built-in tracking device to find markets – so we would choose plump red tomatoes and heavy ripe melons. Even just the fresh baguette with creamy french butter was a revelation to my tastebuds. On a French exchange trip we went to the beach in the South of France and my penfriend’s dad packed everything ready to take. He then threw the carrier bag with the rubbish down the chute from the kitchen (they lived in an apartment). He picked up the other carrier bag to discover it was full of rubbish – quelle horreur! The food bag was, however, rescued from the garbage pile and had miraculously survived. The melon in particular was so warm and ripe, it made the rock hard, flavourless ones you could buy here at the time seem most unappealing.
Keeping your cool
Cool boxes, cool bags, fridges that plug into your car, a well in the sand on the beach, a carrier bag secured at the edge of the stream are all good ways to keep at least drinks cool. Also if you do not completely refill some water bottles with water, iced tea, punch, squash or fruit juice and pop these in the freezer the night before, they will then act as ice blocks without wasting precious space. You can even put a few more of these in a normal plastic storage box if space in the cool box is at a premium.
Some ideas for robust and tasty food
Sausage rolls – homemade are much better as they are not quite so flaky and you can make them much tastier. There are of course vegetarian alternatives to these.
Scotch eggs – bought or homemade (they are not as fiddly as they appear)
Sweet and savoury muffins
Sweet or savoury flapjacks
Salads including (but please don’t take rice as you can’t keep it safe):
Potato salad – potato dishes in general travel well
Mixed bean salads
Hummus or other dips with celery, cucumber, breadsticks and red pepper (you can buy reusable little kilner jars so everyone has their own.
Grapes, strawberries and other fruit
Chicken drumsticks or chicken skewers
Pâté (fish, meat or vegetarian)
Tortilla wraps (if tightly rolled are much less messy than a sarnie – especially if you wrap them in foil)
Cut the top off a ‘proper’ loaf, then hollow it out. Decide what you want to stuff it with – nothing too wet, I suggest cream cheese or mozzarella with layers of roasted pepper, courgette and onions. Remember to season well with salt, pepper and herbs. Pop the lid back on, wrap tightly in clingfilm and chill overnight
in the fridge. Don’t forget to take a knife to cut it with!
Frittata or tortilla
Choose your flavours, you can use mushrooms, peppers, salami, smoked salmon, roasted peppers, asparagus, cheese. Beat the eggs with salt and pepper (I like to add freshly-chopped parsley or chives). Line a baking tray or cake tin with baking parchment and layer your chosen ingredients and then pour over the beaten egg. Below I have given you a basic recipe – feel free to play. This one does not have salt added because of the saltiness of the feta.
2 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, sliced
3 red peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
A good pinch of herbes de Provence
50g stoned olives, chopped
200g feta cheese, roughly chopped
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190°C (gas 5). Grease and line the base of a 20cm sandwich tin.
Heat the oil in a deep heavy-based frying pan. Gently cook the onions for 5 minutes until transparent, then add the peppers and thyme – cook for 20 minutes over a medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Add the olives and cheese to the vegetables and take the pan off the heat.
Season the beaten eggs with black pepper, then stir into the vegetables and mix well. Pour into the tin and bake for 35 minutes until golden and firm to the touch.
Remove cake from the oven and let it rest for
3 minutes. Turn it out onto a large plate, then flip it back onto a platter so it is right side up. Cut into wedges. It’s delicious served hot, warm or cold.
. . .You can make individual ones of these in muffin trays.
Kitchen roll (napkins)
Clean dish cloth
Wet wipes (flannel)
A bag for your rubbish
A picnic blanket or a few towels will do the same thing
If it’s very hot or you have small children, a parasol or mini tent.
A first aid kit including anti-bug stuff and sunscreen
Board, knife and scissors
Melamine plates (or paper)
Cutlery – try to avoid plastic single use stuff
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant Casa del Mar in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds. Tel 01284 701313.