One of the best memories I have of summer as a child was taking afternoon tea down to the wheat fields to join my father during combining. He would take a half hour off from the dusty work of harvesting the year's corn (no air conditioned cabs in those days - just a handkerchief over the nose and mouth) and join mum and me on the picnic rug to feast on crab and cucumber sandwiches (remember Shipman's crab paste?) Victoria sponge or coffee and walnut cake and Tizer (a nuclear-orange coloured fizzy drink from the 70's and 80's). After the meal it was time for a quick game of cricket - the straw bale as a temporary wicket, before mum and I left dad to work until well after dusk, before the next day's rain came to dampen everyones spirits.
Maybe the food has changed a bit since then, as have the combines, but I still love the whole event - cook ahead, pack up the baskets and find a lovely spot in dappled sunshine to enjoy a an alfresco meal with friends or family. This story was a commissioned feature for Food & Travel magazine last summer.
So armed with a selection of your favourite picnic dishes, head off to your favourite tree and settle down for a long afternoon of food, laughter and games - anyone for croquet?
Radishes with smoked or black salt and nasturtium butter
If nasturtiums are unavailable you could easily use your favourite soft herb such as chives, basil, tarragon or parsley - chop finely and stir through the butter. You can buy smoked salt from specialist suppliers, either online or from fine food stores.
20 nasturtium flowers, plus extra to serve
100g unsalted butter, softened
1-2 teaspoon smoked sea salt *
a pinch freshly ground pepper
1 bunch radishes
a few nasturtium leaves, to serve
Make sure the nasturtium flowers are bug and dirt free brushing them gently with a small paint brush. Chop roughly and place in a small food processor with the butter, salt and a little pepper. Blend until smooth and the butter is a speckled orange colour. Place in a jar and seal. Store in the fridge until required.
Wash the radishes and trim and discard any large leaves. Serve with the nasturtium butter and some extra smoked sea salt.
*smoked sea salt is available online or from larger supermarkets
Carpaccio of beetroot cured salmon with horseradish dressing
Ask your fishmonger for the tail end of the fish making slicing far easier and make sure the skin is left on. You will need to start this 3 days ahead.
2 x 500g fillets salmon
100g sea salt flakes
100g unrefined sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon vodka
1 small raw beetroot, peeled and finely grated (about 150g)
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
250g crème fraiche
2 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish or creamed horseradish sauce
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
Rye bread or soda bread, to serve
Place a fillet of fish, skin side down in a plastic container. Mix the salt, sugar, lemon zest, vodka, grated beetroot and the pepper together. Spread over the salmon then place the other fillet skin-side up over the top, so the fillets sit flesh to flesh together.
Wrap with cling film and using a small board weighed down with a heavy weight (such as a pestle and mortar) and place in the fridge. After 12 hours pour away the liquid that has pooled in the base and turn the fish over. Return to the fridge and replace the weight. After a further 24 hours, pour away any more liquid and this time scrape off the beetroot.
Sandwich the fillets together, wrap and place back in the fridge, again weighted down, for a final 24 hours.
Before serving, combine the crème fraiche, horseradish, tarragon and a little salt and pepper in a bowl. Very thinly slice the salmon with the knife slanting across the fish down towards the tail. Serve on slices of rye bread with some of the sauce and a few tarragon sprigs.
Summer garlic and onion flatbread with goat cheese
If you can find whole bulbs of fresh garlic use these as they have a lovely mellow flavour as well as looking delightful. Alternatively, simply use large garlic cloves, thinly sliced.
1 head young garlic (or 12 whole cloves)
1 bunch spring onions, trimmed
1/2 bunch chives, with flowers if possible
125g goat cheese log
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon clear honey
salt and pepper
350g bread flour
a pinch salt
7g dried yeast
250-260ml warm water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Make up bread dough. Sift the flour into the bowl of a food mixer with dough hooked attached. Add the salt and yeast and stir through. Then gradually work in the water and oil with the machine on low until the mixture comes together. Increase to medium and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth.
Oil a large bowl, shape the dough into a ball and place in the bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and leaved to rise for about 1 hour until doubled in volume.
Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Trim the top and the roots form the whole garlic and slice thinly lengthways through the whole bulb and stem (or sice the garlic cloves thinly). Cut the spring onions in half lengthways.
Blanch the garlic slices in boiling water for 2 mins. Drain and refresh under cold water and dry well. Repeat with the onions and chives for 1 minute and then 10 seconds respectively. Drain, refresh and dry well.
Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6. Divide dough in half and shape each roughly into a 20x30cm rectangle. Top each one with the half the goat cheese and arrange the blanched garlic, spring onions, chives and flowers over the top. Scatter with sesame seeds and drizzle with the oil and honey. Season with salt and pepper.
Transfer to a large baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and lightly risen. Cool on a wire tray.
Country-style pork and rabbit terrine with pickled plum relish
Terrines make perfect picnic food, they can be made several days ahead and stored in the fridge as the flavour will continue to improve. This recipe calls for rabbit and I recommend buying the saddle or back loin of the rabbit where there is more meat and it is easier to get off the bone – alternatively you could use chicken breast fillets if you prefer.
350g smoked streaky bacon rashers, rind removed
500g skinless pork belly, diced
500g rabbit meat, diced
1 small onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
75ml dry cider
2 tablespoons brandy
75g whole shelled pistachio nuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
8 juniper berries, crushed
salt and pepper
pickled plum relish
1 piece stem ginger, plus 1 tablespoon syrup from jar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
75g brown sugar
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
Make the terrine. Take the bacon slices and using the back of your knife pull along the length of the bacon so it stretches it, doubling the length. Use this to line a 1 litre capacity loaf tin, allowing the bacon to overhang the edges. If there is any bacon left, chop finely.
Put the pork belly, rabbit and chopped bacon into a food processor and process briefly until coarsely minced. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in all the remaining ingredients until evenly combined. Cover and set aside for 1 hour for the flavours to infuse.
Pre-heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2. Spoon the pork mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top. Cover the terrine with the overhanging bacon slices and cover the tin with foil. Place in a roasting tin and pour in enough boiling water to come half the way up the sides of the tin. Transfer to the oven and cook for 1 hour. Remove the foil and cook for a further 30 minutes until a skewer, inserted into the center, comes out hot.
Remove the terrine from the oven carefully so as not to spill any meat juices and leave to cool completely. Place a piece of waxed paper over the terrine and top with a heavy weight, refrigerate overnight.
For the pickled plums. Cut the plums in half and discard stones. Place in a saucepan with all the remaining ingredients, bring to the boil slowly to dissolve the sugar and then simmer for 20-25 minutes until softened. Let cool completely and store in a jar.
To un-mould the terrine remove the waxed paper and turn out onto a board. Serve in slices with the plum relish and some crusty bread.
Frisée, French bean and pear salad with aged Manchego
It is best to transfer all the ingredients for the salad whole and separately so you can assemble it at the last moment, keeping it fresh. The dressing however can be mixed ahead and stored in a jar.
250g French beans, trimmed
50g pine nuts
1 large pear
1 frisée lettuce, separated
75g aged Manchego, crumbled
1 small shallot, very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
11/2 teaspoons caster sugar
1-11/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Blanch the beans in lightly salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Refresh under cold water, drain and dry thoroughly. Dry fry the pine nuts in a small frying pan over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until golden. Let cool.
Make the dressing. Place all the ingredients together in a sealable jar. Add lid, shake well and remember to shake again before dressing the salad.
To serve, quarter and core the pear and then cut into slices. Place in a large bowl with the beans, pine nuts, lettuce and crumbled cheese. Add some dressing and toss before serving.
Lemony goat cheese tartlets with blueberries and lavender
The lovely crumbly biscuit bases here, are made using Speculoos biscuits. These are rich Dutch/Belgian butter biscuit flavoured with spice (often served alongside coffee) and are available from specialist food stores or online. You can use ginger nuts as an alternative.
175g speculoos or gingernuts, crushed
75g butter, melted
225g fresh goat curd
100ml clear honey
grated zest and juice 1 lemon
300ml double cream
4 teaspoons caster sugar
a few edible lavender flowers (optional)
Place the biscuits in a food processor and blend until finely ground. Melt the butter in a small pan, stir into the biscuit crumbs and stir until evenly combined. Spoon the mixture into the 6 x 10cm tartlet tins, pressing over the base and up the sides of each one. Transfer to the fridge and leave to set for 15 minutes.
Beat the goat cheese, honey and lemon juice together until creamy and smooth gradually whisk in the cream until smooth and light. Leave to chill until required.
Meanwhile, heat the blueberries, sugar and 1 teaspoon of lavender petals over a low heat until the blueberries begin to burst. Using a slotted spoon remove the blueberries and place in a bowl. Increase the heat and reduce the juices for 2-3 minutes until syrupy. Pour over the blueberries and leave to go cold.
Just before transporting to the picnic, divide the filling between the tart cases and loosen a little from the tins. Just before serving spoon over the blueberry mixture and serve with a few extra lavender flowers.
Recipes: Louise Pickford
Photographs: Ian Wallace
© Food & Travel magazine
Feature first published 2015