Blog 8 June 2015 – Traditional picnic food

Traditional picnic food

The Taster Magazine Update: Traditional picnic food

At last, picnic weather! The Wind in the Willows (featuring Toad of Toad Hall) is one of our favourite books. It may or may not be coincidence that it also sheds much light on the constituents of what used to be a traditional British diet for genteel folk. It begins on the very first page, where Mole intimidates some officious rabbits by shouting “Onion-sauce!” (just as a more recent joke involved singing about mint sauce and lambs). A few pages more, and Rat invites Mole on a picnic:

[Ratty] reappeared staggering under a fat wicker luncheon-basket.

“Shove that under your feet,” he observed to the Mole, as he passed it down into the boat. Then he untied the painter and took the sculls again.

“What’s inside it?” asked the Mole, wriggling with curiosity.

“There’s cold chicken inside it,” replied the Rat briefly:

“O stop, stop!” cried the Mole in ecstasies. “This is too much!”

“Do you really think so?” enquired the Rat seriously. “It’s only what I always take on these little excursions; and the other animals are always telling me that I’m a mean beast and cut it very fine!”

Note the absence of, for example, boiled eggs, whole tomatoes, cheese, and much variety of sandwich. Instead, Ratty balances five types of meat (chicken, tongue, ham, beef and potted meat) with cress sandwiches, gherkins and salad. Which, plus some bread and soft drinks, makes up the entire picnic.

‘Cold cuts’ certainly used to be far more popular than they are today. In The Taster’s opinion, this seems inextricably linked to the equally declining popularity of Sideboards and Dressers: those large, impressive, old-fashioned pieces of furniture used to store crockery, cutlery and glassware; and which doubled up as surfaces upon which to display buffets, cold collations, or any other form of help-yourself feast.

The main problem with these pieces of furniture is their old-fashioned air and their size. Until very recently, the desire for spacious rooms was tempered by the need to keep warm and cosy, and no-one seemed to mind cramming huge dressers into teeny parlours. But we wonder, now that we have kitchen-diners, open-plan sitting-rooms and so on, whether – coupled with the fashion for shabby-chic – a resurgence in both the Sideboard and the Cold Collation is not due. The Cold Collation is very cook-friendly, since nothing has to be kept warm; most of it can be prepared in advance; and it is an excellent way of presenting thrifty leftovers. It is more or less a lovely indoor picnic, in fact. For a retro feast that is much easier to prepare than it looks, we would suggest this – and it can be adapted for al fresco dining (perhaps without the trifle):

Cold sliced meat (however many types you like. This can include deli meats)
One large sliced pork pie
One platter of quails’ eggs dipped in celery salt
One platter smoked salmon
One large sliced quiche
Sausage rolls (if you can warm these in the oven just beforehand, they are extra nice)
A basket of freshly torn baguette pieces (ditto)
Tomato salad, with onion and white wine vinegar
Potato salad, with chives and fresh herbs
One large trifle
One plateful of brandy-snaps stuffed with whipped cream
Stilton, Snowdonia ‘Green Thunder’ Cheddar & celery sticks or grapes
A basket of whole apples
A bowl of fresh strawberries

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Found a new funny vid, warning against the perils of TOO MUCH DRINK, for our YouTube channel. Try this:

Have a great Tuesday,

The Taster

PS click on COOK for seasonal cooking ideas, or on our CALENDAR for foodie events this month.