Summer is officially here – the days are longer and the weather is warmer, so it’s time to enjoy some sun-and-fun-filled days out, making the most of the great outdoors. Here, former wine merchant Hilary Marsh, creator of Botonique, explains how to pack lots of perfect picnics into your summer.
We Brits aren’t famed for our spontaneity, but with our weather, spontaneity allows us to grab more of the good days, and avoid the disappointing ones. It can also create that wonderful sense of life being full of possibilities, much better than something that felt like a military exercise. Ironically, spontaneity is something best planned for! Thankfully, that isn’t difficult…
Here’s how to pack the perfect picnic:
Have all the non-perishable stuff packed into a back-pack or picnic basket, ready to roll at a moment’s notice, including:
- Good quality plastic “glasses” suitable for old and young alike.
- Empty food containers with strong seals to protect against leakage.
- Plates and bowls.
- Sharp knife and bottle opener.
- Paper napkins.
- Picnic blanket.
- Wipes, tea towels and sealable plastic bags for wet things and rubbish.
- Any special needs such as nappies, medication etc.
Ensure you keep stuff cool:
- You’ll need a cool-box for longer distance car picnics or if it’s an extremely hot day and an insulated bottle carrier for walks to the park.
- For the cool-box, keep some ice-blocks in the freezer at all times.
- For chilling bottles quickly, either keep bottle wraps in the freezer, or if you are short of freezer space, use this trick to chill bottles quickly:
- Wet a tea towel and squeeze the water out slightly.
- Wrap it tightly around the bottle and place that in coldest part of the freezer.
- If you need to make space for this, temporarily take out cooked items, frozen liquids or vegetables (not raw meat) and keep them packed together in a cool place so they keep each other cold enough not to defrost in the short time needed.
- Leave long enough for the wet tea towel to freeze, but not long enough for the contents to freeze or the removed items to unfreeze – typically between 20 and 45 minutes.
- Place the bottle and its iced tea towel wrapping in a leak-proof bag, and place that in the insulated bottle carrier.
- The iced tea towel will carry on chilling the bottle as you travel!
Stock ambient food and drink suitable for picnics, such as:
- Jars of antipasti, gherkins and olives.
- Tins of tuna or similar.
- Nuts and dried fruits.
- Drinks both to hydrate and to celebrate.
A bottle of Champagne may feel like the most celebratory drink to take, but for daytime drinking in hot sun, it may not suit some people. Our bodies handle alcohol less well in the daytime, and heat makes matters worse. So, take something that will give the thrill but without alcohol. For me of course, that is Botonique. It’s a truly satisfying alternative and the nutrients it contains support hydration. Plus, if you are having some wine as well, it replaces the nutrients alcohol depletes, so you won’t feel so bad later on.
At the last minute: If you have all the above lined up, you’ll be able to throw a good picnic together quickly with whatever fresh or frozen food you have to hand, eg:
- If you have freezer space, stock frozen canapés that you can put straight in the oven. Make sure you store warm food well away from the chilled food!
- You are likely to have bread, and eggs can be quickly hard boiled and cooled.
- You are likely to have mayonnaise (which can be used instead of butter), cheese and cured meats in the fridge.
- Wash a selection of whatever fruit you have, including veg fruits like tomatoes and cucumbers.
- Pack ingredients into those boxes and bags in your picnic kit bag.
- Don’t waste time making sandwiches before you leave – do that out there in the sun, delegate, or let people make their own. It’s about having a nice time together!
You should be able to get out of the house with all you need for a perfect picnic within 30 to 45 minutes of deciding to go, which means you’ll decide to go more often! Putting drinks to chill and getting cooked food on the go are the first things to do. In the time they take, you can pull the rest together.
Just remember to wash and put everything back in its place when you get home, and restock, so you are ready to go again!
Why not keep this article with your picnic kit, as a checklist for instant joy? Happy Summers!
About the expert
Hilary Marsh is the creator of Botonique, The Botanical Dry Drinks for Wine Lovers. Formerly a wine merchant and restaurateur, knowledgeable nutritionist and lifelong mixologist, she is now dubbed “a modern-day alchemist” because of the clever drinks she makes, super-indulgent but super-healthy. She draws on a happy childhood making hedgerow wines and elixirs with her family, years of professional wine tasting, traditional herbal wisdom and modern nutritional science to create drinks that are perfectly aligned with proven trends towards lower alcohol consumption and enhanced health.