The Quintessential British Picnic, Indian style
Let’s face it, Brits love a picnic.
Whether your image of the perfect al fresco feast involves proper crockery and champagne at Ascot, or a scotch egg from the boot of a car at the beach, the beauty – and point – of a picnic is its flexibility: any food, any number of people, anywhere. The only non-negotiable is that it must be outside. There’s a delicious irony about a country being obsessive about a meal taken en plein air when the weather is so utterly unpredictable. Perhaps that’s what makes it so special when everything does go to plan. The stars must align in this country for the alfresco dining dream to come together; fabulous weather, charismatic guests, impeccably behaved children, chilled wine and those delicious, bite-sized delicacies. Get it right and you’ll feel like you’ve won the lottery.
The origins of the picnic stretch back as far as the Middle Ages, when a portable feast was the most practical way to feed huntsmen on horseback. By the 17th century, the French had adopted the ‘pique-nique’ (from ‘piquer’ – to pick at, and ‘niquer’ – a small amount), described as an indoor feast at which every guest contributed a dish. In England, by Edwardian times, the upper classes had cottoned on to the pleasures of the picnic and decided to do-away with the formality of the dining room and enjoy eating in their lush surroundings outside. Fortnum & Mason provided decadent picnic hampers full of champagne and lobster – as they can today – while staff dutifully carried them far and wide. Alas, the help is somewhat less common today!
The English summer season – Henley Regatta, Wimbledon, Glyndebourne – is still defined by events where picnics are de rigueur. With socialising back on the cards, and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee on the horizon, expect competitive picnics to be taking place across every garden, village green and city park this summer.
Here are our tips on how to add an Indian edge to your outside entertaining:
Shake up your menu
When you think of classic picnic food, your mind might not immediately go to Indian delicacies, but most Indian starters are just as tasty eaten warm or cold. Think bite-sized onion bhajis, samosas and simple snacks like roasted cashews with spices. Put a fragrant Indian twist on tried and tested recipes – like the humble scotch egg – or make the ultimate retro picnic dish in honour of Her Majesty, Coronation Chicken, which is having a fashionable resurgence!
Channel Indian vibrancy and colour in your scheme
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with a sea of gingham and tartan, if you want your picnic to stand out, you’re going to have to try a little harder. A large, intricately embellished parasol will show you mean business. Beneath it, scatter colourful picnic mattresses and seat pads for added comfort and luxury. If you’re sitting at a table, block-printed tablecloths, placemats and napkins will help bring the scheme together and make your table stand out from the crowd.
Make like the Edwardians and go OTT
Whilst there’s always space for a pared back, simple picnic, sometimes it’s fun to pull out all the stops. In India, particularly for evening al fresco entertaining, when the children have gone to bed, we like to add a little more formality and exuberance.
If you can manage it with outside power points or extension leads, the surprise of seeing a proper lamp outside will elevate the whole al fresco dining experience. Make the table heave with colourful candles and pretty vases of flowers then bring out your best crockery and glassware. If you expect it to get chilly, pop a wool throw on the back of your guests’ chairs before they arrive – you’ll want them to look as vibrant as your tablescape.
Then just pop the champagne and hope that someone delivers the picnic!
- Rukmini Iyer (of ‘The Roasting Tin’ fame).Her new book ‘India Express’ is full of vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian delights. Out in September and available to pre-order from Waterstones now. https://www.waterstones.com/book/india-express/rukmini-iyer/9781529110074
- Fortnum & Mason – still home to the best picnic hampers in town. https://www.fortnumandmason.com/hampers/all-hampers
- Platinum Jubilee Celebrations. We’ll be joining in with the Big Jubilee Lunch on 5th June and decorating our doors and gardens in honour of HM The Queen.https://platinumjubilee.gov.uk/get-involved-with-the-platinum-jubilee/
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