Picnic in Autumn? You Bet!
The picnic. A great British institution we usually associate with blue skies, long sunny days, early dawns and late sunsets. But as the days of summer fall away and the equinox is upon us, can we still enjoy the great outdoors and this most wonderful of traditions?
The concept of eating outdoors is, of course as old as time, but when did the idea of a ‘picnic’ first appear? The word itself, is believed to have come from the French pique un niche, literally ‘pick a place’ which could be heard with growing popularity after the French Revolution when it became popular to dally a while and enjoy a bite to eat when exploring the newly open-to-all Royal Parks.
But does this apparently Gallic origin mean we have to give up on our British claim to the picnic? Not so fast. Even if we didn’t have a fancy name for it, we have a long tradition tracing back to medieval times of eating a feast outdoors before a hunt, when pastries, hams and baked meats were served.
We also know that, in the early 19th century, a frightfully fashionable set of London dandies formed the Picnic Society and would meet for alfresco high jinks and food in the gardens around Oxford Street.
The Perfect Picnic
Around this time, the English aristocracy also took to sending their servants off, loaded down with fine china, crystal goblets, delicate linens, tables and chairs to set up a dining setting in a forest or meadow where chefs, kitchen staff and the like would prepare an elaborate meal.
By the 1920s, the latest etiquette book Perfect Behaviour, A Guide for Ladies and Gentlemen in All Social Crises, dedicated a whole section to picnic manners, reminding us that “one should not make the mistake of thinking that because he or she is ‘roughing it’ for a day, he or she can therefore leave behind his or her ‘manners’, for such is not the case.”
But, if we’re honest this all sounds more like a dinner party than a picnic and far too much effort seems to have been involved!
Picnic foods should be easy to carry and serve. And not too messy to eat. That got us thinking, what advice can we offer for the perfect picnic, and one that’s enjoyed over the early autumn months at that? Well, here are our top ten tips:
- Autumn days can be beautifully clear skies but there’s often dew on the grass, so pack a good quality picnic mat with waterproof backing and perhaps think about taking camping chairs.
- Picnic foods should be easy to carry and serve. And not too messy to eat! Autumn lends itself to some of the classics: pies, cold cuts, tartlets, hearty sandwiches and a good slab of cake. And if you want to try your hand at homemade sausage rolls, here’s a recipe for our Sausage & Autumn Chutney Rolls
- Keeping drinks cold in the summer would require an ice cooler, but in autumn you’re more likely to want a flask of hot coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Consider your mixed party and decide whether the hot drinks can be pre-mixed or not as sugar and milk and not to everyone’s taste.
- Spicy tisanes such as our Chai Tea or even a mulled cider make for a tasty autumnal hot drink alternative. Try this delicious seasonal recipe which uses our Apple & Ginger Pressé.
- To avoid having to take cutlery, pack plenty of napkins and pre-portion your food, especially the cakes. This recipe, our take on Parkin – a true Yorkshire favourite, is baked in a bundt tin. It looks the part on the cake stand and almost as pretty when sliced.
- Salads are lovely in the summer, but autumn demands something a little heartier. We love a Waldorf Salad, a homemade Coleslaw or a classic three bean. Of course, if you do go for one of these, don’t forget to take a serving spoon and forks!
- Who doesn’t love a nibble of cheese and crackers at the end of a meal? When packing for a picnic, your choice of cheese will depend on how light you want to travel. Hard cheeses can be pre-portioned to pop straight onto your crackers. Softer cheeses will require a spreading knife. Avoid soft blue cheeses like Roquefort as they tend to go soggy in packaging.
- Picnics are the time when all those little lidded pots that you’ve collected, come into their own. Use them for your butter, spreads, mayonnaise and chutneys. We recommend our Fig Chutney – perfect with goats’ cheese or with Brie.
- Be kind to your environment. It provides you with the perfect picnic spot, so in return make sure you take all your rubbish away with you and leave it the way you found it. Pack a bin bag and save packaging for reusing or recycling.
- Most picnics will require your picnic basket to be watertight and cooling, but if you really want to look the part then there’s nothing better than a classic wicker hamper. Our favourite for autumn is the amply portioned Ingleborough Hamper.
Once the hamper is packed, you’ll need the perfect autumn picnic spot. Forests are perhaps the quintessential autumn favourite with their annual displays as the leaves change colour. Lakes and lochs provide the perfect reflection for the lower sun whilst nature reserves and stately homes often have picnic tables provided. You’ll have your favourites, and here are some of ours:
- Starting in our own backyard! We love Malham Cove in North Yorkshire, made even more famous with scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you’re particularly lucky, you’ll spot the Peregrines which nest there. www.malhamdale.com
- Cannock Chase in Staffordshire was designated as an AONB in 1958. It’s the largest lowland heath in the Midlands and is home to the wild dear which descend from the herd introduced there in Norman times. www.cannock-chase.co.uk
- Lordenshaws, Northumberland. Explore ancient rock carvings and burial mounds in this wild and rugged landscape. www.northumberlandnationalpark.org.uk/places-to-visit/coquetdale/lordenshaws
- Much to the annoyance of locals, Derwent Dam in the Peak District, was used by the famous ‘Dambuster’ pilots for practise runs during WWII. Today it boasts several great picnic spots and excellent walking trails. www.peakdistrict.gov.uk/visiting/visitor-centres/derwent
Scotland & Wales
- Loch Lubnaig, in the Scottish Highlands is a small, picturesque loch that’s perfect if you want to combine your picnic with a spot of canoeing. www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/things-to-see/lochs-in-the-national-park/loch-lubnaig
- Broad Haven in Pembrokeshire, Wales is a beach paradise for children. Plenty of rockpools will keep them happy even if it’s no longer warm enough for sun bathing. www.visitpembrokeshire.com/explore-pembrokeshire/towns-and-villages/broad-haven