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A sandwich and slice of cake in the woods - is there anything better than a picnic?

Rachel Allen

Pack up some tasty treats and eat outside, says Rachel Allen, who loves a picnic of any sort, and shares her favourite recipes


Lemon and elderflower cake. Photo: Tony Gavin

Lemon and elderflower cake. Photo: Tony Gavin

Edible flowers

Edible flowers


Lemon and elderflower cake. Photo: Tony Gavin

Be it a flask of coffee after my daily early morning swim; a sandwich and slice of cake in our local woods, or a sneaky cocktail after an evening stroll down the road, I love a picnic of any sort. Of course whatever food or drinks you’re bringing need to be easily portable and not get into a mess on the commute.

This quinoa and pomegranate salad is a delicious little lunchtime treat, and accompanied by some roasted vegetables or roast chicken, it'll make a great picnic lunch.

Probably the most quintessential picnic fare of all, a classic pork and egg picnic pie, is easily transportable. It's substantial, but not too heavy, and tastes just dreamy enjoyed in the great outdoors. It's divine eaten with chutney or pickles and cheese on the side, too, if you fancy packing those as well.

This is now elderflower season, with big heads of pretty white flowers blossoming on elder trees all round the country. They have a particularly fresh floral flavour that works so well with lemon, and this cake really is perfect for picnics at this time of the year. Make your own elderflower cordial, or just pick up a bottle - it's now easily available and can be used in everything from curds and cakes to drinks and cocktails - try adding just one teaspoon into a glass of white or sparkling wine.

Lemon and elderflower cake

Serves 5-6 (pictured)

For the cake, you will need:

175g butter, softened

175g caster sugar

3 large eggs

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

175g self-raising flour

1 tablespoon elderflower cordial

For the elderflower icing, you will need:

110g icing sugar

Finely grated zest of ½ a lemon

1-2 tablespoons elderflower cordial

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas mark 4.

2 Line the base of a 20cm cake tin (with sides at least 2.5cm high - a springform tin is good for this) with a disc of parchment paper, then butter the sides and dust with a little flour, shaking out the excess.

3 Place the butter in a bowl and beat until very soft, then add the caster sugar and beat well again for a minute. Now add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well all the time. Mix in the grated lemon zest, then the self-raising flour, and finally add in the elderflower cordial.

4 Alternatively, you can place the soft butter in a food processor with the caster sugar, the eggs, the grated lemon zest, the flour, and the elderflower cordial and whiz until just combined. Scrape down the edges from the sides of the bowl then whiz again for just 2 seconds.

5 Tip the mixture into the prepared cake tin and smooth over the top with a palette knife or the back of a tablespoon.

6 Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until golden and cooked in the centre. A skewer inserted into the middle of the cake will come out clean.

7 Allow the cake to sit in the tin for five minutes, then remove from the tin and cool on a rack.

8 Once the cake is cool, place it on a plate and make the icing. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl then, using your fingertips, rub in the finely grated lemon zest. Now add just one tablespoon of the elderflower cordial and mix. If necessary, add a little more elderflower cordial to bring it together to an icing that will sit on top of the cake and just slowly drip down the sides. If it's too thin it'll run off the cake, and if it's too thick it will be tricky to spread - see Tip.

9 Pour the icing over the top of the cake at the centre and let it slowly spread out and slightly down the sides.

10 Decorate with some cornflower petals, rose petals, or some fresh elderflowers.

Rachel's top tip

If you're finding your icing is a little on the thick side, it helps to spread it with a palette knife that you've dipped in boiling water.

Quinoa and pomegranate salad

Serves 6

You will need:

250g quinoa

600ml vegetable or chicken stock

½ teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon sugar

50g sultanas

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Zest of 1 lemon and juice of ½ the lemon

1 small handful of coriander leaves

Salt and pepper

The seeds from 1 pomegranate

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts - see Rachel Recommends

1 Place the quinoa and the vegetable or chicken stock, whichever you're using, in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered, or until the liquid has evaporated, then stir in the curry powder, the turmeric and the sugar.

2 Remove from the heat and stir in the sultanas. Cover the saucepan and set aside to sit for 10 minutes.

3 Mix the olive oil, the garlic, the finely grated lemon zest and juice, and most of the coriander together. Season with salt and pepper. Stir into the quinoa.

4 Turn into a serving bowl and stir in the pomegranate seeds. Sprinkle over the pine nuts and the remaining coriander.

Rachel recommends

To toast pine nuts for the salad, just pan-fry them for a couple of minutes until golden. Cashew nuts will work perfectly, too, toasted in the same way.

Pork and egg picnic pie

Serves 6-8

For the hot water crust pastry you will need:

75g butter, cubed

100ml water

225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

Pinch of salt

1 egg, beaten (plus another for glazing)

For the filling, you will need:

625g minced pork

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or finely grated

1 tablespoon of chopped herbs, such as a mixture of chopped parsley, chives, thyme and sage

1 egg, beaten

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the topping, you will need:

10 bacon rashers, not streaky, trimmed of fat and rind

4 eggs

25cm diameter tart tin with 3cm sides

1 First, prepare the pastry. Place the butter and the water in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts, then allow the mixture to come to a rolling boil.

2 Meanwhile, sift the flour and the salt into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the egg. Pour the hot liquid into the flour and quickly stir with a wooden spoon to mix to a dough. Use the wooden spoon to spread the dough out on a large plate and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Knead the dough into a ball, flatten slightly, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up.

3 While the pastry is chilling, mix the minced pork with the garlic, the chopped herbs, the beaten egg, and the nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, then fry a tiny bit to taste for seasoning. Add more seasoning if needed.

4 Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4.

5 Roll out half of the pastry on a lightly floured work surface until it is about 7mm thick, and use to line the base and sides of the tart tin. Trim the edges and brush around them with some of the beaten egg.

6 Cover the base of the pastry with five of the trimmed bacon rashers. Place the minced pork mixture over the top, then make four 'dips' or 'wells' for the eggs to go into. Crack an egg into each of these 'wells', then cover the mixture with the remaining five rashers.

7 Roll out the second half of the pastry until it is also about 7mm thick and carefully place it on top of the pie. Trim the edges and brush the top with a little more of the beaten egg. If you wish, roll out the scraps until they are about 5mm thick and cut into leaves or whatever shapes take your fancy! Place on top of the pie and brush the shapes with the remainder of the beaten egg to glaze.

8 Make a hole, about 5mm wide, in the centre of the pastry at the top of the pie and cook in the oven for approximately 70-80 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out hot - too hot to hold on the inside of your wrist. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before removing from the tin. When cooled, cut into slices to serve.

In season: Edible flowers


Edible flowers

Edible flowers

Edible flowers

So many edible flowers are in season now. Bright blue cornflowers, like on the cake above, are both edible and pretty, as are pretty pansies and nasturtiums, above.

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