Sunday 17 December 2017

Park up, it's picnic time

When packing a picnic basket the main concern is food safety and keeping food chilled
When packing a picnic basket the main concern is food safety and keeping food chilled

Rozanne Stevens

I keep a picnic blanket in the boot of my car. Just in case the clouds part and we get a spell of gorgeous sunshine, I am prepared. You can get four seasons in one hour in Ireland, so it's great to be able to grab every opportunity!

Before the advent of so many roadside cafes and farm shops, growing up in South Africa, we used to have to pack a picnic basket if going on a long car journey. Partly out of necessity, but partly out of fun. These roadside picnics make up some of my best childhood memories. And talking to friends in Ireland, it was very similar here.

When packing a picnic basket the main concern is food safety and keeping food chilled. So while a wicker basket is terribly romantic, a cooler box or bag is far more practical. You can use the chiller packs that come with the cooler bag, but I like having a few more. My solution is to half fill plastic bottles with water or juice and freeze them. They make excellent chillers and you'll have icy cold drinks on hand as they melt.

The foods I would avoid packing would be anything that goes smelly or poses a food safety risk. Unfortunately raw onions, eggs in potato salad and coleslaw tend to become a bit whiffy when packed in plastic containers and made to travel. Hardboiled eggs wrapped in foil are fine – I couldn't leave these behind as they are such a childhood memory! Unless your trip is very short, leave the seafood, pate and brie behind.

Don't forget to pack sunscreen, baby wipes, a bag to collect the rubbish and your camera and you are set!

Picnic ideas:

Mayo-free salads

Two of the most popular salads in Ireland are traditional potato salad and coleslaw, which both have mayonnaise based dressings. Unfortunately, there is some concern over the food safety of mayonnaise the longer it stays out of the fridge. This is more true of a freshly made mayonnaise that is made using raw eggs. And besides the food safety issue, I think the texture and taste of warm mayonnaise is awful. So why not skip it completely as a salad dressing and create a tangy vinaigrette using mustard or horseradish for extra zing.

Fruit and veggie skewers

These are fantastic as they are quick to make, easy to transport and require no cutlery to eat! Just make sure that kids don't run and eat them, as it is still a sharp, pointy object! Also, don't be a litter bug, make sure you dispose of the wooden skewers responsibly. For a caprese skewer, impale cherry tomatoes, baby mozzarella balls and fresh basil leaves onto a bamboo skewer. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper.

Filled breads

Take a long, fairly thick baguette or a round loaf of bread. Slice it horizontally, almost all the way through. Butter both sides if preferred, then spread on a layer of basil pesto. Layer up cold meat like salami, sunblush or sundried tomatoes, grated or sliced cheddar or mozzarella, and olives or artichoke hearts of you like them. Wrap tightly in parchment paper then clingfilm and leave to chill for an hour to mould the shape. Cut into thick wedges and wrap each wedge in a layer of tin foil to help keep in the chill.

Jam Jar Layered salads

This has become very 'on trend' at the moment, but it is pretty cool. Basically, take a glass jar with a wide mouth, like an old fashioned Kilner jar, and layer up nice goodies. I like finely shredded lettuce, tomato slices, diced red pepper, crispy bacon bits, frozen peas (which helps keep the salad cool), sweetcorn and grated cheese. Avoid raw onion.

Frozen melon wedges

If this is an adult picnic, you can inject vodka or gin into the watermelon then freeze it. Otherwise, cut any melon you prefer into large wedges and wrap in cling film and chill. Cool and refreshing as a snack or picnic dessert.

Iced tea

Homemade iced tea, sweetened with honey, is fantastic as a picnic drink. Unlike fizzy drinks, there are no bubbles that can go flat and it is a much healthier option. Make the tea, chill and pour into a thermos flask (keeps food at the temperature it's stored at). Add ice blocks or frozen berries to the flask to ensure that it stays cool.

If you aren't kitted out with picnic gear, I suggest a trip to a garden centre or TK Maxx. Have a rummage around and find a cooler bag with plastic freezer 'blocks', a flask, picnic blanket and picnic basket. I'm inclined to use disposable paper and plastic plates and cutlery, so bring a black plastic rubbish bag with you for litter.

Recipes and ideas taken from 'Relish Cookbook' by Rozanne Stevens, available in good bookstores and online at

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