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Pack the perfect picnic hamper

It's National Picnic Week (15-24 June 2018) and what could be a better accompaniment to a day at an event than a picnic? Here’s how to get this quintessentially British meal just right.

Ah, the picnic. Though now a style of dining wholeheartedly adopted by Brits, it may surprise many to learn that the word ‘picnic’ actually originates from the French language. Alan Davidson’s Oxford Companion to Food suggests the word first appeared in 17th century French as ‘piquenique’, combining ‘piquer’ – to pick – and ‘nique’ – a small delicacy.

We were still picknicking on the British Isles long before then though, with 14th century medieval hunting feasts believed to be the earliest example of the tradition.

It took until the Victorian times to popularise the picnic and make it commonplace, and we have been enjoying picnics ever since.

Lots of people have taken to picknicking at events and the phenomenon has not gone unnoticed. If you’re lucky enough to get reserved parking at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials you can enter Land Rover’s Tailgate Picnic Competition. Against a beautiful backdrop of the lake and Burghley House, celebrity judges peruse the picnics – having tasters here and there! – and give prizes to the grandest displays.

Should you choose to partake in this popular option during the eventing calendar, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Choosing the menu 

Today’s hampers come stuffed with a variety of picnic staples, but seasonal produce is an absolute must. 

To go along with this, sturdy foods that won’t fall apart easily if knocked are the order of the day. Pork pies, scotch eggs (invented by Fortnum & Mason, paragons of the picnic), quiches, cured meats, cucumber sandwiches, olives, bread, scones and fruit cakes are all hardy for your hamper and don’t require a Tupperware army.

Packing correctly is obviously important too. Remember: heat rises and cold sinks, so to best preserve your chilled foods, it makes sense to have at least some ice packs on top, as well as nestled between the gaps in your dips.

Safe travels 

There are huge varieties in the vessel itself, with posh hampers complete with dishes, wine glasses, metal utensils, napkins, a cutting board, serrated knife, corkscrew and tiny salt and pepper shakers. Whether you’re armed with one of these or a set of plastic dinnerware, a good tip is to pack some toothpicks – whether for cheese, fruit or olives, toothpicks will prevent everyone digging in with their fingers. Much more polite!

Additionally, make sure you pack a decent knife (or several). Trying to saw your way through the artisan loaf you picked up fresh that morning with a disposable plastic blade is a recipe for frustration. And, of course, at least one chopping board/solid surface to cut on.

In your excitement to get picnicking, don’t forget you have to transport things back too. A roll of sealable plastic bags will prove invaluable for preserving leftovers and transporting dirty cutlery and containers home while preserving the lining of your fancy hamper, if you have one.

Sitting pretty 

If you're going for a traditional gathering on a tartan blanket, make sure it’s one with a rubber back. No matter how fair the day, British grass always seems to retain some degree of water. However, if a tailgate buffet is more your thing, then you will need to remember a good-sized table and some folding chairs, as well as the aforementioned rubber-backed blankets. The tailgate buffet does have some notable advantages: you’re unlikely to be walking far, if at all, therefore you can really fill the car with wine coolers, Thermoses for soup and coffee, and proper china and cutlery – even a tablecloth if you’re feeling really fancy.

Whichever you choose, picnics are all about communal, self-help dining. Make sure your feast is all laid out so that people can help themselves. You want to be able to subtly reach for that third or fourth scone, not ask to be passed yet another.
So, although the weather may be unreliable and you may be spending the day watching eventing in your wellies, make sure the lunchtime meal goes without a hitch and enjoy a picnic with friends. Now, where's that hamper?