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By Charlie Clapp

When I was young I remember picnic days as being the very best. My family had a regular go-to place in the countryside among the sheep and long grass, where we used to join up with a couple of other families to spend a beautiful summer’s day eating delicious picnic fodder, running around on full bellies and having THE BEST TIME EVER. We played game after game, named the nearby cluster of trees we sought shade in the “Spooky Woods”, and carved our initials in the trunks of the fattest trees.

After reminiscing with my mother about it recently, she pointed out that it wasn’t quite as idyllic as I remember. First of all, there was “the day I got lost”. I wandered too far into the Spooky Woods with the dog and honestly trusted it that it would take me back to our group using its powerful sense of smell and incredible homing skills. Of course, it was not to be trusted and led me further into the woods, probably hoping the exact same thing about me. The dog and I eventually found our way out after much shouting and crying. The Spooky Woods were never the same again – they were a lot spookier.

Then there was the cow invasion, when they appeared from nowhere (“nowhere” my mother repeated, shaking her head), bullied us away from the food our mothers had lovingly prepared for days, and left huge dollops of excrement all over our things. I don’t remember this – it probably happened as I was lost in the Spooky Woods – but I’m sure I would have found it absolutely hilarious.

But the point is, I repeated to my mother, it was fun! And provided us with brilliant memories that will be passed on and cherished forever. That is what life is all about! And here we are, in prime picnic season. The weather has been spectacular and we should make the most of it, because there’s one thing we can be certain of in this country – it won’t last forever.

Picnic prep doesn’t have to be stressful – do it all the day before and make it a pleasure. Get your children involved to make them feel part of it and get them excited too!

Before you start, make sure you are well stocked with the correct picnic tools – tupperware boxes, plastic cutlery, crockery and cups, a little picnic knife, serving spoons, kitchen towel and a good sense of humour.

Start with the salads. If it’s a really hot day – salads will wilt. So get robust leaves such as baby gem, wrap them in damp kitchen towel and place them at the top of your cool box to prevent squashing. Make your dressing in a little jar for last-minute tossing and keep your extra ingredients (croutons, tinned tuna, tomatoes) in a tupperware and add them when you’re ready to eat. If you’re not into that much faff, a couscous or pasta salad is a great idea – just stir through lots of roasted veggies, herbs, dressing, nuts and anything you fancy, and it will improve as the flavours combine during the day.  For more inspiration have a look at this lovely pasta salad recipe that’s ideal for picnics and popular with the kids.

On to the meats, why stray from the much loved coronation chicken? It’s a classic and pretty much unbeatable in my book. Poached chicken, shredded then mixed with yoghurt, mayonnaise, curry powder, a little cumin, mango chutney, fresh mango pieces, lots of fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime. There’s no recipe for this one because it’s a completely subjective thing and amounts are down to the taster. It’s a great sandwich filler too – especially for the little ones who won’t eat anything unless it’s put between two slices of bread (not uncommon).

Here are a few other essentials that are definitely worth the small amount of effort they take to make.

  • Frozen water bottles make great ice packs.
  • Ice for drinks (keeps things cool too)
  • Sticks of veg and dips for the little ones (something a little like these crudités)
  • Wine for the adults (probably should have been the first on the list)
  • Apples, grapes, strawberries
  • Homemade meringues are great because you can make them a week before and store them in an airtight container until the big day arrives. Plus children inhale them. Get some extra thick double cream, crumble in the meringues and squish your strawberries in for an impromptu Eton Mess.

And if you’re into doing something a little bit extra that will totally be worth it – try homemade scotch eggs. Because everyone knows you can’t have a picnic without a scotchy.

So there we are, now you can pass those supermarkets by with a wave and a chortle. For you have a cheaper and tastier picnic and won’t waste any moment of your precious day in a queue in a supermarket waiting for the person in front to hurry up.

If you have any great/not so great/hilarious picnic memories then please share – I can’t be only one with a memory tainted by sheep poo and spooky woods.

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