There is only one pleasure that surpasses a picnic fleeting British summer days. Skinny-dipping. But paradise regained is surely both. The smell of crushed grass, the hum of darting insects and the splosh and drip of water are the boon companions of a tinkling glass of chilled wine and a plate of fine food. These are the dream days of life, when the cold silk of river waters and the gentle warmth of the sun on our skin renders back to us all, our childhood selves.

Those halcyon years are nowhere evoked more strongly than in the mouth-watering description of the picnic, provided by the endearing water rat in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows: ‘There’s cold chicken…,’ replied the Rat briefly; ‘coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscress
sandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater—’. And with the unfolding of a small chequered tablecloth, good china and glasses, the perfect lunch for two new chums ensues.

Personally, I’m not a great enthusiast for the ‘pot-luck’ approach to modern picnics, where everybody brings something different. A picnic should be organised like any other meal; with timing, balance, poise and companionable guests. And given the potential style of a picnic, an eye for detail. A muddle of unrelated tupperware, pre-packed crudités and vinegary chips’n’dips holds little promise. The flavours, textures and colours of the experience need to match the perfection of our natural surroundings.

Because of the weather, clearly picnics can’t be planned too far ahead. But as the balmy evenings arrive, plan a dinner for your loved one or invite some friends along too. And if a warm night is imminent, surprise them with a change of venue to one of your favourite spots, where a willow weeps and a river runs. I can think of Richmond Park, Sheriffmuir, the Hopes Reservoir, the Warren at Hay, Glen Affric, Eynsford to name a few. You’ll need to pack the car with some decent tableware, cutlery, napkins, glasses, candlesticks and a collection of rugs and cushions.

If you are people who will happily shake off the surly cares of routine on an evening skinny dip, take along some towels. Especially if this is a romantic diner à deux, when such childish pleasures might turn to more adult diversions.

Your dishes need to have fresh, rich flavours and stamina. Transportation can wilt the crispest salad, put a pasta off its stride and turn a boiled egg green. The best thing is to keep anything uncooked separate and undressed until you arrive, mixing it in a bowl on arrival. You can keep these things in the cold box alongside the booze, butter and ice. Your other dishes will be fine at room temperature or covered in a wet dish cloth. Here is my summer picnic feast.

Langoustines & Brown Bread

Cook the shellfish and allow to chill. Make homemade mayonnaise and decant into a nice glass jar that won’t tip over. Cut up some chunks of brown bread and lemons which you can serve on the plates, and pass round the jar of mayo.

Chicken, Walnut & Watercress Salad

Roast a chicken with lemon juice, honey and butter. When cool, shred the meat into a bowl. Season with capers, sea salt, fresh black pepper and cover. Toast walnuts under the grill on foil and wrap. Take a bag of fresh watercress with you. On arrival mix all the ingredients and toss in a dressing of mustard, lemon zest, honey, tarragon vinegar and olive oil.

Saffron Rice with Mint & Broad Beans

Melt butter in a pan and when sizzling add Basmati rice (a generous handful per person and a few extra for good measure). Stir fry for a few minutes adding a decent sprinkling of saffron. When the colour starts to merge into the rice, pour in about the equivalent water to rice and allow to simmer for five to 10 minutes. As the water is absorbed, spoon in some baby broad beans (frozen are the best quality), cover with a cloth and then a heavy lid. After another 10 minutes take off the lid, stir and cool. Just before you serve, season and mix in a bunch of chopped mint.

Summer Pudding

Ideally made with a stale white loaf, you can cheat by leaving slices of cheap, white bread out for a few hours. This is the quintessence of summer fruit puddings – gooseberries, red and blackcurrants and raspberries – inside a bread dome, oozing with sugary, tart juices. And it’s simply done. Put the berries in a pan and add sugar; 80:20, or to your liking. Let the juices run and if necessary add a little juice (or even water) to help them along. Let them bubble joyfully for a while but don’t let the fruits disintegrate. While this is going on, you want to cut the crust-less slices of bread to line a basin that will hold the pudding. Pour the juices in the pan over the bread first, making sure it’s fully soaked, and save some for the top. Then spoon in the fruit, finally adding more slices and juice to cover. Then squeeze a small plate over the whole and weigh it down with whatever you can find. Leave it overnight. Transport the pudding like this to your destination and just before you serve it with rich, yellow double cream, turn it out of the basin on to your best china and light the candles.


Most cheese will sweat in the heat so you want to bring something small but with bags of flavour. Try a goat’s cheese crottin, a Saint Marcellin, Camembert soaked in calvados or even something homespun like Lymeswold to celebrate the Englishness of it all. You’ll be full, so just picked from the end of a knife will do.


You can’t beat a good vintage English Champagne. Otherwise try a Borage & Gin Fizz (gin, lemon juice, sugar, fizzy water and a sprig of borage). And what better than a lightly chilled Alsace Pinot Noir to have with dinner.