Food: A primal urge to picnic
Sunday 23 May 1999
I need to wiggle my toes in warm golden sand or tickly green grass, to lie on my back and dream the world back into the sort of place it used to be. I want to feel fire at my fingertips; to gather twigs; to drink water from a stream instead of a tap. I want to run and skip and jump in the air, and to nod off under a kindly tree when I get tired.
I want to slide down grassy paths; to push aside bracken and just sit on top of a hill with not another person in sight. Except, perhaps, another person sitting on top of another, far-away hill, like the Little Prince in the story by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
That's why I want to go on a picnic. I want to be free, natural, primitive, unencumbered. I want to leave manners and etiquette and protocol and red tape behind me, and revel in honest hunger, sticky fingers and glistening lips.
Now, how do I go about it? First, the food. It should be plain and simple and honest, something you can clutch in one hand while you shade your eyes against the sun with the other. A good old-fashioned ham sandwich on white bread would be perfect.
And a perfectly ripe red tomato, for that little extra sting of summer, with a few flakes of sea salt to draw out its juices. Perhaps a leaf or two of basil? No, better would be an easily portable jar of pesto. I could whip that up quickly before I go.
But it's not a picnic without a fat wedge of egg and bacon pie, the centre still warm and soft, and the bacon smoky and salty. If I blind-bake the pastry tonight, I could finish it off just before I leave.
And I might as well do an old-fashioned veal and ham pie while I'm at it, which reminds me, I had better pack a sharp knife, and some mustard, and maybe some pickles. Ooh, mustard. I just got a craving for a piece of rare roast beef, crusted with crushed peppercorns. Very hunter-gatherer, very primal. And potato salad on the side, made with Dutch whole-egg mayo and snipped green chives. Not so primal, but very nice.
Of course, good roast beef is lost, lonely and totally meaningless without a bottle of good red wine. I'll need something earthy, honest and hard- working. None of your Grands Crus here. After all, there's no use drinking something fancy - there is nobody to impress sitting on top of a hill with your toes wiggling in the grass. A friendly Rioja should do the trick.
Mind you, that means I should take some cheese, a big aged Cheddar or maybe a hunk of Manchego. That will lead on to some fresh fruit, perhaps a perfect peach. And a few amaretti biscuits, to have with coffee. Perhaps a dessert wine?
Then there are a few other little essentials I'll need to take. The Burberry picnic blanket of course. And what if the tickly grass is damp, or full of burrs, or sheep droppings? Maybe the fold-away chairs and table would be handy. Those little wipey things? Check. Flask for tea? Check. Milk and sugar, check.
Butter, of course, and extra virgin olive oil in case it proves too warm for the butter. Lemons, just because they're always handy. A few plates, good wine glasses (even Rioja tends to go funny in anodised aluminium), a corkscrew, a book or two, a hat, and something warm in case the weather turns.
Finally, the moment comes. The car is filled to the roof with half the contents of my garage and laundry. The kitchen has been transferred to the boot. It's just three stops at various places on the way out of town for ice, maps and a gas canister for the portable stove, and I'm on my way. Free at last.
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