Samuel Muston: My recipe for the perfect picnic


When I am planning a picnic, I immediately think of Ratty and Mole. Their feast in The Wind in the Willows, with its lovely, hunger-inducing "fat, wicker luncheon basket", is just about the high point of outdoor eating in novels.

"What's inside it?" asks Mole, sighting the bounty in Ratty's hand. "Oh there's cold chicken inside it," replied Ratty. "Cold tongue, cold ham, cold beef, pickle gherkin salad, French rolls, cress sandwiches, potted meat, ginger beer, lemonade and soda water." It is at this point that Mole loses it: "Stop, stop," he cries in ecstasies. "This is too much." It is here that my interests and Mole's diverge quite drastically, because, to me, that sounds like just about the perfect amount – although maybe it could benefit from the removal of the lemonade and the addition of white wine.

Last week, the picnic I had, in a field by a lake in Gloucestershire, would surely have made Ratty happy. It was like something from the Field of the Cloth of Gold. I was at Cowley Manor, a modish country-house hotel – it was my birthday, so cut me some slack – and I was hungry. It was very hot, despite the fact that I had escaped fetid London, and was now in the sort of green and pleasant countryside that got Blake so hot under the collar.

So I dodged the restaurant and ordered the picnic the kitchen was offering for £30. Sounds a lot? Well, its contents took in potted salmon, Lancashire cheese quiche, Scotch eggs, charcuterie, coronation chicken, two leaf salads and one of potatoes, a rosemary sourdough loaf, five cheeses, an orange-and-polenta cake and a make-your-own Eton mess. Oh and some cider. I was confronted by a chaos of choices. And it was sublime. The food, the setting, the quantity of booze (enough to make you dozy in the sun): all were in perfect alignment.

What a picnic like the one I had gives you, like no other meal, is a miniature holiday: a vacation from everyday life. So, below, I present my cut-out-and-keep rules for an outdoor feast:

Avoid drinks in cans

They will be near boiling point before you even sit down. Take a dry white wine (Mâcon-Villages 2013 Louis Jadot, around £10) or a scrumpy cider. The glass may be heavy but they'll stay chilled for longer, especially in a wine cooler.

Buy, buy, buy

It's hot – spend the time in the sun, not in the kitchen prepping everything. Head to a deli or M&S and buy the staples and just make the posh/pricey things.

Utensils and receptacles

Unless you are a wannabe Mr Universe, leave the thick china plates at home. Do, however, bring proper cutlery – plastic won't cut it, literally and metaphorically.

Choose your location wisely

Avoid hills, ants, animals and people playing football. Find somewhere quiet with enough space to spread out in – picnics are always bigger when you get them out of the basket than when you put them in.

Keep it simple

Fruit, cold meat, potato salad (this is practically a statutory requirement), and lots of veg and salads. No one wants your special picnic beef Wellington

Have absolutely nothing to do with beaches

They may look nice, and yes the sound of the water is lovely, but you will end up with sand in your egg mayonnaise and the tide is likely to cut the thing short, abruptly.

And lastly - do it quick

Before the sun disappears.

The Cowley Picnic Hamper costs £60 for two people, excluding drinks (but with a key to the drinks chest) and is available 7 days a week July to September. Double rooms from £195 per night.

sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing