Us Brits have always loved a picnic. The origins of picnics date back to the Middle Ages, where snacks were brought out to huntsmen who decided to stop in the open air for a break and a bite to eat. The term picnic is French (pique – nique), and exploded in popularity in the 1700s after the French Revolution, when many of our disillusioned friends across the channel made their way to Britain, bringing along one of their best institutions. The Pic-Nic society was formed in 1801, where (get this), each member was required to bring along one dish and six bottles of wine to share. My kind of picnic.
The Victorican middle class decided that they too wanted to get involved in a slightly more civilised manner, and the picnic yet again evolved. The Victorian picnic became one of the biggest events in the social calendar, where the aristocracy could enjoy dining and sharing food in the countryside, away from the industrious and dirty cities.
Nowadays, picnics are for all to enjoy, regardless of class. Forget the wicker hamper, the carefully packed food prepared by servants and even the blanket – a picnic can be as simple a bag of crisps and some hummus.
And 2020 has catapulted the everyman picnic into new and dizzying heights – the closure of pubs and restaurants have given the British public little choice but to flock to their local Tesco to clear the cold meat and dips section, and then migrate to their local park to dine al fresco.
Here are several of the MVPs who have characterised the 2020 picnic season:
Crisps and Dip.
Otherwise known as the bread and butter of a picnic, the Mike and Sully, the Ant and Dec… basically, no picnic is complete without these vital two components. They are the staples of the party, not overly flashy, but always there, like the loyal and steady friends you can rely on to guarantee a good time come rain or shine.
Crisps and dip come in all forms and shapes and sizes, which is partly what makes them so bloody great. You can go fancy with your Kettles, or go for the classic crowd pleaser such as the Walkers sensations – sweet chilli always goes down a treat.
Then the dip. Again, the world is your oyster here. Hummus, sour cream and chive, tzatziki, salsa… the versatility and all manner of different paths you can go down with the simple ‘crisps and dip’ is quite magical. And just know, everyone is as enthralled with them as you are… you can guarantee to have at least four packets of Walkers sensations and three pots of hummus at your average Great British Picnic. Collaboration at its finest.
The sensible one. The one who is on hand with a glass of water when things start going south, the light and happy and steady one. And the one you’re always glad is there.
Strawbs, grapes, raspberries. These are the unsung heroes of the picnic, the light sweet burst of goodness amongst the saltiness of the crisps and the warm G and Ts. The smoothie the morning after, that first gulp of water after a run and a warm shower in the depth of winter. You get the picture.
In the absence of pubs and being unable to have a drink with friends indoors, the trusty tinny has taken centre stage like never before. It’s the tinny’s time to shine…and it’s shining brightly indeed.
It may be a little bit tragic. It may feel like you’ve reverted back to your underage phase, when getting booted out of pubs and being forced to drink warm beer or cider in fields was the only option on a drizzly saturday night. But when needs must, the humble tinny has stepped up and truly earned its place as an essential player on the 2020 Great British Picnic scene. Whether it be a 2 for £4.99 Gordons G&T offer, an aperol or a heineken, there’s the perfect tinny out there for everyone. Great effort.
Cheese and crackers and bread
Cause we all like to pretend we’re a bit French sometimes, right?
This part of the picnic is the sophisticated one – the one that wants to talk about the latest open mic night they saw in North London, who has discovered the best brunch in Clapham and has the most admirable techniques for getting that perfect sourdough starter.
There’s something quite special and satisfying about sitting cross legged in a park rustically tearing off different sized pieces of a baguette, smothering it in Brie or boursan or whatever cheese takes your fancy, then topping it off with a bit of ham and salad. Why is it that food tastes infinitely better al fresco?
Sadly however, the sophistication unravels as quickly as it arrives when you realise you don’t have any cutlery. Then you’re transported back from the banks of the Seine straight to the overcrowded, muggy Hackney park, where you’re spreading the cheese with the plastic hummus lid, or whatever other innovative substitute for a knife you can find.
Crispy cornflake cakes
The I’m-absolutely-starving-can-we-go-and-get-cheesy-chips-and-chicken-right-now part of the picnic. Quite often the best part of the entire night. The sight of your chips being handed over the counter covered in lashings of mayo, with the jovial sound of drunken strangers bonding over their love of greasy sub par food, sharing tales of their nights escapades is a late night indulgence that has become a staple part of any night out.
A crispy cornflake cake has a similar vibe going (no really, hear me out). It is by no means the centre piece of the picnic. But similarly to cheesy chips, the cornflake cake in the plastic box is an essential part of the occasion. That sweet little crunch to finish off, even when the chocolate has started to melt after a few hours in the sun is a very welcome end to a Pandemic- picnic.