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Top Tips for Getting ‘Al Fresco’ Right

by Elizabeth Young

published on 19 June 2015

With picnic season in full swing, we asked Genevieve Taylor, author of the How to Eat Outside cookbook, to give us her top tips for al fresco dining.

1. Keep it Simple

Probably my number one tip for picnics, and really, all cooking in general, is to keep it simple. Don’t strive for an impossible to achieve never-ending feast, do a few things and do them well and you will have a picnic basket Yogi Bear would covert.

2. The Right Food for the Right Occasion

For me, a picnic means many things – a hard-boiled egg and a bag of crisps pulled from my rucksack on a long country walk, an old fashioned wicker basket laden with special treats and a cold bottle of wine taken to an outside concert, a torn baguette dipped into a tub of shop brought hummus in the local park, a still-warm homemade pasty pulled from my pocket at a football match is a picnic. Match your picnic aspirations to your occasion, and you will hit the picnic sweet spot!

Picnic & Al Fresco, Outdoor Eating  | Top Tips

3. For Picnics, Room Temperature Rules

The very best picnic food for me is stuff that tastes just as good, if not better, when eaten at room temperature. There seems little point battling to keep things chilled unnecessarily if you don’t have to. But if it’s a blindingly hot day (we wish!!) then a small bottle of frozen water or other soft drink packed alongside your food will defrost slowly, and as a bonus be drinkable later in the day.

4. Pack Some Pickles

Some sort of relish or sauce if often necessary to jazz things up a bit but the usual suspect, mayonnaise, is not a great traveller. Go for pickles or chutneys. Homemade is usually best, and not hard to do, and best of all you can make them in the winter and store them so you are ready on a sunny day.

Picnic & Al Fresco, Outdoor Eating  | Top Tips

5. What’s for Pudding?

Obviously, every meal is better with a pudding element, right? But for outside meals, some things fare better than others. So a crunchy flapjack or delicious cookie is going to travel better than a cake with rich and gloopy icing. And sweets are generally a better bet than chocolates for the same reason.

6. Don’t Let Rain Stop Play!

If the weather turns out to be less than amazing don’t give up. The boot of an estate car is a good alternative rainy day venue, and a big rug on the front room carpet is a fantastic picnic venue for younger kids if it’s really miserable out. But my advice would be to wrap up, brace yourself and go for it! The best sausage sarnie of my life was eaten sheltered under an oak tree next to a Welsh waterfall on a wet day…….the effort of the walk to get there, beating the minor struggles to keep the stove alight, coupled with a splendid wild view all added up to a winning combination. Sausage sarnie perfection.

Picnic & Al Fresco, Outdoor Eating  | Top Tips

7. Think Beyond the Picnic

Picnics are fabulous but sometimes, just sometimes, I’d love to encourage you to spread your wings and get a bit more adventurous! Occasionally after school on a Friday I light the firepit in the garden and the kids cook their own sausages over it, skewered onto long sticks. It’s only sausages for tea but for them it’s a really exciting treat and they do the work themselves, leaving me to sit and watch with a glass of wine in hand. Making little ‘micro-adventures’ out of the day-to-day stuff is life enhancing in all sorts of immeasurable ways. 

Picnic & Al Fresco, Outdoor Eating  | Top Tips

For more picnic inspiration from Genevieve Taylor, add the How To Eat Outside book to your collection.

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