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How to picnic imperfectly

Are your picnics all posh hampers and nutritious, meticulously prepared home-cooked food in sunny, flower-filled fields? Nope? Join the club, says Laura Goodman

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By Laura Goodman on

Every picnic tastes the same when you’re as busy as we are, right? That traditional summery mélange of carrot batons, houmous, Cool Original Doritos and Peroni. Sloppy Twisters all round.

Or, if we’re really feeling ourselves, maybe we’ll start a day ahead – we’ll have a go at curating one of those salad-y affairs like they do on the blogs. Then, we’ll gather our nearest and dearest on a scrap of blanket, and settle down to an absolute palaver of quinoa, kale and tartlets and tabbouleh.

With this whimsical spread comes its hefty kit: a big old box, clunking with crockery, cutlery and glasses. Everything is covered in a slick of leaked vinaigrette. A stack of napkins flutters into the atmosphere. A whole Victoria sponge slides off its own cream. So relaxing! It feels so great to kick back! Summer, summer, summertime!

For an effective picnic, you need a complete meal that you can carry in a Bag For Life, unwrap and eat with your hands. And – just wait for it, because I’m about to make an earth-shattering pronouncement – that’s a sandwich.


Not just any sandwich, of course. The best possible version of your favourite sandwich. For egg mayo with creamy, mustardy chutzpah, I get hold of some Burford Browns, make my own mayonnaise and chuck in some chives. Helen Graves has a recipe for this and 100 other sandwiches in her book, 101 Sandwiches, a sound investment.

The difference between this pan bagnat and your usual tuna-cucumber sarnie is profound. Click on this link here and watch this baguette’s contents glow – with olives, peppers, red onion, parsley, artichoke hearts and a drizzle of lemony vinaigrette. Imagine unravelling that in the sunshine.

For an effective picnic, you need a complete meal that you can carry in a Bag For Life, unwrap and eat with your hands. And that’s a sandwich

There is a chicken and coleslaw sandwich and then there are strips of Bill Granger’s buttermilk chicken tucked into a roll with perfect broccoli slaw. The slaw gets better in the fridge, so you can make it the night before.  

Banh mi is a sandwich! Banh mi counts! This version is made with pork chops. But you could use leftover chicken, or tofu or whatever, just as long as you’ve got chillies, matchsticks of cucumber, plenty of coriander, mayo, sriracha and some pickled items. You can quickly pickle some things if you fancy.

Pitta breads might be a bit 2004, but I never let fashion dictate my lunch. A pitta pocket is as portable as it gets. The Kitchn has kindly prepared 10 filling ideas. And, in case you need it, here’s an 11th: spicy carrot and chickpea.


Picnic loaves are – as their name implies – made for this. To make one, you lop the top off a crusty loaf, hollow it out, fill it with all your hopes and dreams, and pop the top back on; then, you have an easy-to-transport meal, ready to be sliced.

The traditional hopes and dreams are meat-based – layers of prosciutto, salami, roast pork and or pastrami, plus cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and mayo. But as long as you’ve got pretty layers, you can do what you like; here are a few examples: roasted vegetable and mozzarella, grilled vegetables, chicken and pesto. There’s a nice modern version in the Leon cookbook Naturally Fast Food (pesto, Parma ham, plenty of greens) and a lovely old-fashioned recipe in The Little Book Of Lunch by Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing (see recipe below).


A few dips on the side (with accoutrements, also known as crisps) will help you create the feast vibe you and your scrap of blanket are looking for. Here are a few low-maintenance selections:

Tzatziki couldn’t be simpler, but it’s especially simple when the method is spelled out by lovely, calming Nigel Slater.

Pea houmous makes a nice change from the ones in the supermarket. I know we’ve all exhausted that aisle.

Rocket and macadamia pesto offers a new use for your NutriBullet (pulse it, so you get chunks).

Roquamole! Nigella’s cheesy, creamy, deluxe alternative to your usual mashed avos. From Nigella Express.

Tapenade feels like it should be much harder to make than it is. Diana Henry’s original recipe is in Salt Sugar Smoke, or her green olive and artichoke version is here.

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There’s something about sitting on the grass in Britain that feels intrepid, even when your local corner shop is a Frisbee’s throw away. You never know when you might eat again, or how long you might be stuck outside for, or how much of your energy the blazing sun will steal.

I recommend strawberries, Viennese Whirls and the best cookies on the internet. My friend Tillie also makes Delia’s chocolate marbled energy bars. The thick layer of marbled chocolate on top is a real crowd-pleaser. Tillie is a known genius and so she throws in chopped up Twixes and Mars Bars. You know, for energy.




Makes 1
Preparation time: 10 minutes

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 slices bread
  • Softened butter
  • Watercress
  • Maldon sea salt
  • Handful of radishes
  • Ginger beer (optional)
  1. In the morning, bring a pan of water to the boil and add the eggs, leaving to cook for seven minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, butter your bread and wash and dry the watercress.
  3. Pick the little round leaves off, discarding the bigger stalks, and place on one of the upturned slices of bread.
  4. Sprinkle over a little salt if the butter is unsalted, and close the sandwich with the other half. Slice into quarters and wrap in foil. When the eggs are ready, run them under the cold tap and wrap individually in foil, or together in a clean tea towel.
  5. Wash the radishes and place in a container. Pop a teaspoon of sea salt into a mini jam jar or another small Tupperware container, and bring along a paper towel.
  6. Come lunchtime, peel your boiled eggs and tip the sea salt on to the paper towel.
  7. Dip the radishes and eggs into it and enjoy, along with your outrageously old-fashioned sandwich.

Taken from The Little Book Of Lunch by Caroline Craig and Sophie Missing, published by Square Peg, £15

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