I love May. The hawthorn blossom is well and truly out so we can begin casting our clouts with confidence, two bank holiday weekends stretch ahead of us and there’s that blissful window of weather with cool sunny evenings paired with warm spring days. None of this is guaranteed of course, but the sun looks set to shine all day tomorrow at least, and for me that means the first picnic of the year. To kick the season off to a good start, here are a few of my top quick tips for organising the perfect picnic.
1 | Find a picturesque picnic spot
Every family has its favourite picnic spots – in ours there are a few hidden locations that have been passed down through the generations – but it’s always nice to add a few new ones to your repertoire. This Is Your Kingdom is a great place to look for secret picnic locations recommended by a handpicked team with impeccable taste. Some suggestions are general and will lead you to an expansive new area to explore, while others are specific enough to help you locate the most perfect weeping willow to sit beneath. Last year, The National Trust compiled a handy of their most picturesque picnic spots in the UK too.
2 | Decide on the mood (clue: it depends on your effort level)
For me, picnics fall into three camps, all equally lovely but with a different mood, feel and effort required. Firstly there are posh picnics with a Downton Abbey-esqe sense of occasion. Think big wicker hampers, proper cutlery, chilled bubbly and probably a birthday or other special event behind them. At the other end of the scale are spontaneous picnics involving no more fuss than throwing a fresh baguette, a bottle of wine* and a couple of cheeses in a bag if the weather looks fine. The third and final type is the evening cook-out complete with campfire (made from either foraged sticks or driftwood, depending on the setting), marshmallows and beer*. All three types are equally worthy and enjoyable, but it’s worth deciding at which level you’re going to pitch your picnic – and making sure your guests know about it – so you know what preparations you do (and don’t) need to trouble yourself with.
* Non alcoholic alternatives are available, but you are reading the Decorator’s Notebook guide!
3 | Comfort is key
Nothing takes the fun out of a picnic like a numb bum and goosebumps. Whether you’re heading out for a casual bite or an elaborate al-fresco luncheon, a generous supply of rugs, mats and blankets is essential. For the beach, woven straw beachmats work well, while woollen blankets are good on grass. If it’s damp, pick your base accordingly… we have some amazing outdoor picnic blankets coming soon to Decorator’s Notebook with a snug woven wool blanket on top, practical waterproof backing and real leather straps for rolling and carrying. As well as rugs to sit on, it’s wise to pack some extra warm throws to wrap up in too if you’re picnicking somewhere exposed or you’re likely to run into the evening.
[Navy cob weave blanket, £60, Decorator’s Notebook Shop. Also in Mustard Yellow]
4 | Make it family-friendly
If you’re likely to have kids or older relatives joining you, you’ll need to put a bit more thought into your plans. How far will you have to walk to reach your chosen spot? Have you got enough people capable of carrying the amount of food and drink you’re taking? Are there loos nearby? Will Granny prefer a folding picnic chair to sitting on the ground? My opinion is that the larger and more diverse the crowd, the more straightforward you should try and make your excursion. A hot and bothered family doth not an enjoyable picnic make.
5 | Choose fuss-free picnic food
Minimise the amount of preparation you’ll need to do on-site by making as much as you possibly can in advance (unless you’ve opted for the spontaneous picnic menu of bread, wine and cheese, in which case you’re off the hook, clever you!). I prefer individual tarts or wedges of frittata instead of sandwiches as these won’t go stale if made the day before, together with bagged pre-washed salad (wet leaves goes slimy in an instant in warm weather and life is just too short to dry lettuce), some crusty bread and deli bits like sliced cured meats, cheese and olives. For an evening campfire, go for simple hot dogs (choose thin chipolatas for speed and food safety) then offer jars of interesting mustards, relishes and pickles on the side. Follow with Anglicised smores made with chocolate hob-nobs and marshmallows cooked over the embers.
[via Love & Whimsy]
6 | Pay attention to packaging
How many picnics have you been to where you’ve laid out such a spread in the middle of the blanket that you’ve been left with the tiniest uncomfy corner to sit on round the edge? This might sound controversial, but to avoid this oh-so-familiar scenario I’m all for packing my picnics in individual portions rather than lots of help yourself dishes. This doesn’t have to mean your lunch is any less charming – a bento box of beautifully arranged goodies can arguably look even more exciting – but does have the advantage of fewer serving dishes and utensils to lug around, fewer unattended containers for flies to settle on and less washing up. Keep an eye out for vintage lidded toffee tins in flea markets which are easy to pack and stack. For drinks, individual bottles or jam jars with striped paper straws are always a winner over glasses, or take robust Falcon enamel mugs or tumblers.
[Photograph La Manche on Etsy]
7 | Follow The Countryside Code
Idyllic picnic spots only stay that way if everyone plays their part in preserving the countryside. Most of The Countryside Code is common sense, but there are a few practical considerations when picnicking that are easy to forget in your rush to leave the house. Take plenty of bin bags for your rubbish and be prepared to take it back with you in the car if you’re somewhere quite remote. Only light campfires in places where this is specifically permitted and remember to take plenty of water with you to damp down the ashes. Support the local community by buying your food in independent shops and markets when you can and forage only in areas where the ingredient is in abundance.
Have a lovely weekend… we’d love to hear about your favourite picnic spots and any other handy hints for successful outdoor dining in the comments, Twitter or Facebook. You can also find lots of inspiration on our Picnics and Campfires Pinterest Board.