Whilst the last few days have seen us enjoying some early summer warmth and sunshine, our thoughts will be turning to the Season and the annual Royal Ascot Meeting in June.
For those who will arrive at the Racecourse by car and want to follow the traditions of this world famous fixture, a picnic, preferably in Number 1 car park, is a must! But what to eat, let alone what to wear?
There is something very special about a picnic, although in this country the weather can put a serious dampener on the spirits. Not many of us are lucky enough to have a Butler who will lay everything out, prepared by Cook in advance, but there is much one can do to tailor this to location, guests and budget.
I always advocate keeping it stylish but simple, and they key is always good organisation. Prepare as much as possible in advance and look for the varied accessories to make the day – both stylish and practical. John Lewis have some fabulous ideas, as do The White Company and Ikea.
The great thing about a picnic is the informality they impart. Picnics were the first ‘rule-free’ meals remembered by generations of children. A relief from constraint, but not entirely free from the essentials of table manners.
Whatever your budget, make sure your guests have plenty to eat and drink, but ensure what you have on offer is easy to eat too. The last thing one wants to worry about with a pretty silk dress and floaty hat is drips of mayonnaise or squirting peach juice!
A rather nice summer menu could comprise of seasonal asparagus (just coming to the end but should still be nice in mid June) steamed and served at room temperature with a softly boiled shelled egg (quails eggs work too but are a nuisance to shell), snipped garden chives and a drizzle of vinaigrette, with shavings of good English cheese such as Caerphilly or Cheshire. Serve with good unsalted butter and fabulous bread and you have a wonderful first course. An alternative might be roasted peaches or nectarines (easy to do in the oven with a little water and a dot of butter and sugar), served with slices of top quality prosciutto and slivers of creamy goats cheese.
For main course, you cannot beat a rare cold fillet of beef with horseradish mayonnaise, and a new potato red onion and flat leafed parsley salad, served with rocket leaves, pea shoots and seasonal lettuce. For the vegetarian, perhaps a good frittata.
Try your hand at a vanilla pannacotta made with greek yoghurt, served with the freshest of English strawberries in individual moulds, or perhaps a timeless favourite, a flourless rich chocolate cake with crème fraiche or clotted cream. All easy to transport, and serve – essential if you do not have a bank of staff to help you!
Ensure some lovely crisp napkins, tablecloths and comfortable cushions on folding chairs and tables, with perhaps a Bellini made with fresh peach puree and a good Prosecco to set the scene and you have the makings of a perfect day!
Founder, The English Manner