Picture this scene - a gloriously sunny day, a gorgeous rug thrown across cushion-y grass, overhanging trees casting dappled shade. A pillow or two, a basket groaning with treats, some liquid refreshment and plenty of time up your sleeve to enjoy it all. Who said life's no picnic? Here's our top ten tips for creating the perfect one for yourself.
1. Timing is everything, as the old saying goes, and this definitely applies when it comes to picnic planning. Late spring, early summer and early autumn are ideal - high summer can be too hot and humid. And while many picnics are planned around lunch time, an evening picnic can be equally enjoyable. Pack a few camping lanterns and you'll be able to extend the daylight hours long enough to enjoy an early dinner.
2. Location, location, location - this doesn't just apply to real estate. Choosing the right picnic spot is crucial - not too crowded, accessible when carrying armloads of accoutrements, with a level spot to pitch camp, preferably in a location with some choice between sun and shade.
3. A heavy-weight picnic rug is a lynchpin of a successful picnic - there are great rubber-backed ones on the market that eliminate the need for a tarpaulin and safeguard against wet bottoms! But if you don't have one of these, a cheap tarpaulin will do the job equally well. You may want to consider weights to weigh down the corners of your tarp, and a tablecloth to spread over the picnic blanket. When the food is done and dusted you can sweep away the crumbs along with the tablecloth and still have a nice clean blanket to recline on for the duration.
4. While a picnic basket is a stylist's dream, it's not the ideal vessel when transporting large quantities of food. There's no need to eschew it entirely, just use a generous basket or straw bag to transport the other picnic essentials, including a rug, some small cushions, cutlery, glasses, plates and a bottle opener. Add a loaf or two of crusty bread and you're away.
5. Transport perishable food in a cooler and pack it in reverse - dessert items down the bottom, main course elements next and snack and nibbles on top. That way you won't be rummaging around for what you need and can avoid annoying spills. Pack soft food in hard containers and any liquids in well-sealed vessels. Leave ample room for ice or chilling blocks or your food won't be properly chilled when you get there - work on a ratio of 75% food, 25% ice.
6. When planning a picnic menu, choose items that travel well - now is not the time for fussy, delicate food. Dishes should be robust enough to withstand the knocks and bumps of transportation - think a hearty terrine and cornichons, or a roast chicken with a great potato salad and coleslaw - and can be prepared the night before. If there are barbecue facilities, all the better - just ensure you pack any raw food away from cooked food to avoid cross-contamination. Pack salads and dressings separately to avoid the dreaded soggy salad syndrome. And no picnic is complete without dessert - a dense cake or even just some fresh fruit and yoghurt finishes things off on a sweet note.
7. Chill any drinks thoroughly - a day or two in the fridge is ideal - and pack in a separate cooler with plenty of ice (store some of the ice in a separate container in the same cooler to drop into drinks once you get there). If you're using sturdy cups, tuck them into the cooler too for extra-chilled drinks.
8. There's nothing more annoying than getting to your picnic location and realising you've forgotten something. So make a checklist and tick it off. If you're super-organised, pack the car with the non-perishable items the night before. That way all you've got to pack up on the day is the food. Our essential non-perishables include: rug, tarpaulin, tablecloth, napkins, plates, cutlery, cups, serving utensils, bottle opener, a knife, cutting board, salt and pepper, condiments, garbage bag, bag for recycling, sunscreen and insect repellent.
9. Disposable or not? The is the question. Disposable plates, cups and cutlery are a tempting option on a picnic, as there's no washing up when you get home. But in these more green-minded times, if you opt for disposable, go for something a little eco-friendly. There are some gorgeous disposable bamboo or palm-leaf plates and bowls, and bamboo cutlery out there that tick all the boxes and look gorgeous to boot. Or if you plan to picnic frequently, invest in a melamine picnic set and commit to a little washing up later on. Just wipe most of the food debris off with a napkin before you pack up and your time at the kitchen sink later will be minimal.
10. Being out in the fresh air brings out the kid in almost everyone, so it makes sense to plan and pack for some simple games. A cricket bat and tennis ball, a Frisbee or a soccer ball will keep active types happy, while those favouring more sedate pursuits will appreciate a set of dominoes, a pack of cards or a game of old-school quoits. Just remember to keep it light and easy to carry.