There’s a type of readiness needed for a picnic in the Irish spring. We all love picnics…lush green grass in the fields, fresh springy heather on the mountains. The air is perfumed with gorse or heady hawthorn and the weather is warm enough for paddling at the seaside, if not for swimming….yet. Sometimes it’s only the evening beforehand when you know that the weather will be good enough for a picnic. Time to ring friends, dust off the cooler, Tupperware boxes, rugs and frisbees, and snatch the day.
I have been at some wonderful picnics- before La Bohème at Lough Crew when we all dressed up in sixties style and ate prawn cocktails; on boats on the Shannon quaffing Pimm’s and eating Peter Ward’s quiche, sitting at the top of Croagh Patrick eating sandwiches and counting the islands in Clew Bay. What makes them all memorable was the fun. From the moment you unveil your offerings and see what others have brought, everyone tucks in with delight. Everything tastes better outdoors.
Meat loaf is one of our picnic staples. From now till the end of summer, I try to have one hidden (yes, deferred gratification has its upsides) in the freezer, wrapped in foil, ready to go. Once the decision is made to go picnicking, the meatloaf is taken out of the freezer and thawed at room temperature. By the time you get to your destination, it will be ready to eat.
2 ½ lbs best quality minced beef
1 lb best quality sausage meat
2 medium Spanish onions, finely chopped
3 fat cloves of garlic, minced
11/2 tablespoons dried mixed herbs
21/2 cups breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Colman’s mustard powder
3 tablespoons green peppercorns in brine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
rashers of streaky bacon
Wash your hands
Grease a large loaf tin.
Chop onion, mince garlic
Put all ingredients in a large bowl with plenty of room for your two hands.
Using your hands, mix and squelch the mixture until combined .
Transfer to loaf tin, pressing well into the corners. Top with rashers of streaky bacon. Be generous, as they will shrink during cooking.
Place in a roasting tin with two inches of water in it.
Bake at 180°C/ 350°F/ Gas 4 for 1-1/12 hours.
Once cooled, this can be frozen in its tin for easy transport and serving on a picnic. Alternatively, it can be unmoulded when cool, wrapped in a double layer of tinfoil, labelled, and hidden in the freezer.
Lakeshore wholegrain mustard
Bag of salad leaves
Sliced tomatoes in a tupperware box
Salt and pepper
Bread rolls- best quality- the type that don’t fall apart. We get ours in Clarke’s Home Bakery , Cabra, a local treasure.
Notes on picknicking
The idea is to arrive, have a great time, and leave the landscape as you found it, with no trace of your presence. This takes a bit of proper planning and packing so don’t forget the following-
-Black sacks for waste.
-A bucket for food waste, which goes in the brown bin at home
-A bucket for dirty plates/cutlery…even if you use paper plates and plastic cutlery, you’ll probably use a good sharp knife to cut the meat loaf, and may bring salad servers. There’s nothing worse than foodstuffs bouncing around the boot of the car- bring the bucket, the clean-up is much easier.
-Plenty of kitchen paper or paper napkins
-Clean teatowels- useful in a myriad of ways
Last evening we went for a walk in the Phoenix Park. The stately chestnut trees are in their prime, bearing magnificent blossoms. Families were picknicking under the trees even after the sun had set. Howth beckons too- at this time of year, the lush rhododendrons are almost pagan.
Bealtaine is a time to get out and enjoy our beautiful countryside- it’s all there for the taking.