Though many British traditions have crumbled in recent times, the English picnic still remains a firmly entrenched institution. Come rain or shine, fair weather or foul, intrepid British picnickers seize every opportunity to load up their hampers and flock to the countryside.
Many consider a picnic an occasion in itself and need little more than a grassy hillside, a riverbank, or the local village green. Others hire a boat and punt their way downstream.
The grounds of a country home or ancient castle are also popular venues: Warwick Castle, with its vast acres stretching down to the Avon River, is a favorite haunt of discerning picnickers.
Some combine their picnics with outdoor sporting events. Fishing expeditions are traditional picnic occasions, as are "point to point" horse races held every Saturday in most counties. And of course the Rugby matches at Twickenham and polo games at Windsor Great Park attract picnickers two hours before starting time. The more glittering the event, the more elegant the picnic banquet. The Henley Regatta, Ascot races, and the summer-long Glyndebourne music festival are all renowned for exotic picnic fare. Those who want ease and style put the task in the hands of Fortnum & Mason, London's famous department store, which offers three "Hamper Menus" with melon, smoked salmon, ox tongue, salad, fruit, and cheese. Others settle for homemade dishes, unloaded from the trunks of vintage Rolls-Royces and served up by white-coated waiters.
But the informal, family-style picnics are still the most popular and include easy-to-eat dishes and a few that can be heated in case of cold weather. English friends of mine always begin with a cold soup -- leek and potato or carrot are both good, and easily warmed if the temperature drops.
Next, a selection of pates -- smoked mackerel is a favorite here, or a coarse country pate can be sliced or spread onto French bread. Add to this such Traditional English specialties as sausage rolls, jars of pickled beets and onions, and Scotch eggs, which are hard-cooked eggs wrapped in sausage meat.
The English, famous for their sweet tooth, will seldom pass up an occasion for a rich dessert. A fruit tart -- goose- berry or raspberry -- is always popular, topped with a spoonful of thick cream. Traditional English trifle, sponge cake layered with custard sauce and stewed fruit or jam, can be made well ahead and is easily transported.
A more formal picnic party, with the addition of tables and dishes, can venture into more elaborate fare. Refreshing appetizers in warm weather are melon wedges wrapped in prosciutto, while cold mousses of smoked haddock or crab are always popular.
A whole Scotch salmon looks as good as it tastes, garnished with lemon wedges and hard-cooked eggs, and served with a mayonnaise dressing. Or try Coronation Chicken, created by Britain's Cordon Bleu pioneer, Constance Spry, to honor the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. This is a tasty, curry-flavored cold chicken salad, decorated with paprika and watercress.
Serve with a cold bean salad. My favorite is the three- bean variety, combining green, yellow, and red kidney beans marinated in French dressing. Other salads, using lentils, chick peas, or carrots and raisins, make nice additions.
Ice cream and sherbets are good picnic desserts, but need special packing care. A cold dessert mousse is easier to transport -- blackberry is a favorite here when the berries grow in abundance, but apricots, raspberries, and strawberries all work well. OR use fresh fruits to fill small bite-size meringue shells.
In true English style, finish with a plate of cheese. Here, the selection should include one or two varieties of Cheddar, a piece of the lighter Cheshire, and, for a real celebration, half a Stilton. Smoked Mackerel Pate 1 pound (450 g) smoked mackerel fillets 4 ounces (100 ml) milk 4 ounces (100 g) butter 4 1/2 teaspoons horseradish sauce 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice Black pepper 6 tablespoons double (whipping) cream Bay leaf Parsley
Place mackerel fillets in a large frying pan and cover with the milk. Add bay leaf and poach gently until the fish flakes easily from the bone, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain off milk and carefully remove all fish. Put into blender or liquidizer with horseradish sauce, lemon juice, black pepper, and cream.
Melt 3 ounces (75 g) of the butter and add to ingredients in blender. Blend again, then pour into individual ramekin dishes or an earthenware bowl. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and cool. When cool, melt remaining butter and coat a thin layer over top of the pate. Scotch Eggs 1/2 pound sausage meat 4 hard-boiled eggs Flour 1 egg, beaten 1/2 packet (1/2 cup) parsley and thyme stuffing, or finely grated bread crumbs mixed with thyme, salt, and pepper
Divide sausage meat into four pieces and shape into flat rounds about 4 inches wide. Dust shelled eggs lightly with flour and wrap each one in the sausage mat, pressing the edges firmly together to make a smooth surface. Coat with beaten egg before rolling the eggs in the stuffing or bread crumb mixture. Cook eggs in smoking hot fat until the golden brown; drain and cool. Serves 4. English Trifle Sponge cake or about 10 ladyfingers 1/4 pound strawberry or other red jam 1 large can sliced peaches 4 tablespoons orange juice 4 tablespoons peach syrup 2 tablespoons almonds 1 pint custard 1/2 pint whipping cream 2 ounces small macaroons
Split sponge cake in half, lengthwise, and place in bottom of shallow dish, or line dish with ladyfingers. Spread with thin layers of jam. Drain peaches, set 7 to 8 slices aside for decoration and arrange the rest upright around sponge cake. Sprinkle juices over it.
Prepare custard. Scatter almonds over sponge cake and peaches and spoon custard over them. Cover dish with foil and cool. Whip cream until stiff and spoon over custard. Decorate with peach slices and macaroons. Chill. Carrot and Raisin Salad 2 pounds (1 kg) fresh carrots 6 ounces (175 g) sultanas (raisins) 1/2 teaspoon French mustard 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar 2 tablespoons wine vinegar 6 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil 2 teaspoons parsley Salt and black pepper
Peel carrots and cut into thin julienne strips about 1 1/2 inches long. Put into a large bowl and mix with sultanas. Whisk remaining ingredients together in small bowl. Season to taste, then pour over salad and toss well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap nd refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Toss again just before serving. Serves 6 to 8. Coronation Chicken 1/2 ounce (15 g) butter 1 Medium onion, minced 2 teaspoons curry powder 1 tablespoon tomato puree 5 ounces (150 ml) chicken stock 3 tablespoons mango chutney 2 tablespoons apricot jam 2 teaspoons lemon juice Salt and pepper 4 large chicken breasts, split and cooked 8 to 10 tablespoons mayonnaise 8 to 10 tablespoons light (single) cream 6 ounces (175 g) long-grain rice, cooked Paprika
Melt butter in frying pan and add minched onion. Cooked until soft and about to turn color. Stir in curry powder and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in checken stock and mix well. Blend in tomato puree, chutney, and apricot jam. Simmer over moderate heat until thick, then add lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Strain and put in refrigerator to cool slightly.
Remove skin and bones from chicken, then chop into small bite-size pieces. Put booled sauce in a large bowl and gradually whisk in mayonnaise and cream. Fold in chicken pieces and blendf well. Line a platic container with cooked rice and arrange chicken on top. sprinkle with paprika and cover with lid or foil. This is best made the day before to give the flavors a chance to develop fully.Serves 4. cornish Pasties 8 ounces short-crust (flaky) pastry 6 ounces stewing beef 2 coarsely grated potatoes 1 small turnip, coarsely ground 1 onion, minced Salt and black pepper 1/2 ounce unsalted butter 1 egg
Trim any excess fat from beef and cut meat into paper- thin slices with a sharap knife. mix with vegetables.
Roll out pastry, about 1/4 inch thick, on lightly floured board and, using a large saucer as a guide, cut out four circles. Pile filling in center to each pastry circle. Season with salt and pepper and top with a knob a butter.
Dampen pastry edges with cold water and carefully draw up two edges to meet on top of filling. Pinch and twist pastry firmly together to form a neat fluted and curved patter. The shape is traditional. A pasty should be slightly curved with two blunt horns at each end, like a half moon.
Cut a small air vent in the side of each pasty. Brush each with lightly beaten egge and place on greased and baking tray. Bake in center of preheated oven at 425 degreees F. for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes. Serves 4.