You could have bet your bottom dollar that this would happen after such a non-event of a summer – the kids go back to school and everyone’s knuckling down again, then the weather takes a turn for the better.
But an Indian summer is a real treat to be savoured, and it makes reading the new edition of award winning food writer Claudia Roden’s classic book Picnics and other outdoor feasts (Grub Street, £14.99) a particular pleasure.
For this is a wonderfully evocative book of the old school. First published in 1981, there are no full colour images of delectable dishes – in fact there are no images at all, just a scattering of delightful little sketches.
This is a book that paints pictures with words; it’s a great read and would make a rewarding companion – ideally on a lazy sunny afternoon enjoyed in a deck chair, perhaps in the shade of a tree with just a gentle breeze to rustle the leaves, although it would actually be very enjoyable at any time of year.
There’s inspiration here for every imaginable outdoor eating situation, conventional and otherwise. Whether it’s a bite of lunch in the garden, a wedding party, portable feasts, or cooking in the open – including spit roasting, and even Graveyard Banqueting in China (a surprisingly joyful experience, as recently seen on Ken Hom and Ching He-Huang’s BBC series, Exploring China: A Culinary Adventure), imaginative and practical solutions are to be found here.
Posh picnics feature too (‘A champagne menu for Glyndebourne’) and, of course, there’s the famous quote from John Betjeman’s poem recalling holidays in Cornwall, Trebetherick:
“…Sand in the sandwiches, wasps in the tea,
Sun on our bathing-dresses heavy with the wet,
Squelch of the bladder-wrack waiting for the sea…”
Original, warm, inspiring – a must for any inquiring cook’s bookshelf.
RECIPE: One of Claudia Roden’s simplest and most versatile recipes to get you started.
Smoked mackerel paté
Other smoked fish may be used such as buckling. Smoked trout is expensive but particularly good. Kippers have to be immersed for a few minutes in boiling water.
2 fleshy moist smoked mackerel, 150 ml (1/4 pint) sour cream,
150 g (5 oz) cream cheese or cottage cheese,
juice of half a large lemon,
salt & pepper.
Remove skin and bones and flake into a blender. Add sour cream and cheese (sieved if the cottage variety) and blend until smooth.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and lemon juice. You may need to do the blending in batches.
Press into a pot. I once covered the pate with a layer of gooseberry sauce (recipe given in the book) with magnificent results.
Serve with thin toast or brown bread and lemon wedges.