Melissa Hemsley’s complete guide to planning the perfect summer picnic

Melissa Hemsley
Good planning, simple food and a few home comforts are the key to open-air entertaining Credit:  Issy Croker

A proper picnic should be hassle-free to prepare and easy for everyone to pick at. I’m often guilty of being overly ambitious at gatherings, so I’m talking to myself when I say keep it simple!

Make one, maximum two, satisfying salads that can confidently last the journey, and then have a few juicy things like ripe tomatoes, berries and cherries, a few crunchy things like radishes,  cucumbers, celery or pickles, and a great cheese.

Don’t forget to pack a small chopping board and a bottle opener, and throw  in some reusable shopping bags so you can take home your  rubbish and recyclables.  

  1. Chill or freeze a couple of flasks filled with home-made lemonade (or simply a few juiced lemons with honey or maple syrup) and add sprigs of rosemary or fresh mint and the peel from a lemon or cucumber. Use this as a mixer, topping up with sparkling water, gin or  vodka, or even kombucha. Fill glass jars or another flask with ice cubes for the drinks, which will also help to keep your  picnic bag cool. Drop some  blueberries and pomegranate seeds into the ice-cube trays for extra-fancy drinks.
  2. To make your picnic feel special, take cutlery. You can get away with a fork each and a cutting knife, and spoons to serve. Get some reusable acrylic cups or wrap your sturdiest glasses in napkins and a few tea towels. That way, you can forego single-use plastic cups and throw-away serviettes, and wrap all the messy stuff up in the tea towels afterwards.
  3. For a refreshing snack, chop up a ripe watermelon (save the seeds – you can roast them another day), then pack up two jars (one containing chilli flakes and salt, the other with sugar or coconut sugar), and a few limes sliced into wedges. People can squeeze the lime over the watermelon and then dip it in the spicy salt or sugar. This works beautifully with  papaya and mango, too.
  4. Get ahead the night before your picnic with one or two hearty, simple and inexpensive salads using quinoa, buckwheat or rice. While that cooks, roast whatever summer vegetables you have – peppers, aubergine, courgettes and garlic – and toss them together with pesto and any soft summer herbs you have. A pesto or tahini-based thick dressing means you’ve got a smaller risk of any sogginess  or mess. For vegan friends, if you’re planning to add crumbled feta or grated Parmesan, pack it separately.
  5. To make a very quick dip, either jazz up shop-bought hummus by stirring in some za’atar or harissa, or blend half a tub of thick full-fat Greek-style yogurt with a few handfuls of defrosted peas and broad beans, half a clove of garlic, some  lemon juice and fresh mint. Pour it back into the yogurt tub for easy transporting and take some heads of pink chicory, baby gem, radishes and baby  cucumbers for dipping.
  6. If you can’t convince someone else in the party to bake a cake (that’s always my lazy manoeuvre), bring seasonal fruit and grab-and-go sweet treats – medjool dates, or chocolate-covered hazelnuts and raisins. Pack them next to the cold drinks so they last until pudding time.
  7. If there’s any risk of a chilly picnic, prepare a flask of coffee or chai tea. Once the weather danger passes, simply add ice and turn them into cold refreshers for a pick-me-up.

melissahemsley.com

BLT salad with asparagus

Credit: Issy Croker

SERVES

Four as a side or starter

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 rashers of bacon
  • 350g asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off
  • 6 eggs
  • Leaves of 4 baby gem lettuces
  • 200g tomatoes, sliced (or halved if cherry tomatoes)
  • Flesh of 1 large avocado, cubed
  • For the dressing
  • 2 tbsp chopped chives
  • 6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • 2 tbsp apple-cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp raw honey or maple syrup

METHOD

  1. Preheat the oven to 240C/220C fan/gas mark 9, and line a baking tray with baking parchment.
  2. Prepare the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together and seasoning with  salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Place the bacon rashers and asparagus spears on the lined baking tray and roast in the  oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, fill a large saucepan with boiling water and cook the eggs on a medium simmer for 61/2  minutes. Remove from the pan and leave to cool in cold water before peeling and cutting in half.
  5. Place the washed lettuce leaves, tomatoes and the cubed avocado in a large serving bowl, drizzle over half the dressing and gently toss.
  6. Roughly chop the bacon and scatter over, adding the asparagus and egg halves.
  7. Drizzle on the rest of the dressing to serve.

Recipe from Eat Happy by Melissa Hemsley (Ebury Press, £22)

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