A Very British Picnic
RECIPES AND PHOTOS BY PAOLA THOMAS
Surprisingly, although the British summer is often non-existent, we Brits have a splendid repertoire of traditional summer foods, which we particularly love to enjoy at outdoor picnics and festivities, usually accompanied by a blustery wind and a gentle downpour.
These time-honored dishes celebrate the fresh berries, fruit, and produce of summer and work perfectly with the similar climate and produce of the Paci c Northwest. The dishes are portable enough to take to your next picnic or potluck, but so delicious that they may not make it much farther than your front porch.
A British summer — from Wimbledon to Ascot to the Queen’s magnificent garden parties — isn’t complete without a refreshing glass or several of citrusy Pimm’s, and, thanks to a long-running ad campaign, you’ll often hear Brits tell you it’s “Pimm’s o’clock,” a time of day that seems to be extraordinarily flexible. What you’ll never hear, though, is a Brit refer to it as a “Pimm’s Cup,” though the bottle is marked “Pimm’s No. 1 Cup.” First produced in 1823 by a certain James Pimm, this fruit cup was once produced in six numbered varieties, using different base liquors.
Nowadays, Pimm’s normally refers to the gin-based version, which is increasingly available at good liquor stores and supermarkets in the Seattle area. If you can’t get hold of it, I have provided a substitute recipe. Feel free to experiment with different gins and base liquors to make this fruit cup your own, or stick to the classic version. Pimm’s is traditionally diluted with lemonade, though I love the spiciness that a splash of ginger ale brings to the mix. British lemonade is a clear, carbonated drink, much like a less sweet 7UP. I have substituted regular American lemonade and club soda, but feel free to use 7UP if you prefer.
Makes one 8-ounce drink, multiply by the number of servings required | active time 15 minutes (including slicing the garnishes)
2 1/2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
1 ounce gin
1 ounce red vermouth
1/2 ounce orange curacao (or orange juice)
2 1/2 ounces good quality lemonade (homemade would be lovely)
1 1/2 ounces club soda
2 ounces ginger ale or 1 ounce lemonade and 1 ounce club soda
Pimm’s is traditionally garnished with some combination of cucumber slices, orange slices, sliced strawberries, mint leaves, and maybe lemon verbena or borage, if you can find it. Picking the boozy fruit out of the bottom of the glass when you’ve finished your drink is one of a British summer’s true pleasures. You could also just use a simple orange slice or twist.
Gently stir together the Pimm’s (or Pimm’s substitute), lemonade, club soda, and ginger ale. If you’re taking Pimm’s to an outdoor celebration, bring the carbonated drinks separately and add them at the last minute. Slice and stir in the garnishes (for a picnic, bring the sliced fruits in a separate container) and serve over ice in a Collins glass or similar.
Since 1738, when the fabled British department store Fortnum & Mason claims to have invented them as a traveler’s snack, the estimable, robust, and highly portable Scotch egg has been an integral part of a proper British picnic, and versions of varying quality are to be found in every British supermarket and gas station shop.
Simply a hard-boiled egg that has been encased in sausagemeat and a crisp breadcrumb coating and then deep-fried or baked, the success of a Scotch egg depends on the quality of the sausagemeat. Remove your favorite breakfast sausages from their skins, or use the recipe for spiced and herbed ground pork, given below. These eggs are baked in the oven.
Serves 4 | active time 20 minutes (start to finish: 55 minutes)
16 ounces ground pork
1 teaspoon fresh sage, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 egg (for egg wash)
2 cups panko breadcrumbs (I make mine by grinding stale white bread in the food processor. The crumbs freeze beautifully, and I always have a bag in the freezer door.)
2 tablespoons olive oil, canola oil, or cooking-oil spray
Fill a medium pan with water and bring to a rolling boil. Plenty of water ensures that the temperature doesn’t drop too much when the eggs are added, which helps prevent cracking. Warming the eggs in hot water or using room-temperature eggs helps too. Put some iced water in a bowl and set aside.
Add the eggs and boil for six minutes. Remove the eggs and plunge them immediately into the iced water. When cool, set aside.
Place the ground pork in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sage, thyme, mace, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and pulse a few times until the herbs and spices are thoroughly mixed. Divide the pork sausagemeat into four equal portions and press each one into a patty, as if you were making a hamburger.
Place the flour on a small plate. Whisk the egg-wash egg with a fork and pour it into a wide bowl. Place the breadcrumbs on a plate. Peel the hard-boiled eggs then roll a peeled egg in flour and place it on a sausagemeat patty. With damp hands, carefully mold the sausagemeat around the egg until the egg is completely encased, taking care to join and smooth out any gaps in the sausagemeat. Repeat for all four eggs.
Take an egg-and-sausagemeat-ball and roll it in flour, then in egg wash, then in breadcrumbs, then in egg wash, then in breadcrumbs again, until none of the sausagemeat is visible, shaking off excess egg and breadcrumbs as you go.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the oil on a baking tray and roll each Scotch egg in oil until coated, or spray each Scotch egg thoroughly with cooking-oil spray. Place the oiled Scotch eggs on the baking tray and bake for 30 minutes until firm, crisp, and golden.
A classic Victoria sponge can be made ahead of time, and then filled and decorated on site for a glorious, decadent, and portable summer treat. Traditionally, the cake is filled with preserves and dusted with confectioners’ sugar, but in summer, I like to create a much more rococo affair, with jam, whipped cream, and oodles of fresh summer berries.
The following quantities make for a nice deep cake in 7-inch cake pans, or slightly shallower cakes in 8-inch pans. Serves 8 | active time 20 minutes (start to finish: 50 minutes + time to decorate)
Butter or oil for greasing the pans
3/4 cup butter (at room temperature)
3/4 cup superfine sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose or cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Hot water as required
1 pint whipping cream + 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar (or canned whipped cream)
1 jar preserves (any type)
1 basket fresh berries
Confectioners’ sugar to dust
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Butter or oil two shallow 7-inch or 8-inch cake pans (see note on quantities above) and line the bottoms with baking parchment.
Using a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and fluffy, 3–5 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and vanilla extract together in a bowl. Put the flour and baking powder into a separate bowl and stir to combine.
Add the egg mixture, a little at a time, to the creamed mixture, beating thoroughly after every addition. If the batter starts to curdle and split, add a tablespoon of the flour and keep beating. If the mixture curdles and you can’t rescue it, don’t worry, it just means your cake won’t rise quite as much.
When the eggs have been fully incorporated, very gently fold in the rest of the flour mixture with a metal spoon or plastic spatula. Be careful when you’re folding to keep as much air in the batter as possible.
Gently fold in a tablespoon or two of hot water as necessary, until the mixture slides easily off a downward-pointing spoon. This is called “dropping consistency” and is the key to a bouncy sponge with an even top. Divide the mixture equally between the two cake pans and smooth out the top with a spatula.
Bake 25–30 minutes if using 8-inch pans (or 30–35 minutes if using 7-inch pans) until your cakes are golden, springy, and starting to pull away from the sides. A fingertip pressed gently on the top of the cake should leave no imprint. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then slide a butter knife around the edges and turn the cakes onto a wire rack to cool.
To finish, place the whipping cream and confectioners’ sugar in a cool metal bowl and whip for 3–5 minutes until it reaches the soft-peak stage. The whipped cream will keep its shape, stored in an airtight box, for about 10 hours — or just use a can of whipped cream.
Sandwich the cakes with jam, whipped cream, and sliced berries. Decorate the top with whipped cream, more berries, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.