Part of the Epicurious Series
How to Picnic
What can be more delightful than whiling away a Summer’s day in the British countryside? With our continuing spell of superb sunshine in the Cotswolds the pull of the outdoors is ever present.
Am I the only one thinking of unfurling gingham blankets in the haze of the summer sun and the squeaky crackle of a wicker hampers? I think not – we do after all as a nation love a picnic. As Enid Blyton’s George said, ‘I don’t know why, but the meals we have on picnics always taste so much nicer than the ones we have indoors.’
Picnicking at Cowley Manor has become something of a thing; synonymous with the summer season and both classically British yet refreshingly modern. At home, the lure of a picnic is undeniable, but the practicalities of preparing one (if we aren’t nipping to M&S) can be a little daunting. Of course in the Kitchens at Cowley, Head Chef David Kelman who designed this year’s menu certainly hasn’t held back and arguably it would be a rather challenging affair to recreate it home, so our advice for a jolly good home-made picnic is to concentrate on one centrepiece, with accompanying salads and a simple pudding for afters, along with some well-sourced cheese – and on the latter two, we have recipes and tips, straight from Chef.
“We include three cheeses in our Cowley picnic, all of them British and sourced within a county or so of Gloucestershire. First up, I always like a hard cheese to have with a cracker and some chutney, and I wanted to include a cheese that had the characteristics of a Parmesan – but British. Berkswell was the answer – it’s one of my favourite cheeses, and you really can use it in the place of Parmesan. It’s a hard cheese made at Ram Hall Farm in the West Midlands, and it’s a champion on our picnic cheeseboard but it’s just as at home in pasta dishes or on an heirloom tomato salad.
Next up, is Cotswold Brie. Made with organic milk, it has a richly creamy texture you would associate with a Brie but is refreshingly clean on the palate too. It’s delightful just with a crisp green apple, but my favourite way of using this cheese is in my baked Brie tartlet, with confit tomatoes, crisp red onions and beetroot relish (which might feature on next year’s picnic menu!).
Finally, we have Oxford Blue (from Oxford!). It’s won the gold medal in the British Cheese Awards twice over and is suitable for vegetarians. It’s Stilton-like taste is delicious with cold cuts and chutney, but for the adventurous it’s delicious in a savoury panna cotta with broccoli and walnuts.” – David Kelman.
To help bring your sun-dappled picnic daydream to life, David has given us the recipe to his (sweet) panna cotta, and the chutney to accompany his stellar cheeseboard selection. You can download the files on the links above.
With the panna cotta, being a dairy-based dish we advise you keep it no longer than 4 days in the fridge, and have a play around with the fruits you use – perhaps you could go brambling with the little ones or maybe you have elderberries in the garden – either way, you can create endlessly changing flavours to contrast the smooth creaminess of the panna cotta.
And David’s top tip when making chutneys is to make sure you use a heavy-based pan. A thin-based dish will allow the heat to hit the sugar too fiercely, causing it burn and become bitter. It’s a low and slow recipe, that requires frequent stirring, but the results will be worth it.
HOW TO PICNIC
Of course the making of the picnic is just the beginning – then comes the very serious business of eating it. At Cowley, you can expect to be furnished with all the requisite necessaries; blankets and baskets, cool bags and crockery – even linen napkins. It’s always best to be prepared, and although it can seem quite an endeavour to bring along crockery and such, it does certainly make the whole occasion feel more special – and hopefully you’ll have little (or big) helpers to ferry things back and forth. We pack all of our food items in dishes which are either compostable from the lovely people at Biopac or in glass jars to be cleaned and reused.
The location is almost as key as the fare, and at Cowley we’re got this down to a fine art. There are four curated picnic spots to be reserved, each pleasingly level (a vital component!) with different and delightful views. Some of the picnic spots look upon artwork from the Royal College of Art that is in permanent residence in our gardens, adding a thought-provoking twist to your afternoon.
Long may the summer sunshine continue and happy picnicking!
To book your picnic at Cowley Manor, simply call 01242 870 900, or if you would like to buy a Cowley Picnic as a gift, you can do so online here. Picnics are available to enjoy until September 30th at Cowley Manor.