“A picnic is all about friends, family, delicious food and not getting a rash from the grass,” says Philippa Sibley of St Kilda’s Il Fornaio bakery, when asked what a picnic means to her. “It’s about drinking in the sun, a frisbee and good times,” says the pastry maestro.
And with spring turning on the warmer weather, it’s enough to have you plotting a weekend picnic right then and there. But is it as easy as just throwing it all in a bag?
Picnicking as we know it might have evolved from the hunting feasts of Medieval England, but an outdoor feast today is less about the carnival of the hunt and more commonly “suggestive of simplicity and ease,” according to the Oxford Companion to Food. So what are the best tips to keep things simple and easy when you’re chasing the sunshine and dining alfresco?
“I always check to see which parks have good gazebos,” says Kate Stewart of culinary event makers Bright Young Things, noting that a wet weather option is a must for a smooth picnic day in Melbourne. “Kings Domain has some great ones. Normally you can’t book them, so it’s just a matter of knowing where to find them,” says the catering and event specialist, pointing out that for larger groups it’s worth sending in a scout to reserve some space in advance.
“It’s about embracing the fact that this is an outdoor event. Serving things that are supposed to be cold or at room temperature, and that don’t require heating or cooling. Embrace the strengths of the picnic, and choose things that will survive regardless of the weather,” she says.
Chef Sibley agrees, pointing out that food which is easy to serve is a key factor to a successful picnic. “Choose food that only requires a knife. Noisette bread, potted goods such as terrine, brandade and quiche,” she suggests. “Beautiful bread, non-perishable salads like potato and coleslaw, cold chops, smoked salmon and rosé.”
“If I pack a salad, I usually make one that will travel well and that I can dress at home. Not iceberg – it’ll just end up like soup. Try a cracked wheat salad or a chick pea salad; they get better sitting in the dressing, it all marinates,” says the acclaimed chef. “You should also have really good bread. It’s the basis of everything at a picnic. But a favourite of mine is cold roast chicken. I just think it’s hard to beat on a sunny day. Take a pot of mayo, a spoon and the chicken and that’s about all you’ll need.”
From here it all comes down to the finer details, the little things that set your picnic apart.
“You need everything to be delicate and lovely on a picnic,” says Miss Pearls of Madame Brussels with a laugh, giving a run down on picnic etiquette that echoes the garden party feel of her CBD bar. “Most importantly you need a really good picnic rug, and pillows – because you need to lie down. I don’t like sitting up at a picnic; I like to recline. And you must have really beautiful napkins. Do take real linen if you can manage it and proper glassware. It makes all the difference. And of course a good basket! Mine is one of those lovely French ones from Simon Johnson, large with leather handles. You can fit the whole lot in. It’s perfect.”
When it comes to the importance of the basket, Stewart and McConnell agree.
“I love the ones with the two proper glasses and real napkins,” says Stewart. “That kind of detail makes a huge difference. And with champagne that’s chilled, it’s really special,” she smiles.
For McConnell the basket brings it full circle back to a day of ease.
“A few years ago my family bought a picnic basket with all the bits and bobs. Now I go on picnics more often and stress free. If you’re into picnics, get a good basket; it’s a no brainer.”
And when the perfect picnic is all packed, you’ve just got to find the right company.
• Get a good basket that suits your needs; it doesn’t have to be specifically designed for picnicking, but should be kept stocked with the little things you might require.
• Always take good bread; it makes serving food easy.
• Choose food that will transport, store and serve well when away from the kitchen; sausage rolls, legume salads, quiches and cold chicken are ideal.
• Make sure you pack things well; containers are a must.
• Get a good rug (and maybe some cushions).
• Choose a location that has a wet-weather option.
• Don’t forget the sunscreen, garbage bags, a bottle opener and a good knife.
• Kate Stewart: Victoria Gardens, Prahran – for a gated garden
• Phillipa Sibley: Botanical Gardens – for peace in the city
• Andrew McConnell: Heide Museum grounds – for arty grassland
• Miss Pearls: Albert Park Pier – for a sunny lakeside afternoon
• Kings Domain – for gazebos
• Studley Park – for a row on the river
• Fitzroy Gardens – for city fringe peace
• Black Rock Beach – for a picnic on the sand
Where to get it:
Albert Park Deli
For everything from cheese to pate
Prahran Market/Victoria Market/South Melbourne Market
One-stop-shop for a selection of deli, bakers, fresh fruit and veg and even a basket
Simon Johnson (Chadstone, Fitzroy, Toorak)
For pre-packaged picnic treats
Leo’s Fine Food and Wine (Kew, Heidelberg, Hartwell)
For deli, breads and fruit and veg