Warmer weather calls for some al fresco dining. Whether in the park, on a beach, or just in your backyard, packing the perfect picnic means having food that travels well and tastes delicious. I’m here to give you some great tips, recipes and a styling guide on how to host the perfect summer picnic.
The Picnic Basket (and alternatives)
Let’s start with the basic equipment that you need for throwing your summer picnic. First and foremost, you will need something to carry all of your food, drinks, dishes and servingware in. If you want to look sophisticated and have everything in one place, a fully-outfitted picnic basket is the way to go. I love the look of the traditional weaved straw basket, the leather handles and the hunter green fabric on our basket. I also love that it comes fully loaded with all the dishes, glassware and plates that we need for a picnic plus some bonus items like a wine cozy, a wine opener, and mini salt and pepper shakers!
Of course, you don’t have to go traditional. There are lots of really nice canvas picnic baskets on the market these days and even backpacks that come fully loaded with picnic utensils. While brand new traditional-style straw picnic baskets are definitely on the pricier side, the canvas and backpack version are more affordable. If you are looking for something even cheaper, you can always scour websites like Craigslist and VarageSale for gently-used picnic baskets at a much lower price or assemble your own (read how to assemble one below)! We actually found our picnic basket (photographed throughout) on VarageSale and it was only $40! What a bargain!
Whether you are buying a picnic basket, new or used, there are a few things to look for. First, make sure that the handle is sturdy and is securely attached to the basket and that it isn’t too heavy. If you can’t lift the basket on its own, you definitely won’t be able to lift it once it’s fully loaded with drinks and food! Also, make sure that that fasteners to hold your plates, utensils and glasses are strong and sturdy. You want these to be durable since you will be taking items out and putting them back frequently, so look for something that isn’t going to break after one or two uses.
And speaking of utensils, when you are looking to buy a fully-loaded picnic basket or are assembling one yourself, make sure that it comes with at least a set of two (but ideally four) of each of these items: plates, wine glasses, and utensils (forks, knives, spoons). Everything else that comes with a picnic basket can be added by yourself and aren’t a major necessity; like a mini cheese board, napkins, mini salt and pepper shakers, etc.
Of course, you don’t need a picnic basket to have a picnic! You can fill up your everyday grocery bags or a standard cooler to carry all of your food and drinks to your location. You can also use servingware from home or you can buy compostable servingware to bring on the picnic. It’s much lighter than regular utensils and is great for a crowd! Plus, you don’t have to feel bad about using plastic, just toss everything in compost and you will be good!
A Seating Blanket
No matter what basket option you go for, you will still need a blanket to sit on. You can use any blanket that you have around the house, just make sure it is large enough to sit all of your guests, or bring additional blankets so that everyone has a place to sit. Rather than using a regular old blanket from home (or the standard black and red-checker car blanket) I actually opted for using a tablecloth.
I picked up this fabulous Ralph Lauren tablecloth from HomeSense (it was on clearance for $15!) and I just loved the playful checkered pattern and colours. I also loved that this tablecloth was not absorbent like a blanket is, so if (or when) you spill something, you can essentially wipe it right off and you don’t have to deal with a wet spot on your blanket for the rest of the picnic! This tablecloth endured two lemonade spills during this photoshoot and you wouldn’t even be able to tell!
If you are looking to go all out, you can add some cute accessories to your picnic. I always thought that bringing pillows to a picnic was a little unnecessary (and a bit extra) until I used them on one of our picnics recently. Your booty does get sore after sitting on the ground for a while and a pillow helps tremendously with that! Plus, once you’re done eating, you can lie down and relax for a bit!
I also like to add little touches wherever I can to help set the mood even more. In this case, I used a lightweight straw-weaved charger to display my cheese plate (it also happened to match perfectly with the picnic basket) and of course, I had to have some flowers! I just picked a few carnations that I had at my house and brought them to the picnic…there’s definitely no need to go out and buy a flower arrangement or anything like that. Just a few little touches will make a world of difference!
Now onto the main event… THE FOOD! When planning a picnic, you want to make sure that you serve items that first and foremost travel incredibly well. This is not the occasion to bring a whole cake or a fancy composed salad. You essentially want something that is easy-going and can get from point A to point B without having to re-assemble it. You also want to ensure that the food that you are serving tastes good at room temperature and won’t spoil when sitting out in the sun and heat for a bit. So no pavlovas or mayonnaise-based salads here either! If you are stumped on what to bring, check out my fool-proof picnic menu below!
The Main Event
Sandwiches are easily the best thing to serve on a picnic since they transfer so well. You’ve been brining sandwiches to school your whole life and you can bring them to picnics as well, just make them a bit fancier! My guests (and their taste buds) are always impressed by my Pressed Italian Sandwiches. They have essentially every delicious Italian antipasto ingredient inside and are a general crowd-pleaser. Because come on, who doesn’t love antipasto!? I’ve loaded these sandwiches with my favourite Italian ingredients: thinly sliced prosciutto, hot capicollo, calabrese salami, provolone cheese, black olives, fire-roasted red peppers and basil leaves. All these ingredients get layered between two slices of herbed focaccia bread (I got mine from my local bakery, Wild Fire), pressed for 30 minutes (using a clean plate and a can of tomatoes) and sliced into individual portions. I’m drooling just thinking about it! I wrapped each sandwich up using parchment paper and tied each of them off with a decorative red string to make it look pretty for my guests. I then placed the sandwiches into a Tupperware container and placed them in my picnic basket next to an ice pack to keep cool.
To accompany these rich and flavourful sandwiches, I made an incredibly delicious (and filling) Chickpea Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette. I have been all about vinaigrettes lately since they are light but pack a hefty punch. I simply cooked the chickpeas, drained them and tossed them in with the vinaigrette while they were still warm. Chickpeas are a fairly dense legume and need some time to soak up the vinaigrette to become very flavourful and this process happens a lot faster when the chickpeas are warm. After the chickpeas have absorbed the vinaigrette and have cooled, I tossed in some diced cucumbers, parsley and some salt and pepper and mixed the whole lot up before portioning them out into mason jars. I find that eating the salad directly out of the mason jars is much less messy than serving them on a plate. Plus, everyone gets their very own portion! You can also get this ready the night before your picnic so that you can easily grab it and go…and you will know for sure that the chickpeas will be packed full of lemon flavour!
Of course, you can’t have a picnic without a bit of cheese and grapes! I served a delicious and incredibly creamy Buffalo Milk Brie from Natural Pastures Cheese Company that is locally made on Vancouver Island. This brie was mild in flavour but it was so rich and creamy…I almost ate the whole wheel to myself! Pairing this cheese with some fresh green grapes makes this a perfect dish that your guests can pick at throughout the picnic.
To wash all this delicious food down, I also made a refreshing Ginger-Mint Lemonade. Yes- MORE LEMONS! I love the spiciness that the ginger gives the lemonade and the cooling refreshing taste from the lemon and mint. I also added some local honey to sweeten the lemonade rather than using regular old white sugar. The honey gives the lemonade a subtle sweetness and floral aftertaste which is wonderful for a picnic! Also, for those who like to drink, I also brought along a bottle of chilled rosé wine. Bodacious makes a wonderful rosé that has a slight hint of sweetness and is perfect for sipping during the summer- highly recommend!
Finally, to round out the meal, I made some Chocolate and Raspberry Brownies. Now, you don’t have to make everything from scratch- you can totally go out and buy a nice sharable dessert from a local bakery or grocery store. I actually found that making these brownies (although relatively simple) along with everything else was A LOT of work and I had wished that I just picked something up….even though they were delicious! I don’t have the recipe available for you yet as I have some tweaking to do still, but stay tuned!
And that’s my complete guide for throwing the Perfect Summer Picnic! Let me know in the comments below where your favourite picnic spot is and what some of your favourite picnic recipes are!