Thursday, 9 June 2011

Picnics and Other Outdoor Feasts by Claudia Roden

I believe that food writing, when done well, can be just as emotive and inspiring as any other form of literature. I have already covered Elizabeth David, although I am much better acquinted with Claudia Roden’s recipes (her red lentil soup is a favourite) and this recent acquisition on picnics is a gem.

Picnics are as much an excuse for a few drinks as they are for unwrapping sandwiches out of acres of Bacofoil and peeling hardboiled eggs. The natural choice is wine:

One tries to simplify things outdoors and I am quite happy to wash down pies and cold meats, vegetables and desserts with one wine only. But for the dedicated drinkers who believe like Brillat-Savarin that ‘the palate becomes cloyed and after three or four glasses, it is but a deadened sensation that even the best wine provokes’, it is right to offer two. Have a light refreshing white, commended by Savarin as ‘less affected by movement and heat and more pleasantly exhilarating’, which you can carry chilled in a refrigerated box or keep cool in the river, and a hearty stout red wine which cannot be unduly harmed by the journey, or a rosé, which is said to be particularly delicious by the sea. Serve straight-forward and relatively inexpensive wines. They will taste better on a picnic, while the fine aged ones are too delicate for rough outdoor handling and will be overpowered by all the competing perfumes of nature.

Not everyone drinks wine though:

If you are not having wine, it is well known that Englishmen are happy with good beer and women with good cider and that beer mixed with Stone’s ginger wine makes Shandy Gaff. And, of course, there is nothing as grand as a champagne picnic.

Which leads us to her champagne menu for Glyndebourne:

Indeed there can be few delights to compare with the pleasures of an elegantly chosen meal taken by one of the lakes, while watching the sun go down with the second half of Mozart still to come. People travel in evening dress... They leave their hampers in a favourite spot in the gardens, sometimes with the champagne bottle left to cool in the lake, tethered to a tree, until the interval.

I feel stirred to dig out the dinner jacket and go along myself, if I could actually afford the ticket. Nevermind, the next picnic will be enjoyed with a bottle of something chilled in the River Wey and with a couple of sonatas brought along for playing on the Victrola.

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