Until a month ago, I would have said “I have picnics down pat”, as I have one nearly every weekend. Seriously. There are three standard models: 1. Pack a few basics, walk to the Sydney fish markets, buy supplies, walk around to the opposite side of the bay and have prawn rolls. 2. Pack a scratch picnic from whatever’s in the fridge, and drive out of town to a favourite beach. 3. Drive out of town to the same favourite beach and buy supplies when we get there.
None of these requires a menu-planning session, days of baking, or anything much in the way of advance preparations. For a fish market picnic we make lemon and dill mayo at home, pop a few lettuce leaves in a container and buy prawns, bread rolls, fruit and drinks at the market. There’s a local sparkling rosé we’re keen on, which means sometimes we need to pack the plastic picnic flutes, and sometimes we make use of the bottle opener which hangs permanently from the insulated picnic bag, but usually a bottle of iced water from home does the trick.
I felt that I had pretty much perfected the art of eco friendly, lightweight picnic packery – reusable containers that do double duty as ‘plates’, l&r contact lens containers for s&p, favourite little metal forks, water bottle, a damp teatowel for any messy fingers such as the ones we have to deal with after peeling prawns. Simple.
Recently, however, my husband turned all that on its Laurie Black head by making me a bespoke, deluxe picnic outift. The new regalia includes a vintage silver cruet set, lobster claw crackers and forks, burnished steel oyster forks, some (hurrumph) liberated airline cutlery of a particularly stylish variety – nothing to do with me, officer – all housed in a custom made white linen cutlery roll, as well as heavy cotton napkins, enamel plates, and, most unexpected of all, very modern stemless silver drinking bowls made by a British designer. Again, seriously.
So now, it seems, I have stepped from the world of easy-care, portable picnics, into a very different version of reality. Must I plan menus? Does this mean Edwardian-style productions and teams of kitchen staff? More to the point, will we have porters?
Believe me, it is a charming present, and nobody else has one like it. Anyone who knows me will understand exactly how right it is to go bespoke for me. I’m not known for settling for standard. I’m the person who wants whatever isn’t available. I have unexpectedly stepped through the looking glass. It is true that I have already swiped the silver bowls and repurposed them attractively around the sitting room. I am completely prepared to go with it, though – we’ve already taken the new kit to the beach twice, and it has changed what we’ve chosen to eat. That’s the interesting bit for me – the objects affect the food choices. I don’t think we’ll be opting for gourmet ‘dogs from the guy with the blue fauxhawk and loud metal. We’ll be heading into the deli and buying lavosh and yoghurt dip. As the weekend approaches, I am also turning my mind to baking – perhaps a cake, and someday soon there’s going to be a chicken pie, I can just feel it. I do love a chicken pie.
Next time we’re at the fish market we can buy oysters, then shuck them once we’re settled in our shadey spot. Yes, there’s even a shucking knife. Some people probably think that is making work where none is required, but there is no oyster better than the one that was just shucked. I can see that picnics 2.0 could be distinctly delicious. It’s a culinary adventure that I didn’t see coming. I am very happy to be on it, though, and feel very happy to be prodded into a bit of baking. Don’t think for a minute that the prawn roll picnic will become a thing of the past though. The insulated bag, the damp teatowel and the plastic containers will still have to do some picnic shifts. Only a lunatic would give away the prawn roll picnic.