Alfresco made easy

As jubilee picnics set the pace for entertaining this summer, royal warrant holders advise on using the best of British produce to celebrate outdoors and in style

Is this the year of the posh picnic? The ultimate alfresco meal will be held tomorrow (4 June) when 10,000 people, chosen by public ballot, will gather in the gardens of Buckingham Palace.

There they will enjoy a Diamond Jubilee picnic donated by Waitrose and created by Heston Blumenthal and royal chef Mark Flanagan, before they are entertained by the Diamond Jubilee Concert.

Those of us who miss out on such revelries still have plenty of opportunities to celebrate the summer of 2012 with the best of British produce, and in a suitably regal style.

Fortnum & Mason offers a range of freshly made picnics, from £40-£200, all of which can be collected from the Piccadilly store or delivered by taxi. For example, Fortnum’s Jubilee Picnic (£40) is filled with simple yet luxurious fare – smoked salmon sandwiches, coronation chicken salad and strawberry Eton Mess.

Packed into a Fortnum’s bag, it also includes finger wipes and biodegradable spoons, forks and knives, so no forward planning is required. “All you need is sunshine,” says Fortnum’s buyer for fresh food and deli Shirley Aubrey.

“Picnics are becoming more popular but also more dramatic. People want to make a feast,” she says, pointing to the popularity of poached salmon and ready-to-carve Beef Wellington from the store’s food hall.

But those with a limited budget needn’t miss out. “Whether it’s a street party, a seaside picnic or a lunchtime picnic to take to the park, as long as the ingredients, the products and the provenance is good it will be a success.”

One of the simplest picnics, a hunk of bread and quality artisan cheese has been enjoyed outdoors for hundreds of years, says Ros Windsor, managing director of fine foods supplier Paxton & Whitfield. “It was eaten by farm workers in the sunshine, with an apple.”

Picnics are sociable events and Windsor is seeing an increase in picnic-style parties at home. “They are a relaxed way to invite friends round,” she says. “Guests often like to contribute dishes, too.”

Paxton & Whitefield’s Diamond Jubilee products are suitable for either picnics or outdoor parties. The Fit for a Queen “cheesecake” of cheeses with a royal association, for example, includes Auld Lochnagar, made in the shadow of Balmoral. It can cater for as many as 120 people (£265) or be presented in a gift pack for £33.

Seasonal native fruits mean that the British theme can be sustained for dessert. “Fruit is the ultimate convenience food and travels well to picnics,” says Ian Thurgood, joint managing director of Wilkin & Sons.

A purveyor of conserves and chutneys from the Tiptree orchards and fields in Essex, Wilkin & Sons also sells Tiptree strawberries on fresh fruit counters. “What could be more British than strawberries and cream?” says Thurgood.

And careful preparation will ensure that another icon of British life – a cup of tea – can be enjoyed on picnics, says Twinings tea ambassador Mark Nicholls. “Take a flask of hottest water (preheat the flask with boiling water, tip it out, then pour in water which is on a rolling boil) and brew on the spot,” is his advice.

Twinings has launched a commemorative blend of Assam and Yunnan teas in a Diamond Jubilee tea caddy (£6 for 100g). Nicholls says that the rich and malty Assam, combined with the caramel depth of the Yunnan go well with British afternoon tea treats such as Victoria sponge or fruit cake – perhaps ideal for a street party.

And the final touches for a patriotic, luxurious picnic? A union flag box of chocolates (£22) from chocolatier Charbonnel et Walker. “Chocolate can travel to picnics,” says spokeswoman Victoria Leadbitter. “But en route it must be kept at room temperature, out of sunlight.”

Above all, make sure you are sitting comfortably, says Caroline Stacpoole, owner of The General Trading Company. “We have been selling a lot of our UK-manufactured woollen recycled picnic rugs (£19.99) and a recycled rug with a plastic backing (£59.99), so if you are setting up your picnic on damp ground you will not get a wet bottom.”

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