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Issue 3 - Picnic and mix

Scotland Magazine Issue 3
July 2002

 

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Picnic and mix

Sue Lawrence packs up a hamper with traditional Scottish goodiies- and slips in a few surprises for good measure...

Picnics are synonymous with sunshine. They suggest long hazy days easing into warm, balmy evenings. So why on earth do we even contemplate picnics in Scotland? Well, because whatever the weather (and this is the land of four seasons in a day), eating outdoors is still one of the most enjoyable experiences to be had – provided precautions are taken. And whereas in sun-blessed California or Queensland those precautions might be packing sufficient sun-block and bottled water, in the north of Britain they come in the shape of warm pullovers, waterproofs and umbrellas. Many a Scottish picnic has taken place huddled under umbrellas or even inside cars, fugged up with steam from Thermos flasks of necessary hot drinks.

It is crucial to remember that with Scottish picnics, the date on the calendar is of little importance. Apart from warm clothing, therefore, it is essential to have something warm to eat or drink. Flasks of hot soup are essential for picnics in Scotland – and considering it is something we do well, a pot of soup can be made the night before then reheated and poured into flasks in the morning. Hot coffee is also a good idea, since our proverbial sweet tooth dictates that we have a little something sweet after the savouries (fruit cake, chocolate brownies, buttery shortbread) to make us feel at one with the elements.

Another idea for warmth – and something our family always plans – is a bonfire. Whether small campfire or large bonfire, not only do the flames keep everyone warm, it is also handy to cook delicious sausages and marshmallows over. Then, with hot bangers, the very best sausage sandwich can be rustled up in situ – smeared with mustard and squashed between two slabs of good granary or sourdough bread – this is the very fabric of picnic dreams.

Since in Scotland we are renowned for our pies, I also like to bake a pie or savoury tart on the morning of the picnic (having prepared the pastry the night before) and take it to the venue still warm and smelling so delicious that everyone in the car is positively salivating by the time the venue has been chosen. Besides, if a freak blizzard suddenly descends, a savoury tart or pie is wonderful to have at the alternative venue (back-up plans are always essential), which is invariably the kitchen table.

As for drink, well, we are many things in Scotland but above all, I like to think we are optimists. Which is why, apart from flasks of boiling hot liquids, we also bring crateloads of beer and wine which is easy to cool, in theory, in a nearby stream. I am actually considering taking red wine – but kept in a flask so it is at room temperature – to my next picnic, for at least that will be slightly more warming than ice-cold chardonnay straight from the frigid waters of a Scottish loch!

Once you are fully prepared with your windshields, waterproofs and travel rugs, there is little else to do but pack your hamper to overflowing and hope for the best. Don’t forget – even if the weather is inclement, appetites are usually somewhat sharpened outdoors, so pack far more food than you think you could possibly need. Believe me, it will all be devoured.

AUBERGINE AND OATMEAL TART

150g / 5 1/2oz plain flour, sifted
100g / 3 1/2oz medium oatmeal + 1tbsp
150g / 5 1/2oz butter, diced
1 large egg
1 large aubergine, thickly sliced, fried in olive oil until tender, patted dry
400g / 14oz tin crushed tomatoes
100g / 3 1/2oz mature Cheddar, grated
1 tbsp olive oil

Place flour, oatmeal, butter and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Process then add the egg. Process, combine to a ball, cover, chill for 15 to 20 minutes then roll out to fit a deep, 23cm tart tin. Prick the base, chill again. Bake blind (lined with foil and baking beans) at 190C / 375F / Gas mark five for 15 minutes, remove foil and beans, cook for five more minutes, remove. Sprinkle 1tbsp of oatmeal over the base, top with tomatoes, then aubergines, and season. Scatter with cheese, drizzle with oil, bake for 20 to 25 minutes and serve warm with salad.

SAUSAGE SANDWICH

8 slices granary or sourdough bread
butter
wholegrain mustard
black olive tapenade
8 cooked sausages, warm
2 to 3 tomatoes, sliced
piccalilli

Spread each slice of bread with butter, then spread four with mustard, four with tapenade. Halve each sausage and place on top of the mustard slices. Top with tomato slices then a generous dollop of piccalilli. Top with the tapenade slices, cut in half and devour.

CREAM SCONES

Similar to ‘biscuits’ in the US, these scones should be eaten on the day they are made. Rich enough with the cream incorporated into the dough, they only need a tiny smear of jam to serve.

250g / 9oz plain flour
2 tsp golden caster sugar
1 heaped tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
284ml / 9 1/2 fl oz tub of double cream

Sift the first four ingredients into a bowl. Gradually pour in the cream, incorporating it through with a large metal spoon. Once combined, bring together with your hands and turn onto a floured board.
Meanwhile, place a lightly buttered baking sheet into an oven preheated to 220C / 425F / Gas mark seven. Press the dough out to a thickness of 2cm or 3/4” and cut out using a scone / biscuit cutter. Place onto a hot sheet and bake for about 15 minutes or until well risen. Remove to a wire rack to cool.