Amanda Nicholls looks at the evolution of the British larder…
Going by general office chatter, this summer – and I use the term gingerly given its cruel and cursory appearances – still saw its fair share of bravely borne picnics despite its erratic behaviour. There’s no doubt capricious weather conditions have remained a steadfast feature of the Great British Picnic over the years, but what about the contents of the traditional hamper?
Tucking into a hummus and falafel wrap as the clock struck lunchtime, my thoughts turned to the transformation of this ever-popular pursuit.
Regardless of the juggernaut that is the junk food industry, over the past couple of decades I think, on the whole, we Britons have become hugely health-conscious – particularly with the advent of shows such as Supersize vs. Superskinny, You Are What You Eat, and Jamie’s School Dinners. Forever told that those elsewhere in the world (particularly around the Mediterranean) are living longer due to their rich and nutritious diet, could it be that mums and dads will soon forbid the king of the yellow foods – the charming yet undeniably bland potato smile – and all his subjects, from the dinner table?
These days, supermarket shelves see nine-to-fivers squabbling over sushi and stuffed vine leaves at lunchtimes, so it stands to reason that when it comes to picnicking in parks, long gone are the staple Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, stodgy pasties and pork pies (all long-standing members of the beige society). It looks like the triangular white bread sarnies of yore are taking their leave, too.
These starchy British classics are increasingly being replaced by lighter snacks hailing from France, Spain, Greece and Italy in particular. Previously the preserve of the middle classes for the most part, morsels such as olives, cured meats, sun-dried tomatoes, hummus, couscous and healthier cheeses such as ricotta, feta and halloumi now grace our picnic blankets. Even restaurants classing themselves as modern British now feature hybrid dishes – another sign that these once-foreign foods have gradually assimilated into everyday British cuisine.
One of my most favourite waterside spots in Bristol is The Apple on Welshback, which, during summer months, offers an award-winning handful of ploughman’s lunches featuring really good quality, carefully selected ingredients. Amongst the Fatman’s Lunch, Farmhand’s Banquet and Mutineer’s Lunch, you’ll find the Frenchman’s – complete with Brie and duck paté – and the Spaniard’s, with chilli spiced cheddar, zingy salsa and cured Serrano ham. Such variations on this British summertime classic, and their popularity, are a clear sign of our broadening preferences.
I have to say, I for one am hugely glad to have put paid to dated Dairylea, gristly corned beef with shudder-inducing jelly edges, and luncheon meat – particularly the type chopped into the shape of a bear’s face. You know the one.