My memory of a picnic in the Fontainebleau forest, just south of Paris, sits in the forefront of my mind as much for a sense of fear as any particular gastronomic pleasure. It was more
than 30 years ago, but every thread of that particular Saturday remains gleamingly fresh in my mind. We'd headed down from Paris to stay in the little artist enclave of Barbizon for the weekend. I'd imagined fine dining and galleries and had packed accordingly, with heels, dresses and a fur coat. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had other ideas. His bag was packed only with hiking clothes. His old plaid shirt, a Swanndri jacket and tramping boots weren't going to get us into any swanky dining spots and so, begrudgingly, I agreed to a picnic.
As I stumbled through the ancient oak forest in my stilettos, the alarming sounds of gunfire started bellowing out all around us. I was overcome with fear, that dressed in my fur, I might be mistaken for some wild game. (We had no idea that it was hunting season - la chasse - and the reason the car park was full of white Citroen vans was because every zealous butcher, baker, bar owner, mechanic from Paris was out to get their fill of the season's game.) Finally we managed to scramble up to a wide rock ledge, which looked out over the forest in a majestic tapestry of tawny golds and browns. Perching on our rock in the soft haze of autumn light, we downed a crusty baguette, a slice of local terrine, a small round of chevre cheese and a bottle of burgundy, all procured from the little traiteur back in town.
Nothing about what we ate or drank was in any way exceptional but the taste of that particular picnic holds fast in its deliciousness - the crispness of the bread crust and the satisfying tear of its crumb, the excellence of the homemade terrine, likely crafted with little more than ground pork, some spices and brandy but, in my mind now, perhaps the best terrine I've ever eaten, the creamy tang of the cheese with its perfect acid balance such a marvellous foil to the warm rounded notes of the wine.
Context plays an enormous part not only in our eating experiences but also in our recall of them. Our memories aren't just based on the facts or our need for survival but are shaped by the emotions involved, the company we are sharing, the situation and the way our different senses are triggered.
Which is possibly why we love picnics. Eating outdoors piques our senses in so many ways — the smell of the ocean, the feel of soft spring grass underfoot, the sound of the breeze and the birds. Here's to picnics and the pleasures of dining outdoors.
Country Meatloaf Sandwich
My paternal grandmother was the queen of meatloaf. She made hers, as I have here, with a mixture of sausage meat and mince. The upgrade being that today's sausages are so much better than those of old. Great to serve in door-stopper picnic sandwiches with lettuce, slices of tomato and some relish or chutney.
Ready in 1 hour 20 minutes
300g pork mince
4 pork and fennel sausages, casings removed
1 onion very finely diced
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp tomato sauce
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp salt
10-12 grinds black pepper
HONEY MUSTARD GLAZE
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp tomato sauce
1 tsp honey
1 tsp ground ginger
Sourdough or Turkish bread
Relish or chutney
Preheat oven to 180C and line the base and sides of a medium (6-cup capacity) loaf pan with baking paper. In a mixing bowl, combine all the meatloaf ingredients (except glaze), mixing with a wooden spoon or clean hands until evenly combined.
Use wet hands to press the mixture evenly into prepared tin, smoothing the top.
To make the glaze, combine all the ingredients. Spread evenly over the top of the meatloaf and cover with foil.
Bake for 50 minutes, then uncover and bake a further 15-20 minutes or until meatloaf is golden and firm to the touch without a "give" when pressed.
Cool and chill. Serve slices in buttered bread with sliced tomatoes, lettuce and relish or chutney.
Spanish Picnic Pie
Versatile, affordable and tasty too, this picnic pie is sure to please your friends and family. For a vegetarian version of this picnic favourite, omit the chorizo and add 2 tsp smoked paprika and a decent handful of baby spinach to the egg mixture.
Ready in 1 hour
150g chorizo, very finely chopped
2 sheets store-bought shortcrust or flaky puff pastry
2 large cooked potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp thyme or marjoram leaves, plus sprigs to garnish
½ cup milk
1 tsp salt
Ground black pepper, to taste
Spicy tomato relish or other relish, to serve (optional)
Preheat oven to 200C fan bake and lightly grease a 22cm-diameter pie tin or round oven dish.
In a small frying pan, fry chorizo gently until golden (3 minutes). Remove from pan and set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out a pastry sheet until it is big enough to line the base and sides of the prepared dish. Spread chorizo over the pastry, top with potato slices and sprinkle with herbs.
In a mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs with the milk, salt and pepper. Pour evenly over the pie, reserving a little for glazing.
Roll out the remaining pastry sheet until big enough to cover the pie. Place on top of the pie and crimp to seal the edges to the base. Cut small slits in the top, brush with the reserved egg mixture and garnish with herb sprigs.
Bake until the pastry is golden and the egg is set (about 35 minutes). Serve with relish, if desired.
The cooked pie will keep, covered, in the fridge for 2-3 days and can be reheated.
Maple, Pear and Walnut Cake
I like to cook this in a small roasting dish but a big cake tin works too. It's great with any seasonal fruit.
Ready in 1½ hours
Makes 1 large cake
300g butter, melted but not too hot
Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated
2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup sugar
¼ cup maple syrup or honey
1 Tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder
4 pears, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup walnut pieces
Icing sugar, to dust
Yoghurt, cream or icecream, to serve
Preheat oven to 170C fan bake. Grease the sides of a 23cm x 33cm roasting dish or 30cm diameter cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
Combine all ingredients except pears, walnuts and icing sugar in a food processor and whizz until smooth.
Pour into prepared tin and arrange pears evenly over the top (they will sink into the batter so don't worry about trying to make them look pretty). Sprinkle with walnuts then bake until cake is risen and set and a skewer comes out cleanly when inserted into the centre (50-60 minutes).
Allow to cool in tin. Serve dusted with icing sugar with a dollop of yoghurt, cream or icecream. It will keep for 3 or 4 days in a sealed container in a cool place.
Yvonne's picks ...
(Country meatloaf sandwich)
Mills Reef Reserve Hawke's Bay Merlot 2019 ($25)
Holy cigarbox Batman! There's something so bad about how good this wine smells, like you've been trusted to look after El Chapo's humidor or something. Tobacco leaf, blueberries, a whomp of cocoa powder and bay leaf merge with soft, fine-grained tannins around a core of dark plum and those savoury, smoky edges. Its exceptional length of flavour makes it the perfect match for this meatloaf recipe.
(Spanish picnic pie)
Giesen Uncharted Marlborough Chardonnay 2020 ($28)
Sooth all that lovely smoky Spanish spice with a glass of this juicy, succulent chardonnay andale! Erupting with roast apricot, pineapple and cinnamon toast characters on the nose and sending the palate into an apple-edged peach party, the monster 2020 vintage has seriously delivered something delicious. Fat, juicy and jumping with energy and tension, it's a rich, ripe, face-wallop of a chardonnay that really showcases how Marlborough produces powerhouse styles.
(Maple pear cake)
Pegasus Bay Waipara Valley Fortissimo Muscat NV ($40)
Sightings of this wine are super-rare. It's like the vinous version of the Ashburton panther or the Fiordland moose or the infamous East Auckland monkey-cat (shout-out to my cryptozoology buds). Crafted using tiny amounts of muscat grapes that've been left on the vine to intensify the sweetness, it's then fermented and fortified to 16 per cent with a splash of neutral spirit. It's layered with luxuriously sweet lemon verbena, apricot and spiced fig complexity. Gloriously golden, it's criminally lovely with this cake. pegasusbay.com