The inclement weather in much of the UK has put a bit of a dampener on National Picnic Week. However, Great British Chefs blogger Victoria Glass is an “incurable optimist” & recounts her love of picnics starting from her student days. She kindly shares two recipes for delicious pies that can be packed up quickly & eaten on the move, if the rain stops your picnic.
The weather in the UK is a capricious beast at the best of times, but the last couple of weeks have seen the sky bare her teeth with monsoon downpours, only to about turn and surprise us with a sunshine smile, and all within the space of fifteen minutes. Who knows what will happen next, but as an incurable optimist, I live in hope.
When I was a student at Leeds University, my housemate and I would celebrate our birthdays every year with a joint picnic in Roundhay Park, and no adverse weather conditions could put us off. These picnics became such a diary event of the year that I even bought a half priced croquet set from Past Times to add to the glamour. More often than not, the croquet would be abandoned after the first hour, and instead we’d spend the afternoon rolling down hills to see who could get to the bottom without spilling their beer.
We had all the usual stuff – salads, cheese, cold meats and Scotch eggs, washed down with several boxes of wine and a bucket of Pimms (did I mention we were students?). This was followed by pudding in the shape of a tin overflowing with “gaudy cakes”. It became a competition between my housemate and I to see who could create the most lurid coloured icing and fit the most jelly tots on top of our fairy cakes. I shan’t offend your taste buds with a recipe here, but needless to say, they injected a crazed, hyperactive mania to the afternoon and no one went home without a blue tongue.
Although those Leeds picnics helped to shape my love of al fresco eating, packing up afterwards was always an unwelcome effort. These days, I try to keep containers to a minimum to avoid carting all that tupperware back and forth. Tin foil parcels can be made in minutes and crushed down to almost nothing, so taking them home for the recycling bin won’t leave you breaking a sweat.
Some picnic irritations can’t be avoided, however hard you try. You can’t always be protected from the odd spell of rain or the discovery at 4:05pm that the park keeper locked the loos at 4, but that’s all part of the British picnic experience, isn’t it? They might lose a little of their charm if everything ran completely to plan, but I try to keep any mishaps firmly outside the picnic hamper.
Hand pies are perfect, as no plates or cutlery are necessary and you’ve still got a free hand for effusive gesticulation or for holding a G&T. You can be as experimental as you like with the fillings, just try to steer clear of anything too saucy. You don’t want to bite into a pie only to lose the contents down your shirt.
I’ve also experimented with a gluten-free sliced picnic pie, inspired by a similar gluten-filled version in Angela Boggiano’s excellent book, Pie. Everyone loves pie after all, so it’s not fair to leave the gluten dodgers out in the cold. These delicious squares can be cooked, pre-sliced and carried in a disposable tin foil tray and hold their shape perfectly for a no plates spread. One thing’s for certain, even if you do get soaked in the summer rain, at least you won’t go home hungry with these.
Picnic Hand Pie
I filled mine with pork sausage meat layered with a prune and apple stuffing and topped with a generous blob of piccalilli, because I adore prunes and like the idea of my pie being self-relishing. You can swap the prunes for apricots and the rosemary for thyme or sage, or you can leave the stuffing out altogether and instead burrow a boiled egg into the meat for a speedy take on a gala pie.
This is enough for 4 medium or 8 mini pies
1 quantity of hot water crust pastry
For the stuffing
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 apple, cored and grated (no need to peel)
A generous handful of pitted prunes, chopped
A glug of brandy
A couple of tbsp. breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper
Follow the instructions on my blog for making hot water crust pastry pie cases – this will give you instructions for making 8 small pies, but I made 4 slightly large pies this time. If you want them bigger, just choose bigger glasses.
To make the stuffing, simply soften the onion, apple and garlic in a generous knob of butter until translucent, then bung in the prunes, rosemary and seasoning and stir for a couple of minutes. Chuck in the brandy and let the alcohol burn off before adding the breadcrumbs. Stir it through so the breadcrumbs start to swell, taste for seasoning and decant into a cold bowl to cool.
For the pie filling
400g sausage meat
A suspicion of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4
Simply squidge all the pie filling ingredients together. Slide your pie cases off their glasses and pop them on a baking tray. Fill your cases up to a third full with sausage meat – really squish it down to compress it. Then add a layer of stuffing, followed by another layer of sausage meat. Press your finger into the top layer to make a shallow well for a spoonful of piccalilli.
Make the pastry lids and stick them on, following the instructions on my blog and bake the pies for 40 minutes. Leave to cool.
Gluten free pie squares
You can easily make this vegetarian by taking out the chorizo and using vegetarian hard cheese instead of Parmesan. Feel free to experiment with ingredients, courgettes and pine nuts or chicken and mushroom both make delicious alternatives.
For the pastry
300g gram flour
100g rice flour
1 tsp xanthan gum
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp olive oil
125 – 150 ml water
Sift the flours, salt and xanthan gum into a large bowl, make a well in the middle and pour in the oil and water. Use a fork to start drawing the dry ingredients into the wet until it gets combined enough to ditch the fork and get kneading. You should be left with smooth, soft dough. Wrap it in cling film until you’re ready to roll it.
For the filling
1 large onion, sliced into half moons
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, sliced
1 yellow pepper, sliced
125g cooking chorizo, chopped
2 tsp smoked paprika
100g paella rice
50g Parmesan, grated
2 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and oil an 8” x 12” roulade tin or a disposable tin foil tray.
Wash the spinach and pop it in a lidded pan over a low heat until all the leaves have wilted. Drain it, squeezing out any excess water.
Soften the onion, garlic and peppers in a little oil before adding the chorizo. Cook through and season and stir in the paprika. Leave to cool.
Add the rice and toss it around in the glossy orange sausage juices, stir in the eggs, spinach and Parmesan.
Cut the pastry in half and roll one half until very thin and large enough to line the base and sides of the roulade tin.
Spoon in the filling and smooth it out, before rolling the second half of the pastry to create a lid. Trim the edges with a sharp knife and press together with your fingers to seal.
Brush the top with an egg wash and pop in your preheated oven for 30 – 35 minutes.
This pie can be served warm or cold
You can find more picnic recipes in our Picnic Collection. What are some of your favourite pies to take on picnics?