It’s a good thing we give ourselves quite a while to plan these events as it usually takes a bit of mulling to come up with initial ideas and then find out whether they're actually in anything more concrete than an episode of Friends. My first plan was to do something terribly cultured and recreate an iconic picnic from American literature. But I couldn’t think of one. Then I got stuck on the fact that I couldn’t think of an American version of a sandwich which didn’t use a non-American bread like bagels or baguettes. Worried that I was just trying to Americanise an English picnic, I turned to our friendly family Yank, Eco Bro, and asked him what made up the picnics of his childhood. He looked at me as though I was crazy to need to ask such a question, and replied ‘barbeque, of course’. Apparently you just turn up at a park with a disposable barbeque and some burgers and buns, or use the ones they have there. I don’t want to imply that’s by any means unheard of here, but it didn’t leave me a great deal of manoeuvre for this veggie event. I took the general theme and ran with it though, deciding to make veggie burgers with buns and relish. I’m of the personal opinion that a picnic is not a time when you want a fancy home-made bun (though I could be persuaded for the right sort of picnic, I’m sure); instead you want some of those pleasingly squishy mass-manufactured buns, and only in white, of course. I made the other of our favourite burgers, from a Rose Elliott recipe, which we like to eat with tomato relish and salad. They’re firm enough that you could pack them and transport them to the venue of your choice, though you’d need to be a little careful with them on a barbeque.
Salad formed the other part of my foray into American picnics: potato salad and a corn, bean and avocado salad. Potato salads came up in every website I found on picnic food, and the traditional corn and bean combo seemed like another winner. Our picnic actually took place a couple of weeks ago as I wanted to share it with Eco Sis and Eco Bro, and so the chances of eating it outside were pretty small (who am I kidding – we planned to have a picnic this weekend and it wasn’t really warm enough then either!). As we so often have to do over here, we had our picnic inside, but I kept to the theme and laid the table out with a picnic rug and our best plastic cutlery. The salads were served out of Tupperware, and we drank out of plastic glasses. I love occasion food, even if the weather doesn’t oblige (and it’s better than miserably eating crisps in the English rain, or fighting with your siblings while you watch the windscreen wipers trying to clear the view of the beach)! Our little feast was still a success despite being indoors, and was a nice veggie take on what I imagine an American back-yard picnic might be like.
Lisa has already told me that she included Pimm’s in her picnic, so it sounds to me as though she’s pretty spot-on with her English theme. I just hope that she got better weather than we usually do here!
Spicy beanburgers (from Rose Elliot's Vegetarian Slimming)
Makes 81 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped or grated [I grate because I like the texture better in the cooked burger]
1/2 green pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1/4 - 1/2 tsp hot chilli powder (optional) [but good!]
1 tsp ground coriander
2 cans red kidney beans
50g soft wholewheat breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
100g dried wholewheat breadcrumbs, to coat
a little extra olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200 C/Gas 6
Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and stir. Cover and leave to cook over a moderate heat for 5 mins, stirring occasionally. Then add the carrot, green pepper and garlic, stirring occasionally. Add the spices, stir for 1-2 mins, then remove from the heat. Mash the beans and add to the onion mixture together with the breadcrumbs and seasoning to taste. Divide into eight, form into burgers and coat with dried breadcrumbs. Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake until brown and crisp on one side, then turn over to cook the other side. [I find this takes about 20-25 mins altogether] Drain on kitchen paper. Serve hot or warm.