The humble picnic has become synonymous with the Great British summer. Going to the beach? To the park? Even if you are not leaving your home but the sun is shining, chances are you’ll be enjoying some sort of garden picnic with friends and family.
It turns out that the Great British Picnic does not have British origins. It is in fact an old French tradition that us Brits have borrowed from across the pond and put our own spin on. Whilst we cannot be 100% sure where the picnic name originated, it appears the French first used the term “pique-nique” as “the same name as a satirical character from the 17th century who guzzles away, even when his peers are enduring food shortages”. Coincidence? We think not.
The picnic made it to Blighty during the French Revolution when members of the aristocracy fled France. It was a group of French settlers who started London’s Pic Nic Society in 1801 which required each member to bring along a dish and six bottles of wine (a ratio we can completely get on board with).
Traditionally, the upper class or aristocracy enjoyed picnics indoors. It was the middle classes who invented the outdoor version we know and love today which, along with being much cheaper than the fancier indoor affairs, was a chance to enjoy the countryside.
The picnic list in “Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management” (the ultimate guide to running a household in Victorian Britain published in 1861) features four roast fowl and two ducks. Just goes to show how much the picnic has evolved over the last 150 years, with a sandwich and crisps being our go-to picnic fodder today.
Astonishingly, the average person in the UK picnics 3 times a year, totalling 94 million picnics per year . That’s a lot of picnics! It’s also a lot of waste, particularly when so much traditional picnic food is wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. Eliminating plastic waste completely is not easy, but there are lots of simple ways to reduce the amount of plastic you buy with a bit of planning ahead. To help you make the change, we're sharing 5 of our top tips to help you picnic (or lunch, brunch and snack) sustainably, no matter where you are.
TOP 5 TIPS TO KEEEP YOUR PICNIC PLASTIC-FREE
Ceramics. Not something you usually associate with picnics given their fragile nature. However, we are here to assure you that picnicking with your ceramic plates is a definite option, provided they are securely packed in the picnic basket. Simply wrap your pottery plates in between some tea towels (which may come in handy later!) and use your picnic blanket as padding so the plates are secured and not moving around.
Another great way to pad the plates is to take some linen napkins with you. Linen napkins are well worth the investment and are much better for the environment than kitchen towel that comes in plastic wrapping. They also look gorgeous on the table at home so shouldn’t just be reserved for picnic season! Simply pop in the wash when they have been used and they are ready to go again.
Using your ceramic plates is so much better than plastic plates, or even paper plates, as although these are recyclable, they are single use and usually come wrapped in plastic. Pottery plates also look so much more stylish. Bamboo plates are a good option too but if you do not picnic often, they tend to end up forgotten about in the drawer whereas ceramic can be used every day at home too.
2. Say no to pre-packed foods
Avoid dreaded pre-packed food by preparing your picnic using fresh food. Don't worry, we are not suggesting you roast up a couple of ducks like Mrs Beeton (although if you do wish to do so, unbelievably her book is still on sale), but cooking fresh is so much better for the environment as plastic packaging is largely non-recyclable.
Whip up a quick healthy salad and pop in a Tupperware box, make your own sandwiches, cut up some veggies and devour with some homemade dips. These things are much easier to make than you think, but if you’re looking for inspiration check out Jamie Oliver’s website for some straight forward and delicious dip recipes, and Country Living for 101 easy picnic recipes.
In terms of delicious picnic drinks, we love this creation by Rosie Birkett (IG @RosieFoodie) and Kate Ampomah (IG @eatandmess) - to get out and pick your own elderflower and make homemade cordial. Such a fun activity for the summer and the final product is simply perfect for a picnic. Take along a little bottle of your favourite gin (our current favourite is the marvellous Marlow Gin – to keep the grown ups happy!
3. Shop and support local
Whilst you are probably a little tired of hearing “shop local and support local businesses”, it really is so important, not only to sustain great variety on our high streets but for the UK economy and the environment too.
Most of the food sold in the supermarket is wrapped in plastic, including fruit and vegetables, which often seems so unnecessary. Sandwich essentials are also often wrapped in plastic, think cheese, bread, ham – all plastic wrapped. Avoid this by shopping at your local deli and pick up some delicious goodies for your picnic. You can even take a Tupperware box with you to keep your purchases fresh and ready for the fridge.
Many independent cafes are also offering picnic platters too so make sure to check those out on your next mooch up the high street. Phenology in Henley are selling eco-friendly luxury platters, all wrapped in paper and cardboard and come with compostable cutlery. They look drool-worthy and are perfect for a special occasion, whether out and about or to enjoy in the garden. The photos do all the talking.
4. Wrap it up
Cling film and tin foil are the worst offenders for single-use plastic and wrapping but there is a solution, either in the form of Tupperware (although this is still plastic, they are normally reused for years) or even better, a reusable wrap to prevent more plastic being made.
We LOVE these beautiful wraps made by The Beeswax Wrap Co. not only because they come in all sorts of lovely designs (with Prue Leith and Emma Bridgewater both having ranges) and are good for the environment, but because it is a UK female led company doing great things. They last up to a year, and you can buy beeswax to give them a refresh using an iron or an oven. A great eco-friendly alternative to cling film.
5. Keep it cool (or hot)
A thermos flask or bottle is essential for a picnic. We love Chilly's bottles, which keep drinks cold for 24 hours or hot for 12 and come in sizes from 260ml to 1.8L. The world is your oyster when you have a Chilly bottle as you can keep cocktails, squash or water in these, and it will stay cool the whole day. Alternatively, you can keep hot tea or coffee in them as well. A great picnic essential whatever the weather, and great for long walks, camping or for commuting into work once picnic season is over.
And if you’re out in the garden, treat yourself to a super summery ceramic jug to serve your drinks in (filled with lots of ice to keep it cool) and avoid the to and from the kitchen for refills! Keeeps currently has several gorgeous jugs available but our current favourite for a picnic has to be this pickled number by Kate Garwood.
Whilst these tips are intended to help with making your picnics more sustainable, they can also be used in general food preparation and when entertaining at home. For the foodies in your life, the products featured in this post are great gift ideas too. We really hope we have given you some things to think about when preparing for your next sustainable picnic. Bon appetit, and enjoy your pique-nique!