Ah sun! Finally!
Thankfully it appears that the weather has finally changed, which can only mean one thing – PICNICS! Yippee!
Up until a few days ago, however, it seemed that the British weather was doing everything in it’s power to stop us enjoying the glorious great outdoors. The sky has been gloomy and the rain has been pretty relentless over the last couple of months. However, regardless of the severe weather warnings, a few weeks ago, along with other members of the New Sheridan Club, I packed up a picnic hamper and headed over to Oxford for a day of punting and picnicing.
The New Sheridan Club’s annual punt and picnic always takes place on the Saturday closest to St George’s day. This may be risky business, what with April being notorious for it’s ‘showers’, but it is a great day out, thats certainly worth the risk. Thankfully, for the last couple of years at least, we always seem to be unusually lucky with the weather. Brief torrential downpours are better than constant torrential rain, right?
Because the weather had been so dreadful the week leading up to the picnic, Oliver and I were seriously considering not going this year. However, when we were woken bright and early that morning with sunlight streaming through our window we jumped up, packed our hamper (full of tasty things that I’d made the previous day, just in case), and hopped on a train to Oxford.
The rest of the gang were already gathered by the river when we arrived, slowly piling into our fleet of punts, wibbling around precariously trying to embark while balancing a wicker hamper in one hand and a bottle of bubbly in the other. Soon enough we were all afloat, and after a slightly bumpy start (setting off the wrong way) our merry quartet were bimbling along in our punt smoothly enough to pop open the bubbly.
The weather was glorious and the bubbly was free flowing; all seemed perfect. About 15 minutes into our journey, however, disaster struck when we ran into a band of marauding pirates, who took us by surprise and made off with our picnic! We gave a good chase, and pelted them with some frankly fairly stern words, but to no avail. Our picnic was gone! At least we still had our stash of bubbly.
The next problem hit us just as fast. Our usual route was blocked because of the heavy rainfall, and a new picnic ground had to be found. With all the rain that had fallen the river was very fast flowing and finding somewhere to moor was a hard task indeed. In all the chaos we lost a pole down river, and in my fairly drunken state, I kicked off my heels and went a’frolicking through the nettles and down the river bank until I caught up with it and managed to fish it out with a big stick. It was my moment of glory… until I realised how much my feet hurt.
Once everyone had made it up the banks and to the picnic ground we started to tuck into our little feasts (we had managed to get our picnic back by then). A delightful array of sandwiches, cakes and other nibbles were passed round, as was the crowning glory of my own picnic hamper; a magnificent pork pie, made to a Mrs Beeton recipe, which was wolfed down with enthusiasm.
Then the heavens opened! It rained and it rained and it rained. Not that a little rain was going to dampen our spirits, we were far too busy eating, drinking and making merry. We eventually tottered back to our waiting fleet, and with the rain falling in buckets by that point, we started to head back feeling more than a little soggy!
It is a long standing tradition that someone falls in to the river every year, but as we clambered out of our punts at the end of the journey, we couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that no one had taken a dunking this time round. And then it happened! Poor Clayton, as he brought his punt in to dock took the plunge. Perhaps it was an accident, or perhaps it was a gallant attempt to keep the tradition alive… we shall never know!
Before I go, here’s Mrs B’s delicious pork pie recipe. If you’re planning a picnic of your own, now that we have some sun, why not give it a go?
~Mrs Beeton’s Pork Pie~
1 ¹/₂ lb. of lean pork (on the bone)
1 lb. of household flour (plain flour)
6 ozs. of lard
¹/₄ of a pint of water
Cut the meat into dice, and season it well with salt and pepper. Place the bones in a stewpan, add the onion, salt and pepper, cover with cold water, and simmer for at least 2 hours to extract the gelatine, in order that the gravy, when cold, may be a firm jelly.
Put the flour into a large basin, and add to it a good pinch of salt. Boil the lard and water together for 5 minutes, then add it to the flour, stirring it thoroughly until cool enough to be kneaded. Knead until smooth, cover with a cloth, and let the basin stand near the fire for about half and hour. Throughout the whole process the paste must be kept warm, otherwise moulding may be extremely difficult; but over heating must also be avoided. At the end of this time, re-knead the paste, put aside quarter for the lid and raise the remainder into a round or oval form, as may be preferred. If an inexperienced worker finds any difficulty in raising the pie by had alone, a small jar may be placed in the centre of the paste, and the paste moulded over it. When the lower part has been raised to the necessary shape and thinness, subsequent work may be made much easier by putting in some of the meat , and pressing it down fimly to support the lower part of the pie.
Before adding the lid, moisten the meat with 2 or 3 spoonfuls of the prepared seasoned gravy; the remainder is reheated and added when the pie is baked and still hot. Three or four folds of greased paper should be pinned round the pie to preserve its shape and to prevent it becoming too brown. The pie should be baked for at least 3 hours in a mserate oven, and its appearance is greatly improved by brushing it over with the yolk of an egg when about three quarters baked.
Time: To bake – about 2 hours
Sufficient: For 1 medium sized pie.
Oh, and another thing, on the subject of tasty food. I’m hosting a Coronation themed Jubilee ‘pop-up’ dinner party on the 2nd of June. Do come along, the more the merrier. I shall write a blog post on it very soon, but for now, for more details or to buy tickets go to: www.londonvintagekitchen.com or join our facebook group here. Hope to see you there!
Cheerio for now,