A Christmas Picnic

With most of England, and indeed the UK, under some level of COVID restrictions, Christmas is going to be strange for most of us. Although we’re permitted to form a bubble over the festive period, most of us will be having to make sacrifices in terms of who we’re able to spend time with and how. For us, we’re only going to be able to see some of our family in a local park (which generally rules out fires and barbecues in a lot of places), so I figured we might as well make the Christmas picnic an actual thing.

The same rules (such as they are) apply as a normal picnic, so the food ideally will be eaten without needing cutlery, and the classics are ripe for being upgraded to much more festive versions. I’ve been playing with ideas that put a spin on sandwiches, snacks and drinks to keep us warm and feeling full of Christmas cheer after a wintery walk.

I will start with the obvious, the turkey sandwich with lashings of cranberry sauce and slices of stuffing. I don’t need to explain why it fits the bill. I do, however, feel that this is very much a boxing-day-onwards treat as the “leftovers sarnie” is about as good as sandwiches get at any time of year. Then you can add everything from pigs in blankets to roasties! Even sneak a sprout in there if you’re feeling so inclined – I won’t tell.

Pear and stilton is another favourite combination of mine. There’s something so indulgent about putting stilton on a sandwich that this feels like something that should be reserved for festivities – I probably wouldn’t eat something like this on a regular day. Add in some red chicory or radicchio and a sprinkle of walnuts and you’ve got a very special sarnie.

For a veggie/vegan option that is just as delicious and festive, spread some lightly spiced pumpkin or butternut squash puree onto your sandwich and layer up with sage-sauteed mushrooms and chestnuts. Yum!

Homemade sausage rolls are a lot easier than they sound and open up endless opportunities for being creative with flavours. You can usually buy sausage meat in the run up to Christmas, and most times of year from a local butcher. Otherwise you can take the casings off your favourite bangers and use that instead. I’ve added a recipe at the end of this post for my festive sausage rolls with chopped chestnuts, apricots, and sage – click here to skip to the recipe. You could also add in cranberry and caramelised onion, or some chopped up apple.

You probably don’t need my advice when it comes to a sweet festive element for your picnic. Oranges, Christmas cake, stollen, and panettone all feature at some point in my Christmas, but none more so than the humble mince pie. A small, soupcon of fruits and spices in a buttery, shortcrust pastry can immediately lift my spirits on a cold December day…ok let’s be honest I started on the mince pies in November this year. I love to make my own and this year I also made my own mincemeat using a mash-up of Delia’s and Nigel Slater’s recipes.

It wouldn’t be a picnic in Britain without a flask of something hot to drink. Instead of the usual tea and coffee, swap them out for a flask of mulled wine, mulled cider or rum-spiked hot chocolate – as long as you’re not driving anywhere of course. Otherwise try a peppermint or a chilli & orange hot chocolate, mulled apple, or add chai spices to your coffee.

I hope that gives you a bit of inspiration for this very strange festive time, and gives you something you might be able to look forward to. I’m trying to focus on the opportunity to do things in a new way, rather than feeling disheartened by everything that is different. A Christmas with more time spent outdoors could be a wonderful thing after all.

Homemade Sausage Rolls with Chesnut, Apricot and Sage Recipe

Ingredients

  • 400g sausage meat
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 90g cooked chestnuts, chopped
  • 100g apricots, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried sage
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 packs of ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 beaten egg

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan. Soften the onion in a frying pan over a low heat until translucent. Set aside until completely cool.
  2. Mix the chestnuts, apricots, sage, and onion into the sausage meat with a generous pinch of salt and an even more generous pinch of pepper and stir to combine.
  3. Roll out the pastry on a flat surface and slice in half lengthways. Lay the sausage mixture along the length of the pastry slightly off-centre and roll one side of the pastry over to the other so they meet. Crimp the edges together with a fork so they don’t come apart.
  4. With a sharp knife, cut the sausage rolls to size and brush with the egg.
  5. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until golden on top. You can check the meat is cooked properly using a probe thermometer which should read 75°C.

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