Picnics….

Picnics…

“I am delighted to have been asked to contribute to Mam Cymru. I am a Mam of a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl and live with my Other Half in Sunny Swansea.  By the time you read this I will have retired from being a Police Officer for 30 years with South Wales Police.  So, I am hoping that the juggling of Small people, the Other Half’s business and life in general will have got slightly easier.

I have no formal training at all in cooking, I am just fuelled by total greed, the need to feed family and friends and an untreatable obsession regarding cook books.  Approximately a year ago I felt that I needed to have an outlet for me.  I love being a Mam, it’s the best, hardest sometimes thankless job ever, but I was lost, I was well down the pecking order and needed to find something that would be mine (that wouldn’t interrupt family life too much) so I decided to start writing a Blog – A Welsh Mama’s Kitchen.  It’s just me rambling mainly about life with Small People with a few random recipes thrown in for good measure.  It’s basically an excuse to disappear to the kitchen and also to purchase more cook books!

So when I was asked to write a piece for you guys I was delighted, I have been asked to write about picnics (I think the sun was shining on the day I was asked).  This has got me thinking about my childhood picnics.  My mam had a large blue plastic box which had a red lid, the seal on the lid had gone so it used to be kept closed with a large rubber band.  The box usually kept some random recipes that mam had cut out of the newspaper or scribbled down.   This would be emptied on picnic day and filled with ham and salad rolls, hard boiled eggs and Welsh cakes.  Sometimes there would be big wedges of plate pasty made with corned beef and potatoes.  I remember a variety of flasks over the years and always a bottle of squash.  It’s funny the things you remember isn’t it, but I think fondly of that box.

My memory of the food is sketchy but I do remember the times we spent on the beach or at parks or in the grounds of castles and how excited I would be that we were all together, and carefree.  I fondly remember going on bus trips with our Church, the picnics were always notched up a bit for these events – there would be chicken portions and salad – well there’s posh! We would set off in a 52 seater coach and Auntie Madge would always start on her sandwiches before we had even left town.  Paper bags of hard boiled sweets would be handed around and soon the singing would start.  These are such good memories.  I remember us kids coming back from a park somewhere with jars of minnows that we had collected and some of them being spilled along the bus floor.  In my memory the sun always shined, even the day we had to eat our lunch in the band-stand as it was raining.

These are the sort of memories I want to create for our children, the fun of long summers and that sense of belonging.  Writing this also makes me realise that the food is actually ancillary to the time you spend with the Small People, so it doesn’t matter if you pack a lavish picnic or just throw a few bits together in a carrier bag, just get out of the house even to your local park and feel that sense of freedom.  You will all benefit from it.

For our family picnics I tend to go down the line of salami, cheese and bread (it has to be a baguette or the Small People go into melt down – I never should have read them Nanette’s Baguette by Mo Williams) with various pieces of fruit and a box filled with nuts and raisins to keep the Small People going through the day, and bottles of water.  I rarely take a flask as I work on the assumption that the world appears to be full of coffee shops.  Oh, and the promise of ice cream – the threat of ‘there will be no ice-cream o’clock’ never fails!

For the posher picnics (i.e. when I have time to consider it and don’t just need to hit the market en-route) I like to add a frittata – it uses up any left-over veggies and travels well; a box of pasta salad or couscous never fails (unless I put too many green herbs in; in which case, the Small People become suspicious.  Hard boiled eggs are always a good idea and come in their own wrapping – what’s not to like?  Also, as far as I am concerned there has to be Welsh Cakes.  I like to think that Welsh Cakes are nostalgic for me, which they are but to be honest Welsh Cakes and Banana Cake are the only cakes I can produce with consistency!

Now if I can make Welsh Cakes anyone can, I am the proud owner of a bakestone – made at the Steel Works in Port Talbot just as my Mam’s and Grandmother’s was (any welder or wrought iron worker could make one for you).  We are lucky in Swansea as we still have a wonderful covered market where a Woman makes piles of Welsh Cakes every day and they are not expensive.  If you want to make them and haven’t got a bakestone a heavy frying pan will do.

WELSH CAKES

125g cold unsalted butter

250g self-raising flour

75g caster sugar

Pinch of ground allspice

100g sultanas or currants

1 large egg beaten

Rub the butter into the flour to make breadcrumbs, add the rest of the dried ingredients and mix.  Add the beaten egg to make a soft but not sticky dough.  It’s not essential but it is easier to handle if you wrap the dough in some cling film and pop it in the fridge for half an hour or so.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1 cm thick.  Then cut out the cakes whatever size you want, my Small People quite like small ones) but usually they are around 7 cm.

Preheat the griddle, lightly grease with a swipe of butter and pop the cakes on for about three minutes either side.  Keep an eye on the griddle as the longer it’s on the hotter it gets and they will burn rather than cook through.

I love a good pasty – Cornish being my favourite but I am saddened by some of the inferior ones that are sold on the High Street.  So with a view to picnics I decided for the first time ever I would make my own.  They are really easy, honestly.  I am not a pastry or cake cook I’m too rustic and haphazard for that but these are my first attempt and they were lovely.  I thought I would make small ones so the Small People wouldn’t get fed up half way through one.

I used the largest of my round cookie cutters (about 7cm) but you can obviously make any size you want.  I also discovered that this batch made enough to cook some and freeze the others (before cooking) – individually on a tray until frozen then they can be bagged or boxed together and then cook as many you want from frozen.  How Domestic Goddess is that?  Of course, you can easily halve or double the recipe and add anything you want to the filling to suit your family.  You could also skip making the pastry and use the shop bought ready-made short crust pastry if you want.

CHEESE AND VEG PASTIES

For the Pastry

500g plain flour

250g cold butter cubed

Pinch of salt

Splash of cold water

 

1 egg for brushing over before baking

 

For the Filling

2 onions chopped

2 large potatoes chopped into 1cm cubes

I stick of celery finely copped

1 largish carrot grated

Large handful of grated cheese

Tablespoon of Dijon mustard

Large pinch of oregano

Salt and pepper

Start with the filling: heat a glug of olive oil in a large frying pan (or a sauté pan if you have one) and fry the onion until it is soft and translucent, add the vegetables and cook gently until the vegetables are tender.  Stir through the mustard and oregano and season.  Add the grated cheese and mix through.  If it is too chunky, mash the mixture to the consistency you desire. Taste to check the seasoning.  Leave the mixture to cool.

Now to the pastry: Rub the butter into the flour with the tips of your fingers to make breadcrumbs, add the salt and a drop of water which you mix together with an ordinary knife until it comes together and makes a soft dough.  If you are making the above amount, cut it in half, roll both pieces into a ball and flatten slightly to a disk and wrap in cling film and pop it in the fridge for half an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 200c or gas Mark 6

Once the filling has cooled, roll out the pastry and cut out to the size you want – use a saucer or plate, I used a large cookie cutter.  Add spoonful’s of the filling and seal with your fingers or crimp with a fork.  It doesn’t matter if you seal on the side or on the top as per a Cornish type pasty.  Brush with beaten egg and pop in the oven for 20 minutes until they are golden brown.   I made small ones and so got around 20 from this mix.

My other suggestion is salad in a jar – I know, I know, very Instagram and I snorted at this concept too.  Then I realised that if you serve the Small People salad in a jar or crudités with humous oh also meat and vegetables on skewers or anything in an unusual vessel – they will eat it!  Honestly give it a try.  Oh, and a checked tea-towel or tablecloth make for a very Together Mummy look!

So, happy picnicking folks, make sure you take a photo of your lavish spread and share it on Facebook and Instagram with Boden Clad cherubs eating in the background (They will need to be someone else’s Small People as hopefully yours will be fishing for minnows!).”

By Clare Bruce – Lloyd, Welsh Mamas Kitchen.

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