Get the basics right for the perfect Irish picnic – whatever the weather

Lilly Higgins: The best way to approach a picnic in Irish summer is to be prepared

Strawberry and rhubarb hand pies

Warmer weather brings the rare opportunity to eat al fresco. For Irish people this usually means sitting on a blustery beach with the salty wind blowing napkins in the air and crunchy sand finding its way into sandwiches. The best way to approach an Irish picnic is to be prepared. Even if you do end up sitting in the car while hailstones bounce off the bonnet, you can enjoy a healthy, filling salad and a wedge of cake with a cup of strong, hot tea.

This week’s recipe is perfect for that annual picnic and ideal for packed lunches or car trips. When it comes to picnics, I like to invest in some good-sized lidded lunch boxes, a quality flask and some melamine or enamel plates and cups. A cool-box also makes eating outdoors easier, especially after a warm car journey. I often use ice blocks and insulated water bottles from Irish brand Kai.

It is key to have good bread at a picnic. I usually butter all the bread, then layer it back in a bag so everyone can make their own sandwiches at the beach. I also usually bring a hearty, chunky salad, with a base of rice, quinoa or barley. Simply dress the cooked grains in lemon juice and olive oil, then add optional extras. Mixed roast vegetables, soft goat’s cheese and pomegranate seeds, or crumbled Gorgonzola, chopped pear and candied pecan nuts are all possible variations. I love roast vegetables such as beetroot, sweet potato or butternut.

You can layer the salad in a jar with rocket, grains and roast veg, topping with a little toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds. It’s ideal for a salad such as this as it keeps all of the elements separate. This is a lovely way of transporting salads to work – the jar can simply be upended on a plate in the canteen and mixed, or just eaten straight from the jar.

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Mexican salads work particularly nicely when served like this: layer guacamole, salsa and black beans with a dollop of sour cream and grated cheese. Add a handful of tortilla chips or a soft corn tortilla and lunchtimes and picnics will never be dull.

Anything hand-held is also ideal for picnics. Think savoury cheese muffins, sausage rolls or these delicious hand pies. Really any combination of fruits will work well but my favourite has to be strawberry and rhubarb. Strawberry and peach is a great combination too. These delicious little pies are like sweet Cornish pasties. At home these are lovely served with hot custard, cream or Greek yoghurt.

Recipe: Rhubarb and strawberry hand pies

Lilly’s kitchen tips

  1. If you can’t get fresh rhubarb, just stir through a few spoons of rhubarb jam to your strawberries. No need for extra sugar.
  2. Cook batches of grains such as quinoa or barley for assembling quick salads.
  3. Invest in a good insulated lunch bag or cool box, as well as ice blocks to ensure food stays fresh on picnics.