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Picnic à la 1937

22 May 2015


PICNIC time for teddy-bears - and for their owners, too, now that May is here. There seem to be two possible approaches to the picnic: one is to take everything bar the kitchen sink. These are the picnickers who sit on folding chairs around a picnic table, or who, though lolling on a picnic rug, are in black tie and sipping chilled wines. The other is to eat as satisfyingly as possible with as little of what is normally needed as possible.

I am still enjoying following Ambrose Heath through the year in The Country Life Cookery Book, from 1937 and now reprinted (Persephone Books, £14; CT Bookshop £12.60),and there are a few recipes that are useful for nostalgic picnics, particularly if you find most picnic food too reliant on bread and wheat. They will probably belong to the first category of alfresco dining, but can be eaten without the portable dining-room furniture or black tie.

If you have a fondue pot, Primus, or even a little gas cooker, there is a good recipe for a Cheese fondue. I do the measuring in advance.

"Take as many eggs as the number of guests demands, weigh them in their shells, and have ready some grated Gruyère cheese a third of their weight, and a piece of butter a sixth of their weight. Break the eggs into a casserole and beat them well together, then add the cheese and the butter. Put the casserole on a spirit-lamp (or on a very low heat with an asbestos mat over it), and stir continuously until the mixture thickens. Then add salt and a good deal of pepper."

Heath suggests eating this with toast, but you can equally well dip in chunks of courgette or celery.

Tourte framgée is a cheese tart baked in a shortcrust-pastry case, but can be made in a flan dish, and eaten hot or cold.

"Make a flan of pastry and bake it blind. When it is cold, fill it with the following mixture. Beat well together a quarter of a pound of grated Gruyère cheese, an egg, pepper, and, if you like, a little paprika pepper or a speck or two of cayenne. Bake in the oven for about quarter of an hour, when the top will be golden and the inside too creamy and delicious for words. A refinement for those who like it is first to rub around the pastry case with a cut clove of garlic, which seems to have a strong affinity to cheese."

Gratin de courgettes is equally good cold. Chop a few young courgettes finely, and steam them in a little water till tender. "Then add a little butter, some thin cream, grated cheese, and one egg. Mix pepper lightly, and pour into a shallow fireproof dish. Sprinkle liberally with grated cheese, dot with butter, and brown quickly in the oven."

And a Marmalade tart. "Make your flan case, or line a dish with the paste, and on it put a layer of marmalade, orange, pineapple, or ginger. Now take three ounces of sugar, three ounces of butter, and four yolks and three whites of egg. Mix these well together, put the mixture on the marmalade, and bake for an hour. Then beat up the remaining white to a stiff froth, spread it on top of the tart, and put it in the oven for a few minutes to brown very lightly."

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