National Picnic Week starts on Friday. To celebrate, Eileen Leahy looks at the history of the al fresco feast and reveals what you’ll need to ensure your outdoor dining experience is a gourmet success…

EATING OUT Today’s picnics can be as posh as you like

HOW the humble picnic has come on over the past few years. Once upon a time, it was nothing more than an itchy blanket spread on a patch of grass or stretch of pebbly beach of your choice, with a few Tupperware boxes filled with soggy sandwiches, a warm scotch egg or two, a bottle of tepid pop and some half-melted chocolate bars.

Well, how things have changed over the past decade or so. Now you’re more likely to find a platter of fresh seafood, fluted champagne glasses and a plethora of chilled exotic dips nestling in someone’s cool box, so far has the picnic progressed in recent times.

In fact, most major retailers, whether they’re supermarkets or upmarket department stores, now have their own dedicated posh picnic ranges which change with every new season.

According to the organisers of this year’s National Picnic Week, a feast enjoyed in the great outdoors is ‘on the rise’ in the UK. The reason they state is simple: “More people are choosing to spend time away from phones and other devices, and more quality time with friends or family.”

So, if you fancy celebrating National Picnic Week and the sun is shining, then make sure you swap your run-of-the-mill sandwiches and crisps offerings for more exciting bites – such as tomato-topped bruschetta, seasonal seeded salads and cool crudités, all accompanied by a delicious selection of artisan breads and homemade puds. Oh, and don’t forget to pop a bottle of chilled fizz in to make sure your posh picnic really does go with a bang…

It’s proven that fresh air and sunlight is good for you, and enjoying some healthy home-cooked food is the perfect way to relax without breaking the budget. With haute cuisine on the rise, more people are enjoying cooking a meal that’s not only delicious, but beautiful-looking, too.

Did you know?

The average person picnics at least three times a year, that’s 94 million picnics per year.

According to research done in 2013, the average family spends £26 per picnic, totalling a cool £2,479,720,000.

Originally, a picnic was a fashionable social event to which each guest contributed food.

The French started the modern fashion for picnics when they opened their royal parks to the public after the revolution of 1789.

The use of the phrase ‘no picnic’ to describe something difficult dates back to 1884.

The most popular picnic snack 50 years ago was the humble cheese sandwich. Now, it’s a bag of crisps.

The most popular day for picnics in the US is July 4. In Italy, it’s Easter Monday. In France, it’s Bastille Day. In the UK, it’s (weather dependent) rapidly becoming National Picnic Week.

Fortnum & Mason, the London department store, claims to have invented the Scotch egg in 1738. They still sell them today.

Picnic food is as popular as it’s ever been. In 2012, an average of ten grams of meat pies and sausage rolls were consumed per person per week.

Chorizo & red (bell) pepper frittata bites

What you need:

4 x 60-g/2-oz. chorizo sausages

16 eggs

300 ml/1 ¼ cups crème fraîche or sour cream

a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

150 g/1 cup (about 1 medium)

finely chopped red onion

1 garlic clove, crushed

130 g/1 cup fresh or frozen peas

1 red (bell) pepper, deseeded and cut into strips

60 g/1 ¼ cups baby spinach

ovenproof frying pan/skillet

cocktail sticks/toothpicks

Serves 8-10

What you do:

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF) Gas 4.

Put the chorizo sausages on a baking sheet and cook in the preheated oven for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven, drain on paper towels and cut into 1-cm/ ½ -inch slices. Cover and set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 110ºC (225ºF) Gas ¼.

Put the eggs in a large mixing bowl with the crème fraîche and lightly whisk to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large non-stick, ovenproof frying pan/skillet set over a low–medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft but not coloured. Add the sliced chorizo, peas and pepper strips and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the baby spinach and stir until the spinach just begins to wilt.

Arrange the mix evenly over the base of the pan/skillet and carefully pour in the egg mixture. Reduce the heat and gently cook the frittata, moving the egg in a little from the edge of the pan as it cooks (similar to how you would cook an omelette) using a spatula to run around the outside of the pan. You don’t want to get any colour on the base of the frittata so it is important to keep the temperature low. Continue running the spatula around the outside of the pan to ensure the frittata doesn’t stick.

After about 10 minutes, once it has just set on the bottom and the sides, place the pan/skillet in the oven for 15–20 minutes, until the frittata is lightly golden and just set in the middle. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Once cool, cover the pan with a chopping board and turn it over to release the frittata. Cut it into 4-cm/10-inch squares and transfer to a plate to serve.

Recipe courtesy of 101 Bar Bites by Fran Warde, photography by Debi Treloar and published by Ryland Peters and Small priced £12.99.