Ian Thomas sitting at picnic table Photo Florence Charvin

[As published in December/January BayBuzz magazine.]

The idea of a picnic is delightfully delicious. A Mary Poppins, sing-along occasion complete with colourful blanket, wicker basket, and enthusiastic, smiling faces. Skipping through the grass to the picnic spot is compulsory, as is some sort of ball game. 

The reality, in my curmudgeonly experience, is quite different. Rather like fish ‘n’ chips, the imagined is always superior to the actual event. 

The term pic-nic comes from the Greek word for a sharp cramp-like pain in the thigh, most often brought on by trying to squat on the ground and make a sandwich in mid-air without spilling your cup of tea and/or Chardonnay. At the onset of the pain the sufferer will leap awkwardly to their feet, spilling tea and dropping sandwich fillings onto the grass or, even worse, the sand. 

How much easier is it to prepare food at home and then sit and eat it? Undeniably, tables and chairs have been a big hit. They have stood the test of time in our privileged society. Add the convenience of the kitchen to the mix and it’s hard to see the attraction of picnicking. 

What is the lure? The blistering hot sun? Hay fever and hives? The burnt-out car by the river? The insects? The damp grass? Or the bickering throughout the car journey? Yes, all of these as well as the nagging thought in your head that you’ve left half of the picnic on the kitchen bench and the knowledge that even if you turn back Constance, the Labradingdong, will have eaten it. What a pity Constance is allergic to grass so has to stay at home. 

I’m all for a drive in the country, a walk even. Taking in the beautiful vistas of Te Matau a Māui is a constantly changing pleasure, but let’s not make a meal of it! 

It’s the planning that irks me and also the preparation. And not just planning the food, but also the spot. Every picnic must have its spot. 

Food is the biggest challenge. It must be varied and colourful. There must be a pie or at the very least a quiche. A cake should be included. No, a slice will not suffice.

Bread, cheese, cured meats, dips, olives, pickles, chutney, hot sauce, fresh salad items, butter, fruit and then gluten and dairy-free version of all items. A table, chairs, and of course the trusty camping kitchen sink. When gauging quantities it is usual to pack two to three times as much food as is possible for the group to eat. As well as achieving an impressive display of abundance the excess food adds awkward bulk to the trek across paddocks prompting the curmudgeon to mutter under the weight of it all. 

Once at the spot the blanket is thrown or, preferably, the table is set up, and the unpacking begins. It’s at this point that the absence of the forgotten items is apparent. Back in the day a missing corkscrew would cause the greatest remonstrations. Now, thanks to the screwcap, it’s the overlooked sharp knife to ‘get into’ the port salut that causes most angst. Followed closely by the absence of sunblock and insect repellent. 

Once the spread is spread, photos are taken, shared on socials with a ‘my beautiful life’ comment, duck face and peace sign, everyone plans their consumption strategy and picnicking ensues. 

If I must go for a picnic then I would certainly demand the finest fare. Here’s my pick of the best elements to include in a picnic. Predictably most of these are available at the Farmers’ Market:

• Yeast Coast Bakery sourdough loaf – this is a lovely loaf that has the right amount of chewiness – the best bread

• Hohepa fenugreek cheese – Danbo infused with slightly sweet and lightly spicy fenugreek seeds – the best hard cheese

• Hohepa herb quark – the best soft herby curd cheese

• Origin Earth – Takenga smoked cow cheese – the best smoked cheese

• Te Mata Figs Fig Relish – the very best thing to put with cheese and cold meat

• Holly ham – simply the best

• Urban Smokery hot smoked salmon – the best smoked fish

• Venison beer sticks from The Deli – the best dried meat 

• Telegraph Hill Olives burnt orange and fennel olives – the best olives 

• Monsieur Macaron – Pistachio macaron, or the salted caramel, or the chocolate and orange.

So if you can’t avoid the picnic, do it in style. Traipse to some inconvenient location and enjoy the best of our local food. Then pack it all up, traipse back to the car, lug everything back into the house, put the sweaty cheese in the fridge and wash-up. You’ll love it. 

Ian Thomas is a caterer and formerly free range egg farmer, cooking demonstrator, and manager of a commercial food production business. He specialises in cooking paella. paellaagogo.com


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