Rachel Burden - picnics and the pleasure principle

PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 July 2015

Rachel Burden in the garden

Rachel Burden in the garden


BBC 5Live presenter Rachel Burden lives just outside Knutsford with her husband and three children. They love eating outdoors in the summer...well, most of the time

Cutting chocolate crunch squaresCutting chocolate crunch squares

Eating outside is one of the great pleasures of summer, surrounded by nature, the smells of the sea or the countryside, and the warmth of the sun on your face.

At least, that’s if you believe the beautiful pictures of happy families playing on the beach/at a campsite/log cabin that you see in the Sunday supplements or posh children’s clothing catalogues. In practice, eating outside can be exhausting and frankly traumatic.

Chocolate crunch squaresChocolate crunch squares

Take our typical summertime experience. Our kitchen, which opens onto the garden, turns into a sauna the minute the sun briefly shows its face in the Cheshire sky. So we frequently retreat to the picnic table outside, to eat in the relative cool. But inevitably this turns into a territorial battle with dive-bombing wasps and invading ants. Often the local farmer will have dumped his latest load of manure on the field next door, so the fish fingers will be accompanied by the strong stench of dung.

In my early childhood, it was the smell of the Irish Sea that would mingle with our picnics. We’d spend weeks on the beach in a small seaside town just north of Dublin, in woollen hand-knit sweaters, huddling inside the windbreak like a family of small woodland creatures, nagging our mother to let us go to the arcade and take shelter amongst the penny slot machines. The only joyful relief was my grandmother clattering down the lane from her house with a pot of tea and homemade cider cake.

As I got older and foreign holidays became an option, we’d pack into the car (two in the front, four in the back, two in the boot and everything else strapped onto the roof) and drive for days until we reached The Middle of Nowhere, which we’d later work out was some forgotten corner of southern France not usually inhabited by other tourists. Or indeed any French people. Picnics on the beach, if we managed to get that far, were a complex challenge of balancing a baguette stuffed with ham in one hand, and a slice of watermelon in the other, while trying to maintain each in a sand-free state - an impossible task. Nothing like the crunchy grit of the seabed of the Mediterranean to accompany your lunch.

Now that I have children, I’ve taken the eating-outside challenge to another level. We recently spent a week in Devon, where the the picnic involved building a fire on a pebbly beach to heat up tins of tomato soup and toast marshmallows. To their joy, and my total surprise, it worked well, though this was mostly down to the competence of my father-in-law and his boy-scout skills. The smoke filled our eyes, the marshmallows tasted of burnt stick, and the soup got everywhere, but at least there was no added grit. We all loved it.

As for picnic food... I dearly wish I had my grandmother’s cider cake recipe to pass on, but it was never written down and I could never hope to reproduce her instinctive baking talents. The recipe I’ve included here is quick and easy and similar to our favourite chocolate crispies, but instead uses the leftover bran flakes which nobody likes. Probably not ideal for those of you avoiding sugar/carbs.


Melt 50g butter in a pan. Add 3 tablespoons of golden syrup. Stir in 300g of brankflakes, crushing them down a little as you go. Chuck in a couple of handfuls of raisins if you like, then press into a small square tin (approx 9” sq) and leave in the fridge to cool. Meanwhile, break 140g of milk chocolate and 140g of dark chocolate into small pieces (you need the bitterness of the dark chocolate to offset the syrup) and melt in a bowl above a pan of just boiling water. Pour the melted chocolate over the branflake base and leave again in the fridge to set. As soon as the chocolate has hardened, you can cut into small squares and serve. I tend to keep mine in the fridge so the chocolate doesn’t melt. Perfect for a cool Irish summer in other words, but maybe not a beach in the south of France...

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