It was a trend that emerged in the US around 2016 – turning the dinner party on its head by taking proceedings out into the garden – but here in South Africa, we didn’t pay it much attention. We’d been doing the outdoor-kuier thing since the invention of the braai. But here’s the thing with a braai: inevitably, no matter how well you plan it, someone is always working, whether fuelling a fire, doing the actual braaing, or scaring up a potato salad in the kitchen. Nothing can ever replace the braai as king of the kuier, but don’t you sometimes wish for something simpler?
Imagine as your guests arrive that everything is ready. Nothing needs to be cooked, no one needs to miss out on the latest gossip, funny stories, catching up on old times, or fifth-drink confessions, and no one needs to be outcast to the corner of the garden to tend to a blazing hot fire, or to the kitchen to check on the roast. Everyone can just… be.
Enter the urban picnic, a chic affair that caters to all tastes and temperaments. As with all the more “refined” human activities, pulling off a picnic that hits all the right notes may seem like a daunting, complex task involving checklists and inventive thinking that doesn’t emasculate any of the more sensitive egos, but really, that’s the point of a picnic, it’s supposed to be low key, casual and free. If, within the first ten minutes, someone starts reclining into a plush scatter cushion while picking at a bunch of grapes, you’ll know you’ve succeeded. If you really do need a checklist, remember only five things:
KEEP THE FOOD SIMPLE
Think of an actual picnic. In its most basic form, it involves a picnic basket filled with edibles and a blanket. The whole point is not to do any actual cooking once proceedings have kicked off. But if you spend a day slaving away in the kitchen to prepare for a picnic, that’s also missing the point. Rather support your local butcher by stocking up on an ample supply of charcuterie and biltong products. Then, bulk up your spread by opting for a few good cheeses (equal quantities soft, medium and hard cheese), fresh fruits and crudités (any veg that tastes great raw, like celery, peppers and carrots), a few dipping sauces (don’t underestimate a simple mix of plain yoghurt and mayonnaise with caraway seeds), sharp chutneys and atchars, depending on your taste, and of course, fresh bread, like baguette and ciabatta.
Unless you’re in healthcare, the last thing you want is for someone to steer the conversation into topics involving bad blood circulation, general joint unease, indigestion or any manner of ailments – medical or otherwise. If you have an outside table, use it, and make the seating plush and spacious. If not, create a spacious spot on the lawn of picnic blankets and scatter cushions, with plenty of room for any of your guests to spread out and relax. And while you’re at it, make sure you’ve provided ample shade with an umbrella or awning.
SET AN ATMOSPHERE
Even before 2020, Scandinavian-inspired lifestyle philosophies, like the Swedish “lagom” and Danish “hygge”, invited a lot of discussion around the importance of creating a welcoming, comfortable, well-balanced home, which is more important than ever now. But whether going the full Stockholmfontein or Pietermaritzhagen – or just creating a lovely alternative for your family to sitting around the table or in front of the TV during dinner – a Scandi-style picnic brings a change to your usual repertoire that comes like an inspiring breath of fresh air. Apart from amping up the comfort factor with cushions and blankets, don’t skimp on lighting. With options such as solar-powered fairy lights or those ones that come in a Consol jar, you’re off to a great start, but also consider what a beautifully scented candle can do to make the atmosphere around your picnic extra agreeable.
KEEP INSECTS AT BAY
You’re outside, which means it’s an open party to (most) nonhumans. But you can still curb the number of uninvited guests by taking a few simple steps. For flies and mosquitoes, a battery of citronella candles (in stylish glass vases or lanterns) all around your garden could make your picnic just that little bit less appealing to airborne fauna, while at the same time creating a beautiful atmosphere, particularly if your picnic lingers into the evening. And a few tasteful cloths could also help create a fly barrier to cover the platters.
BOTTLE YOUR BEVERAGES
Ban or no ban, it’s always a good idea to have a delicious drink ready. Sure, your guests might bring their own drinks, and you might stock up on a few shop-bought fizzy drinks, but why not make your own delicious syrups for the occasion? (Get my homemade lemon and ginger syrup recipes here.) Investing in something like a SodaStream can also add a refreshing effervescence to an otherwise uneventful drink.