How to throw a perfect picnic plus three easy recipes from Perry Street Café
Paul Coffey and Brian Drinan of Perry Street Café: go through the picnic-season basics. Pics: Miki Barlok
Dining al fresco has come a long way in Ireland.
From boiled eggs atop the coal bunker in the back garden to Taytos and tea in the lay-by on the motorway, the Irish picnic has gone and got itself a bougie upgrade.
Maybe it's the Instagram effect but not only do we want our outdoor feasts looking good, we want them to feel good too — and that means making more sustainable choices.
Chef Brian Drinan owns Perry Street Market Café with his partner of more than two decades, Paul Coffey.
The power couple recently opened their fifth location in Cork, a new café-cum-lifestyle store in Grange.
When it comes to planning a picnic, there is nothing they haven't thought through which is why they now sell fully-stocked picnic bags with cups, cutlery and plates.
Here, the duo share their top tips and recipes for outdoor dining this bank holiday weekend.
Plan your destination
"Think about the distance you are travelling and whether you have anywhere to keep things chilled, like a cool box with plenty of ice packs. Avoid food that goes off quickly, like cream," Brian says.
As proud Corkonians, Brian and Paul obviously know the importance of catering to the location.
"If you’re going to the beach or the fields, avoid sticky foods like honey. Anything that attracts flies or bees or foods that sand would stick to are a no-no."
Know your audience
Is it a family affair or a gathering of friends sans kids?
Once you know who you’re catering for, you can decide on a venue/theme.
Make it inclusive
Consider the needs of your guests and scout for inclusive locations like Fitzgerald's Park, Leap Community Garden or Ballincollig Regional Park where the benches are wheelchair accessible.
Have at least one vegan option and find out your guests’ dietary requirements in advance.
A soft picnic blanket is the foundation for your meal but it also shields tiny bottoms from damp grass, making it a must-have for children with sensory issues.
Choose local food suppliers, ditch single-use plastic, take ware with you, and bring your rubbish home.
Brian recommends avoiding plastic lunch boxes and instead opting for environmentally-friendly jars.
His cheesecake recipe is made in toughened kilner jars which will last a lifetime and look pretty to boot. Switch cling film and tin foil for beeswax wrap. As a rule: disposable, out, reusable, in.
Think about utensils — cutlery, plates and storage bags and how these might impact on the climate crisis. Bamboo or stainless steel are both good options.
Pick a theme — and stick to it
Having an Insta-worthy picnic is a pre-requisite for Brian.
Choose the theme by colour, country or cuisine.
Tara O’Connor is the owner of The Designed Table, a consciously curated table accessories brand that provides foolproof tablescaping for interior design lovers. The first step in choosing a theme is to find your inspiration, says Tara.
"This can be something around you; seasonal elements, the food you are serving or a colour you love."
For an injection of whimsy, use a gingham print on your tablecloth or napkins.
"Check always works for picnics. Go that extra mile and tie it in with the landscape so green and white or yellow and blue work great for summer."
Seasonal fruit and veg
Brian and Paul favour fresh, seasonal vegetables and work with Irish suppliers from Keelings to Burren Balsamics and Berna's Dressings.
All their meat comes from O’Connell's family butchers in The Lough.
Choose unpackaged fruits and vegetables — try Cork Rooftop Farm, The English Market, Garden Goodness or Organic Republic.
It's prime time for Irish strawberries and crisp vegetables, says Brian.
Chop crunchy vegetables like carrot, celery, baby corn, sugar snap peas, and peppers to make crudités.
Add some fresh beetroot or lemon houmous or aioli to dip.
Brian and Paul's signature picnic dish is the mini potato, Gubbeen chorizo and cheese frittata.
They’re made in the shape of a muffin, can be eaten cold and will keep for two days in the fridge.
The simple pork and apple sausage rolls are ideal bite-sized bits that work well with chutneys.
Easy cheese board
Life has its ups and down but one thing that seems to consistently never let us down is cheese.
For summertime picnics, stay away from cheeses of the stinky variety.
Brian suggests having three varieties at your picnic: a hard local cheddar, a semi-soft and a soft cheese.
His favourites are Durrus semi-soft cheese, Carrigaline cheese with cranberry and Cooleeny Farmhouse soft cheese.
"You need something to balance the saltiness," he says.
Keep it sweet
Brian suggests pairing your selection of Irish cheeses with chutneys (pineapple) and relishes (Folláin's Irish tomato has just the right amount of tang) or an aromatic jelly-like quince.
Picnics are all about sharing foods and eating with your hands and Brian loves to pair bread and cheese with drizzled honey on pecans and walnuts.
There's a bit of a story behind Brian's famous Perry Street brown bread and it dates back 60 years.
His godmother got the recipe at the Irish Country Women's Association and it has remained unchanged for the bones of six decades.
A few loaves and a crusty sourdough that you can "break with your hands" is all you need to complement your cheeses.
Make it a mini
Bite-sized sweet treats are perfect for a picnic.
Brian likes to bring something pre-prepared like chocolate-dipped strawberries or his famous Perry Street cheesecake in a jar (recipe opposite) with fresh strawberries on top.
Keep calm and sip
Is it really a picnic without imbibing some refreshing seasonal drinks? Pack some punch or Pimm's and match your wine selection to your cheeses.
Feeling fancy? Blend some elderflower or blackcurrant cordial with Prosecco or champagne for cocktail o’clock.
For the non-drinkers, the options needn't be boring. Iced herbal tea and freshly-squeezed lemonade are refreshing.
Go zero waste
Last but not least, don't forget to bring bags to take rubbish away.
If you avoid pre-packaged and ready-made foods, it shouldn't be a drag.
Take a couple of compostable bags and make your picnic as sustainable as it can be.
Picnics are no excuse to leave a mess behind you.
Roll up, roll up, for a flaky family favourite.
500g Irish Sausage Meat
500g puff pastry
Half a leek - finely chopped, softened in a little butter and left to cool
1 sweet Apple – grated
6 sage leaves - chopped
1 egg - beaten
Preheat the oven to 200°C / Gas 6.
Combine the sausage meat, apple, sage and onion in a bowl.
Season with black pepper and leave to the side.
Flour a surface and roll out the pastry to approx 1cm thick and 34cm x 30cm.
Halve lengthways and add the filling down the middle of each strip.
Brush the edges with the egg, roll up and seal. Cut into the desired size and score the pastry, brush with more egg.
Bake for approx 20 mins until cooked through and golden brown.
A Cork-centric take on a Mediterranean favourite.
3 new potatoes - cooked, cooled and diced
6 eggs - lightly beaten with a splash of cream
60g Gubbeen chorizo - diced
50g Carrigaline cheddar - grated
2 spring onions - finely diced
Handful of cherry tomatoes – halved
Handful of garden peas – defrosted
Handful of fresh parsley - finely chopped
Heat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4.
Line a six-hole muffin tin with muffin cases or silicone cases.
Gently mix the chorizo, spring onions, peas, parsley and potatoes, season lightly.
Evenly divide the mixture into the cases and pour over the egg mixture.
Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for 15-20 mins until golden and set in the middle.
Ensure the frittatas are cooked by shaking the tin, they should be wobble free.
Eat warm or cold.
These frittatas will store well for 2 days in a fridge.
A homemade alternative to shop-bought cheesecake treats.
200g gingernut biscuits - crushed
200g full-fat cream cheese
200ml Irish Double Cream
Small punnet of Strawberries - sliced
7 tbsp icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
Sprigs of mint
8 glass jars (recycle old jam jars)
Divide the biscuit crumbs between the jars.
Whisk up the cream cheese, cream, sugar and the vanilla until creamy and soft.
Mash half of the strawberries and a tsp of icing sugar with a fork and gently swirl through the cheesecake filling.
Divide evenly between the jars.
Top with remaining strawberries and chill for at least one hour before heading off.
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