Why does the aroma of barbecuing outdoors make us hungry,--- ravenous almost? When that neighbour a few doors down strikes up his grill, don’t we yearn with envy and wonder why we aren’t doing the same thing? Bring on the smoke and sizzle, summer is here and don’t let it go by without a bit of a barbecue.
In Ireland, carefully planned BBQ’s can be dodgy, as rain will surely descend on all the attendees. When the sun is truly shining, it may be better to step out the backdoor and spontaneously create an event: blanket on ground or a couple of chairs, paper plates, a grill (and we all can get quick, instant throwaway versions at any supermarket), and of course, the food.
Ah, the food. Outdoor dining can range from the sublime to the ridiculous, in style as well as in flavour. Think back to your favorite al fresco moments and figure out what was so wonderful about them. In my own little world I have two outdoor areas, each on a different side of the house: one is just big fat chairs with huge arms that can hold plates, glasses, etc. and the other is more formal, with a long glass topped table next to a fish pond. This is the one that gets the tablecloth, the fancy glasses, the prettiest pottery and this is the one where parties can go on into the night, hanging lanterns showing the way home. The first, fat chair version is for the ridiculous events: children racing and running or gobbling up every sausage before the adults even get near them. The dogs are lurking, watching every bit that falls from a hand, snap and gone.
Picnic baskets are a luxurious addition to any household and will take you to the races, the shoot, the wilderness areas you love most. They are crammed full of precooked goodies and should hold plates, glasses and cutlery as well. And never forget those huge cooler boxes that can contain mountains of food (and should I mention beer?). But there’s something about the addition of fire and smoke that makes the occasion memorable.
Nick and I, many years ago, discovered that we were living in a long forgotten “picnic area” originally designed in the 18th century. We decided to restore it as a conservation gesture to honour the beauty of the Irish landscape and earlier culture. If you want to see a ‘sublime’ place for a picnic, Kilfane Glen has to be it: waterfall, tiny thatched cottage, tumbling crystalline stream. In that era, the guests had to walk 2 miles from the Big House and back, but we know they had many parties there and that ‘cold meats’ were served to the 30 or so visitors, who must have been hungry by the time they got there. Nowadays, we open Kilfane during July and August, and it really shows how much love and effort went into creating the perfect spot for a picnic for 18th Century visitors.. We humans have been eating outdoors forever. Long may it all last!