In the run-up to National picnic week, this Great British Summer of ours ran true to form and the thundery showers forecast for Honesty Hampers’ al fresco launch at Inkpen’s Crown & Garter duly arrived.
In true British spirit, we decamped inside the beautifully made-over pub and there lay two wicker hampers… but what hampers! The lid was lifted on a magnificent spread. Not an insipid sausage roll or curling crust in sight: this was a real foodies’ treat.
Crown & Garter chef Rory Dyson and Honesty group’s Romilla Arber have developed seasonal recipes for the hampers – old picnic favourites with a gourmet twist – using the best British produce, sourced locally wherever possible. Staple fare like mini pork pies with a hot-water crust, chunky finger sandwiches made with artisan bread produced daily next door at the Honesty bakery, and traditional scones with clotted cream and home-made jam form the core of the hamper.
Then there are the seasonal selections, changing with the months. For us this meant crayfish cocktail with asparagus, chicken and pork pie, veggie puffs, potted crab, salmon smoked on site with a shot of dill, horseradish potato salad and mixed leaves drizzled with honeysuckle dressing and toasted nuts or a summery pea and broad bean salad.
They all come presented in delightful little boxes or airtight jars. In a second layer underneath, you find the sweet treats: a green tomato and vanilla cream tart, gooseberry Eton mess, as well as an array of specialist British cheeses with appetising little home-cooked biscuits, traditional accompaniments and rustic Honesty-baked rolls with butter churned in- house.
Of course, all this indulgence does come at a price, but it’s a fair one – the hampers start at £156 for four people, with a £36 voucher that can be redeemed at any Honesty Group company, including the Crown and Garter pub and restaurant, the cookery school and bakery.
I conducted a straw poll among friends, who all wanted to know more. Get four friends to share and you each pitch in £30. The Honesty hamper would be great for picnicking at the races, regattas, Glyndebourne, graduation celebrations, river parties, polo parties and fireworks parties – or even for a romantic gesture, strapped to the boot of an open-topped sportscar heading for that special place to ‘pop the question’. Faced with such a fine feast in a basket, who could refuse? Watch out for the special shooting hamper, which is coming in September, and the Christmas gift hamper.
Let’s admit it. Most of us are never going to produce the sort of food that comes out of a professional kitchen, even for a picnic. But we can put on a creditable performance with a bit of help from the experts. With that in mind, Crown & Garter head chef Rory Dyson gives us some of his favourite recipes for the hamper, easing us in with his simple recipe for smoked mackerel pâté, which can be made by the least proficient of cooks. Then there are the pork pies, whose list of ingredients make then look more daunting than they are, and the only tricky part may come in making a hot-water pastry crust if you’ve never done it before. Just remember, though, that it is very forgiving. As usual, the trickiest part comes with the pâtisserie, and these mini-banana cakes do require a little more skill. Keep calm, read through the instructions carefully and prepare to amaze yourself... not to mention your guests.
Smoked mackerel pâté
Serves eight at a picnic or four as a starter
2 fillets of hot smoked mackerel
Zest and juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp of finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp of double cream
2 tsp of fresh grated horseradish
½ tsp of ground white pepper
pinch of salt
2 spring onions
Pulse everything but the spring onions in a blender and stop when you have the texture you want. I prefer quite a coarse texture and sometimes even just bash it together in a pestle and mortar. Halve the spring onions and slice them thinly, at an angle. Mix this into the pâté and taste to check the seasoning.
For more picnic recipes, see OUT&ABOUT magazine