There can be few more depressing aspects of the great British summer than that moment when you settle down to a meagre picnic of sardine sandwiches and warm Diet Coke only to be confronted by a family tucking into their luxury Fortnum & Mason hamper, complete with fine china, Champagne flutes and linen napkins.
It is at that moment you realise that eating al fresco is not simply a way to curb hunger pangs after a bracing stroll in the sun. Indeed, it is an undertaking to be taken seriously.
Whether done in a park, on a river bank, while watching a village cricket match or as a romantic assignation, there is no doubt that picnicking these days can be akin to a competitive sport — and not only in England.
Israelis are renowned for their pyromaniac tendencies, which become visible when they celebrate all manner of events by charring large amounts of meat on home-made barbecues. Indeed, they are challenged only by the Aussies in their enthusiasm for a cook-out.
Israelis slap on the factor 50, load their cars with bulging baskets of food and head for the nearest open space or beach. There is hardly a place in the country where, during festivals and public holidays, you do not detect the wafting aroma of cooking beef.
Family groups attempt to outdo each other by serving the largest amounts of food cooked al ha aish (on the fire). This can involve chicken thighs smothered in honey marinade; steaks flavoured with soy, garlic and parsley; and chicken breasts cooked with fresh lemons and garlic.
Of course, no self-respecting Israeli barbecue host would dare forget the side dishes. To the classic salad of finely diced tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers — topped with olive oil, lemon juice and spices — is added hummus and piles of grill-heated pitta.
Back in Britain, things tend to be a little more refined. The food at posh picnics usually comes ready prepared, and companies like Fortnum’s, Harrods and other top restaurants are eager to ensure that your picnic is a lip-smacking affair, with hampers and cold bags full of delicious delicacies.
After all, who but a philistine would settle down to listen to a summer’s evening of wonderful music at Kenwood without a basket full of essentials such as freshly poached salmon or herb roasted chicken, along with a bottle of bubbly or chilled white wine kept icy in a cold bag?
But you don’t have to make tracks to a Knightsbridge food hall to avoid the dreaded sardine sandwich. Nibbles such as spiced olives and vegetarian pâté on melba toast are delicious, simple to prepare and inexpensive.
But if you want something more substantial try this recipe, recommended by Good Food magazine for chicken wraps for eight people.
2 crushed garlic cloves
Juice from one orange
2 ttbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp clear honey
½ tsp chicken stock powder
8 small tortillas
8 tbsp mayonnaise
1 small iceberg lettuce, torn
● Put the garlic, orange juice, soy sauce and honey in a bowl, season and mix well.
● Trim excess fat from the chicken and place in a single layer in a roasting tray. Pour over the honey mixture and coat the thighs well.
● Cover with cling-film and leave to marinade for one hour in the fridge.
● Preheat the oven to 220°c, gas 8. Remove the cling-film from the roasting tray and turn the chicken in the marinade again.
● Cook the chicken for 25 to 30 minutes, turning halfway through and basting with the glaze until the chicken is tender and slightly blackened.
● Remove the chicken and leave to cool then cut it into strips and set aside.
● Put a spoonful of mayonnaise into the centre of a tortilla and spread it around a little.
● Add some iceberg lettuce and top with several strips of chicken.
● Fold the tortilla over the filling leaving the chicken slightly protruding. Fold a paper napkin lengthways and use to wrap around the loaded tortilla.