An al fresco autumnal gathering

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve missed out on summer this year.

The promised weather never fully arrived, and in a blink of an eye, the season came to an end. My summer wardrobe has been returned, in rather unworn condition, to the bottom of the drawer, and our new tent has been pushed to the dark space under the stairs.

There is a lot to be said about the onset of the colder months; the slow drawing in of the evenings brings with it thoughts of casseroles and pints of amber ale in softly lit pubs. But I wonder as I glance at our picnic set gathering dust, if I can make the summer last just a tiny bit longer.

When my sisters and I were little, my mother held little belief in the idea that steamy breaths and red raw hands were any reason not to be out there ‘enjoying’ the fresh air. I remember sitting outside shivering while she handed us bowls of something hearty, craving the warmth in our chilly bellies. And it seems that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree after all. As I glance at the picnic set and realise that it may not see the light of day again for another six months, thoughts of an autumn picnic spring to mind.

I then think of all the things that I could bring: Just baked pies huddled in shiny foil; soft rolls with Stilton, walnut and sliced pear; a hot bowl of soup to be held in both hands. While summer picnics celebrate fresh and light, an autumnal version is more of a culinary cuddle, satisfying the need to fill and warm.

I invite a few friends along, and though they aren’t exactly opposed to the idea of an unseasonal outdoor feast, I feel that some winning over needs to take place. With that in mind, I decide to bring what I deem to be a bit of a crowd pleaser: Slowly baked haricot beans in a rich sauce with robust spices, dark sugar and smoky pancetta. I think the beans will go beautifully with some homemade Cornish pasties, which I will wrap up as soon as they are out of the oven to keep the temperature up.

For a sweet treat, I decide to alter a recipe I have for sticky apple cake and add a salted toffee sauce, thus creating my rendition of a sticky toffee apple cake that we’ll happily wash down with spiced hot chocolate.

We find an idyllic picnic site in the Forest of Dean, which is a short drive from Bristol. I wonder why we have never been here before. We go over the bridge through the romantic mist and arrive in Wales where we begin to wind through rust and golden woodlands towards our spot.

The air has a nip but we have plenty of woolly jumpers and the rich spicy beans to look forward to. We plan on dipping the pasties into them and finishing the day sipping on our special hot chocolates. When we come home, our faces feel fresh from the clear, crisp air and our bellies are satisfied. I don’t think the picnic set will be relegated to the high shelf just yet.

This article was first published online for Crumbs Magazine http://www.crumbsmag.com

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