Autumn picnics are underrated. So are winter picnics, and spring picnics – but there’s a unique magic to every season, and in turn a unique magic to having picnics in those seasons.
For me at least, Autumn is a time of reflection and nostalgia. Long walks through a quickly transforming landscape must be one of the most heavenly ways to seize the diminishing daylight hours. I could spend hours kicking up the leaves whilst poring over childhood memories and pondering on what the future has to hold.
Hampstead Heath, with swathes of open space that come as a surprise after you’ve wound your way through its ancient woods, is a delight in the Autumn. There are plenty of hidden spots where you can indulge on a picnic, but my picnicking companion (Phoebe) and myself decided to go in one of the Heath’s open swathes, where we soaked up the October sun whilst looking out onto a rolling view of London.
Despite the families, couples and dog-walkers that converge in this central open space, everything felt far away as we sat on our woolen picnic eating cashew nut porridge with apple compote. The sound seems to dissipate immediately, and you feel oddly cocooned as you nest in amongst the long, cushion-like grass.
We layered up (of course), and packed warming, luxurious food to celebrate Phoebe’s birthday the day before. And to help assuage the hangover…
Warming porridge made with cashew nut milk, topped with a spiced apple compote, honey, and nigella seeds.
Layers of smoked salmon with a watercress, onion and cucumber salad and a drizzle of honey mustard dressing.
Thermos of Earl Grey tea.
Spiced apple compote
Makes 8 portions (the good news is: you can freeze it)
1kg English apples (such as Braeburn)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
5 cardamon pods
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1 vanilla pod
Peel and de-core the apples. Chop them quite small. Put them in a large saucepan with the water over a medium heat, with the sugar and honey.
Grind all the spices in a pestle and mortar. Once the apples start to collapse, add the spice mix. Cut through the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds, adding them to the apples as well. Turn the heat to low, and keep on a low heat until the apple compote has reached a nice puree-like consistency.
Porridge with cashew milk and nigella seeds
Makes 2 portions
2 cups porridge oats
4 cups cashew nut milk (or 2 cups water, 2 cups cashew milk)
2 tsp nigella seeds
Simply put the two together in a pan over a medium heat and stir for five minutes. Mix in the seeds at the end, or sprinkle over the top.
Dollop your compote over the porridge and drizzle with good quality honey.
Smoked salmon salad with divine honey mustard dressing
100g Scottish smoked salmon
2-3 handfuls of watercress
1/3 large cucumber, chopped into thin matchsticks
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
For the dressing (use about 2-3 tbsp for the salad – the rest you can keep in a jar in the fridge for when you need it)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp dijon mustard
4-6 tbsp mild olive oil
Put all dressing ingredients into a jar and shake. Add more olive oil if you prefer a slightly softer dressing.
Layer up your salmon, watercress, cucumber and red onion, and drizzle over the dressing when you’re ready to serve. This can be kept in a little jar or bottle and put in your picnic hamper.