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PICNICS AND BARBECUES

Ever wondered what how the word barbecue came about?

It wasn’t a description of how the food was cooked but rather the name of the wooden structure used by the Taino Indians upon which they smoked their food.  Originally they came from the Arawak Islands of South America which, in 1519 were invaded by the Spanish.  Smallpox, one of the Old World diseases was introduced by the foreign settlers and had no immunity, the Taino were nearly wiped out. Those left fled, making their way north eventually settling in the Caribbean Islands.  ‘Barbecue’ derives from the Caribbean word ‘barbacoa’ which over the years has slipped into ‘barbecue’.

The letters BBQ have another interpretation of ‘Better Be Quick’ or ‘Barbeque Be Quick’, quite where that comes from, I don’t know, probably an American slang for the original ‘Barbarcoa’.

The unusually good start to summer this year has meant eating outdoors has got off to a good start and chaps don their summer aprons to take command of the barbecue grill.  Be it posh with a lid and controls or a simple construction of bricks upon which a grid is rested, the barbecue comes into its triumphant own.  At home we haven’t moved into the 21st century yet so the old, stainless steel grid is dug out from under the plant pots, given a scrub and  balanced on  bricks, supermarket charcoal provides the fuel which can take a bit of lighting but with a bit of huffing and puffing from chef, it’s off….

Everyone has their favourite standby recipes and for marinating or just painting it on, this is a good one, tasty and very simple.

Mix together and, either use immediately or as a marinade ..

  • 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oi
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano

I have never tried it but an avocado cut in half with the stone removed, can be barbecued on the grill for a couple of minutes. Lettuce too if drizzled with a dash of olive oil can be grilled until it is charred. For puddings, try putting a banana on the grid, slitting the skin slightly on one side and leave until the inside is mushy; great with ice cream and chocolate dip.

Cut a pineapple into thick rings, sprinkle with brown sugar and place on the barbecue, skewer them if you like to keep them together and then dunk them either in a boozy, rum glaze or chocolate dip. A rum glaze is easy to make; melt 3 tablespoons each of butter and brown sugar, cook until bubbling and brown, add 3 tablespoons of rum (or whatever takes your fancy), remove from the heat, and whisk in 2 cups of icing sugar and 1 tablespoon of evaporated milk. Squares of toast dripped in this is magic.

A friend of ours cooked his Christmas turkey for the family on his barbecue, it took a while but the result was pronounced the best ever.

‘Pique-nique’ could only be a French word and we have anglicised it to ‘picnic’.  Pique comes from the French verb ‘piquer’, to pick and the ‘nique’ was just added on as a reiteration.  The word picnic didn’t come to England until the 1800s and originally referred to a fashionable form of entertainment when people brought a share of food to a party and each guest would ‘pick a bit’.

The word hamper derives from the French word ‘hanapier’ the name of a case for carrying goblets.  William the Conqueror introduced the idea of transporting delicious delicacies and interesting bites as treats for his retinue and would pack hampers filled with goodies to give as gifts to nobility and favoured servants on special occasions.

There was a rumour that the word ‘picnic’ was a description of the crowds that gathered to watch a lynching.  Fake News there I am afraid!

Historical records abound with details of sumptuous picnic feasts and today’s simple fare would have been thought very meagre and mean occasions.  Laurie Lee remembered his childhood growing up in Gloucestershire before the First World War when he wrote Cider with Rosie.

‘For Mother’s picnics were planned on a tribal scale, with huge preparation beforehand. She flew around the kitchen issuing orders and the young men stood appalled at the work. There were sliced cucumbers and pots of paste, radishes and pepper and salt, cakes and buns and macaroons, soup plates of bread and butter, jam and treacle, jugs of milk and several fresh made jellies’

On a more modest scale, my brother and I as children used to set off for the day to Judy Woods, taking argumentative turns to carry the basket in which lay a primus stove and kettle, frying pan and sausages, medicine bottles filled with homemade lemonade and a piece of cake each. Our destination was about a mile away from where beech trees stretched as far as the eye could see and a stream meandered through from one end to the other. We never met anyone save Dozy Doris who, dressed in a man’s coat seemed unaware of us as she chewed toothlessly and muttered to herself shambling her way along the deserted paths.  We became intrepid explorers into the depths of nowhere. I don’t remember the cooking being very successful and why we had to have a kettle and water, goodness knows, perhaps it was all to do with the challenge of lighting a fire with twigs; flames rarely took hold despite our lying flat on our stomachs and blowing like mad at the dying flame but, believe me, the raw sausages, lemonade and cake tasted better than any feast a palace could provide!

The pleasure of summer food has an informal conviviality hard to beat; mix, dip, slurp, experiment with new foods, grill, baste, taste, sip, drip and gorge then bring out the family games. Enjoy our inconsistent UK climate, and keep fingers and toes crossed rather than banking on a sunny weather forecast to be accurate!