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The art of the picnic

Easter Sunday dawned overcast and a little chilly, ideal weather for the great British picnic. As we cast around for a collection of foodstuffs that could be combined into a dining experience Al Fresco, I was reminded about a catalogue I’d been looking at for the department store Gamages which was situated at 16-128 Holborn in Central London. I’ve been researching a piece about the store, and well remember visiting it during the early 1960s. I was surprised to find that they had a large offering of food items and catered for the Edwardian middle classes. The catalogue dates from 1914 and was published just before the outbreak of the First World War.

Ox Tongue

The “High-class Table Delicacies“, as Gamages describe them for the picnic could be chosen from hare or kidney soup, a galantine of boar’s head studded with pistachios, a turtle, or a whole ox tongue in a large-size glass which bore the strap line ” the ideal piece-de-resistance for Camp Storage“. There was also something called Camp Pie Filling.

To accompany your main course suggestions for condiments included Royal Naval Chutney, or Salad Cream (Parisian of course), Noels’ Parmesan Cheese (Grated) in a bottle, which for some reason was “Specially recommended for Country Use” . For those with more cosmopolitan tastes, a range of foreign foods were included, and here Gamages Marketing Department get into top gear recommending “Gastronomes Specialities much sought after and being greatly used in High-class restaurants, at prices much below the ordinary foreign produce shops“. Jars of “Sardines des Aristocrates” were available in “Truffle, Lemon or Curry“. or you could have “Tunny Fish in oil, tomato, herbs or truffle” all packed in a round glass.

The dessert offering was a bit sparse, but Gordon & Dilworth came to the rescue with “Tart fruits in Vacuum Bottles” or “Jams prepared from ‘rich ripe Fruits and maple Sugar“. To finish there was coffee, but not any old coffee, Cafe Liqueur, “a pure rich Coffee with an irresistibly delicate flavour made in liquid form for the sake of convenience“, which, and this shows that the main thing to remember to bring with you when setting out for your picnic “any maid can make to perfection in two minutes” . Looks like a case of no maid, no coffee. Your picnic could be ordered and then packed by Gamages into “Robust Wicker hampers“for collection with “Prior notice”, all you as Edwardians had to do was eat it.

As I packed my slightly limp fish paste sandwiches into my supermarket carrier bag and added my shop bought “Reduced” Quiche and a packet of crisps, I couldn’t help wondering if we may have lost the art of the picnic?

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