The pick of all the picnics – and a recipe for Devizes Pie

Written by Tony Millett on .

Anabel Loyd’s new book Picnic Crumbs is an anthology of anecdotes and amusing tales about picnics in many climes and many eras.  It was published early last month when it was officially – as if we didn’t all know – “exceptionally wet and sunless”.  Not a very suitable time for picnics, but this book provides plenty of opportunity for imaginary picnics away from our sodden summer.

It is seasoned with unusual, eye-catching illustrations by the figurative artist Peter Haslam Fox. It ends with an alphabet soup of sandwich fillings which includes green butter (coloured with spinach), udder sandwich (‘Take a young Udder and lard it with great lard…’), and kipper cheese paste (‘Pound six ounces of cold grouse debris with the same amount of gruyere cheese…’)

Anabel Loyd is the daughter of the late Sir Charles Morrison, Conservative MP for the Devizes constituency from 1964 to 1992, and his wife The Hon Sara Morrison.  Her mother still lives in the area and has had a long career in public service – including her term as a founding director of Channel Four Television.

When she’s not travelling (we’ll come back to her itchy feet and her love of getting onto planes to go to new places), Anabel lives between London and Mildenhall and knows Wiltshire well. So it is not surprising that her book contains a good deal about writers, food and picnics connected with this area.  Perhaps most notable is a recipe for Devizes Pie – we’ll come back to that too.

Anabel Loyd has lived in Hong Kong and in India.  She’s worked for several charities in India – especially those concerned with children’s rights. She’s passionate about international aid and cannot understand how aid that’s being well used by a small charity can suddenly be cut: “There are really good things going on with money used properly – suddenly it’s gone – and that’s the end.”

Anabel Loyd at home in MildenhallAnabel Loyd at home in MildenhallShe has five children and is used to making large scale picnics.  If it rains, as it’s wont to do when they’re on holiday in Scotland, they all adjourn to the kitchen.  But Scotland’s not far enough for Anabel.

She just cannot stop travelling. Her haunts are mainly in Asia and North Africa and lately she’s been to some parts of South America. But she wants to travel to many more countries – though not all the family take to her idea of life in very basic hotels in Africa.

Anabel tells me she loves research.  She wouldn’t mind, she says, being locked away in the British Library reading rooms. Her next project is an edition of the prolific journals of Lady Minto while she was in India with her husband who was Governor-General and Viceroy 1905-1910.  After that she plans a family history.

It is her research that’s the basis and great strength of Picnic Crumbs.  She’s found an amazing variety of stories and recipes – some from very surprising sources.

To give just a taste: it’s worth stretching the definition of picnic to include the 1800 review of the Hertfordshire Volunteers and Militia at Hatfield House – attended by King George III.  Twenty-five tables of twenty-five places were laid on the front lawns with a bottle of port between two guests. There was enough beef, lamb, veal, hams, meat pies and ox tongues to feed a regiment.  Washed down with more than 1,300 bottles of wine and butts of ale and small beer.  Unfortunately the King went indoors for his lunch – perhaps he was feeling a bit odd – facing a lengthy menu laced with French culinary terms.  A brilliant find by our author.

Then there’s Bertie Wooster not forgetting to pack “a couple of bottles of Bollinger and some old brandy” in his hamper.  Mrs Beeton telling us how to make caviare sandwiches. And the Everest expedition of 1922 ordering one hundred and twenty tins of Harris’ sausages from the late and lamented Calne factory.

Anabel quotes Osbert Sitwell wondering whether Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe would have been heard of again had he called his painting Le Pique-Nique.  One might also suggest that it might not have been heard of again had all the picnickers been wearing clothes.  However on the evidence of this book, naked picnicking is not a very British pastime.

It is a wonderfully entertaining read – a bit of cook book, a lot of history, laced with literature, travel, adventure and a great deal of fun.

Then there’s Devizes Pie – from an 1836 recipe and a time well before CJD hit the meat trade: “Boil a calf’s head, cut it into very thin slices, with some of the brain. Add slices of pickled tongue, sweetbread, lamb, veal, a few slices of bacon, and some hard-boiled eggs…”

You’ll just have to buy the book to find out what you do next.  However, if anyone in the area has lurking in the back of grandmother’s cook book a similar recipe for Devizes Pie, please send it to us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll forward it to Anabel.  I am sure her children can’t wait to sample it.

 

Picnic Crumbs – a Gathering of Picnics, Packed Lunches and Provision at Home and Abroad by Anabel Loyd (Polperro Heritage Press) £14.95.

 

Print