Rain, of course, does not stop any self-respecting Brit from eating outdoors. Most of us will have childhood memories of being forced to don a wholly ineffective anorak before eventually running into the car for cover and eating squashed sandwiches in the back seat, while listening to our parents stubbornly insisting we were all having fun at our picnic.
Although Germans will quite happily go hiking in the rain, the idea of sitting on a soggy blanket in a wet park for the purpose of eating food outdoors strikes them, not unreasonably, as somewhat absurd. But even in Berlin, there will be some warm and sunny days this summer and I suggest you take advantage of them when they finally get here.
Although its climate may not be ideal, Berlin has a large number of parks in which to picnic. There’s a good round-up of some of the best locations here. A word of caution if you’re having hot food: although you will often see people setting up grills all over the parks, you can be slapped with a large fine for barbequing outside the official areas.
When it comes to the food, some thought needs to be given to the practicalities. You need to make sure that whatever you prepare is transportable, edible without the use of copious cutlery and will not suffer from being left to go cold, or from being unrefrigerated. Dishes stored and eaten at room temperature are almost always best.
Pastry acts as a protective case for a filling that is a bit more fragile. Any sort of tart with a quiche (egg-based) filling is great; even better are pasties or pies that enclose a filling entirely. The empanadas in the recipe below are tasty, robust and although very good cold, if you make them the morning of your picnic may even still be slightly warm inside a few hours later when you come to eat them.
There is something that seems terribly civilized about slicing meat from a joint, rather than peeling half-squashed ready-cut slices off a sheet of waxed paper. Roast beef can be cooked the day before and left in the fridge overnight; it will lose its fridge chill during transportation. Yes, you will need to bring a sharp knife with you, but any sensible picnicker will have one anyway.
Cakes are ideal picnic fare, but the normal round shape can be awkward. This is a time to make a loaf cake. Transported in its tin, it should survive the trip intact as long as you don’t put anything heavy directly on top of it. This lemon cake recipe is sticky and delicious and pairs beautifully with strawberries, which no June picnic should be without.
If you want to eat outdoors, but don’t fancy going to so much effort: well, one of the beauties of picnicking is that it can be as complicated, or as simple as you like.
You need do no more than visit a butcher for Wurst and cold-cuts, a baker for some bread and a deli for some cheese. Throw in a bunch of grapes, a few cherry tomatoes and a punnet of strawberries and you’ve got more than you need without even having to set foot in the kitchen.
If you don’t even want to go to the trouble of shopping, Berlin provides many alternative options for outdoor eating. The obvious – and traditional – is a Biergarten, of which there is usually at least one in every park. These have the additional advantage of providing seats for the surprisingly large number of people who don’t like to sit on the ground. There are many in Berlin, but my personal favourites are Café am Neuensee in Tiergarten and Prater on Kastanienallee. You can find other recommendations here.
For a less traditionally German, but absolutely brilliant alternative, try Preussenpark – aka “Thai Park” - in Wilmersdorf. It’s not clear how it started, but every sunny weekend day, immigrants from Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries gather here and set up little food stalls selling Thai-style street food. Bring your own picnic blanket and choose from an array of authentic specialities.
But if you’ve been inspired to create your own feast, Berlin picnicking reaches its apotheosis on 15th June with Dîner en Blanc. Organised by a mystery person, Dîner en Blanc is a yearly flashmob of several thousand people, all dressed in white, bringing collapsible tables, chairs and posh picnics along with them. If you want to be a part of it, join the Facebook group, organize your furniture, food and friends and wait for the location to be announced just a couple of hours in advance of the event. Don’t forget to bring a corkscrew and glasses for your wine and Wunderkerzen (sparklers).
Makes 12 medium empanadas
You could also try stirring some finely chopped wild garlic (Bärlauch) into the filling as it cools, or even a tin of good skipjack tuna. Grilling your own peppers is easy, but you can use ready-grilled peppers from a jar or a deli if you’re pushed for time.
For the pastry
150g plain flour
100g wholemeal flour
80g cheddar cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
A sprig of thyme, leaves only
About 50ml milk
For the filling
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tin of beans, drained (I used cannellini beans, but large white beans or speckled borlotti beans are just as good)
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 grilled red peppers diced
a pinch of ground cumin
A sprig of thyme, leaves only
Rub the butter into the flour along with a pinch of salt. Add the cheese and the thyme. Reserve a tiny bit of the beaten egg for later, then add the rest to the mixture and bring together into a soft dough, adding a small splash of milk if necessary.
Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and refrigerate until ready to use, for at least half an hour.
For the filling, gently fry the onions in a little olive oil until soft and golden. Add the garlic, peppers, cumin, thyme, beans and tomato purée and stir thoroughly, mashing the beans roughly into the mixture with the back of a fork. Add a little water, mix in and simmer for about five minutes. You are after a thick slop, rather than a liquid.
Leave the filling to cool to room temperature; it will become more solid as it cools. Preheat the oven to 220°C.
Roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 2-3mm, and cut into rounds of 10-12cm diameter. Put a small dollop of the filling on each circle and wrap the pastry around it, squeezing together well and crimping at the edges, to make little half-moon shaped pastries. Place them on a baking tray, brush with the remaining egg and bake for 20-25 minutes, until nicely browned. Leave to cool on the baking tray, store and transport in an airtight container or wrapped in foil.
Serves 10 as part of a picnic spread
I recommend eating roast beef rare or medium-rare. If you’re not a fan of red meat, chicken or pork can also be roasted the morning of the picnic, or the day before and transported whole for slicing on site.
1kg piece of beef, boneless (e.g. rump or sirloin, fillet if you are feeling very rich)
a few sprigs of rosemary
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Heat the oven to 200°C.
Make a few small cuts in the meat and insert slivers of garlic and rosemary. Rub the meat with olive oil on the outside.
Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and sear the meat on all sides. Transfer to a roasting tin, season and immediately roast for 25 minutes (rare), 40 minutes (medium) or one hour (well-done).
Wrap in foil while still warm, and keep in the foil until ready to slice and eat. If your picnic is taking place the following day, refrigerate overnight once cooled to room temperature.
You can transport the cake still in its tin, turn out gently and cut into sticky slices directly before eating.
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs
50g plain flour
1 tsp poppy seeds
½ tsp baking powder
150g ground almonds
1 lemon, zested and juiced
50g demerara (brown) sugar
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Line a loaf tin on the bottom and sides with baking parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. It’s easiest to do this in a food mixer or with an electric whisk. With the mixer running, add the eggs one at a time, along with a third of the flour for each one.
Add the baking powder, almonds, poppy seeds and the lemon zest, fold into the mix, then spoon it into the cake tin. Bake for about 1 hour, until a skewer comes out clean.
When the cake is satisfactorily cooked, remove from the oven and pierce it in ten or so places with your skewer. Mix the lemon juice with the demerara sugar and pour slowly over the warm cake. Leave to cool in the tin. Serve with fresh strawberries.
About The Author
Thyme Supperclub is a hobby project run by a keen amateur cook and an oenophile (wine connoisseur), who host dinners in their own home for friends, guests and food enthusiasts. Founded in 2010, and one of the first supper clubs in Berlin, Thyme Supperclub entertains 18 guests at an eight-course meal, once a month, with guests invited to contribute a donation to cover costs.
About The Photographer
Kristi Korotash is an amateur food photographer, professional food lover, and one half of Berlin’s Zuhause Supperclub.