Whether you've only half an hour to spare, or can take your time, there's always a way to knock up a tasty picnic.
Thirty minutes is quite sufficient to throw together a round of sandwiches, hard-boil some eggs, maybe fashion some carrot batons. Or knock up this little feast, instead. Pick up some bread en route, and you're all set.
The ultimate liquid refreshment from a country that knows a thing or two about warm days: if you don't have time to chill it properly, serve with ice cubes picked up nearer the picnic site. Serves four to six.
100g slightly stale crusty white bread
1kg very ripe tomatoes, very roughly diced
1 ripe red pepper and 1 green pepper, both deseeded and very roughly diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled and very roughly diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
150ml extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Diced black olives, mint leaves, shredded serrano ham, to serve (optional)
Put a Thermos flask in the freezer. Soak the bread in cold water for 10 minutes, or until soft (how long will depend on your bread). Mix the tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, garlic and oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Squeeze out the bread, tear it roughly into chunks, and add to the mixture. Blend until smooth, add the vinegar and some salt to taste, and stir well.
Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, pour into the cold Thermos, and refrigerate until ready to leave. Serve with garnishes of your choice.
Prawns with a herb and caper mayonnaise
Seafood adds a touch of luxury to a picnic, and has the benefit of needing little by way of gilding - this vibrant mayo does the trick nicely. Serves four.
4 tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tbsp chopped mixed fresh herbs - mint, chives, tarragon, parsley, etc
Squeeze of lemon juice
16 shell-on cooked prawns
Mix the mayonnaise, garlic, herbs and a squeeze of lemon, and season to taste. Depending on your mayo, you may want to add a little water or more lemon juice - it should be a dippable consistency. Serve as a dip for the prawns.
Chickpea and chorizo salad
Beans and pulses are great for picnics - unlike delicate salad leaves, they don't bruise in transit, nor will they wilt in the sun. To make this even quicker, skip the first step and use chunks of cured chorizo instead, then mix the vinegar with three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil to make the dressing. Serves four.
1 tbsp olive oil
250g cooking chorizo, cut into small chunks
2 spring onions, chopped
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 400g tins chickpeas
100g cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small handful chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat the oil in a small pan and add the chorizo chunks. Fry until they start to crisp and release their oil, stir in the spring onion and fry for a minute. Take off the heat, stir in the vinegar and chickpeas, then tip into a picnic container and top with the tomatoes and parsley.
More of an idea than a recipe, but a very good idea all the same. Moscato is a great choice for a picnic, being full-flavoured enough to quench your thirst, but light enough not to send you home with a headache. You don't need much for this dish, but it would be a shame to lug the rest of the bottle home. Serves four.
4 ripe peaches
1 bottle good moscato (or other off-dry sparkling wine)
4 amaretti biscuits
To assemble, halve the peaches and put into bowls. Pour over a little moscato and sprinkle with crushed amaretti. Eat immediately.
Give yourself an hour to prepare, and you can produce a real showstopper of a three-course extravaganza. Chilled rosé almost obligatory.
Griddled asparagus with a parmesan cream
Catch the last of the British asparagus before it disappears for another year and dunk it ceremonially in this outrageously cheesy dip. It's what it would have wanted. Serves six.
1 small garlic clove
1 anchovy fillet (optional)
90ml extra-virgin olive oil
125g parmesan, roughly chopped
Zest of 1/4 lemon
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 bunches asparagus
A little oil, to grease
Put the garlic and anchovy in a pestle and mortar, and pound to a paste. Blend in a little oil.
Put the cheese in a food processor and whizz until the size of Rice Krispies. Add the anchovy and garlic paste, the lemon zest, plenty of black pepper and a pinch of cayenne, then, with the motor running, pour in the rest of the oil in a slow, steady stream, and whizz until fairly smooth. Season to taste.
Snap the woody bases from the asparagus. Heat a lightly greased griddle pan on a high flame and, when hot, add the asparagus and cook for five to eight minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears, turning occasionally, until cooked but still crunchy, and chargrilled. Leave to cool, pack into a picnic container and serve with the cheesy cream as a dip.
Crab and samphire tart
Two super-seasonal ingredients in this tart that sings of the seaside: the crab adds a richness, the samphire colour and seasoning. Serves six.
500g all-butter shortcrust pastry, chilled
50g brown crab meat
300ml double cream
200g white crab meat
100g samphire, washed, woody ends removed, roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4, and grease a 22cm round tart tin. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and use it to line the tin, pressing it into the sides with a small ball of excess dough.
Prick the base with a fork, line with baking paper and baking beans or pulses/rice, and bake for 15 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove the beans and paper, and return to the oven for five minutes.
Break the eggs into a large jug and add the brown crab meat. Beat together to loosen the crab meat, then, when well mixed, whisk in the cream. Season with a little salt and lots of black pepper.
Scatter the white meat and samphire over the tart base, pour over the cream mixture, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until set but still jiggly in the middle, then allow to cool.
Pea, strawberry and almond salad
The natural sweetness of fresh peas makes them an excellent match for strawberries in this crunchy, colourful salad - June on a plate. Serves six.
150g sugar snap peas
250g small sweet strawberries, hulled
2tbsp balsamic vinegar
50ml extra-virgin olive oil
100g marcona almonds, toasted
1 small bunch basil, leaves picked
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Have ready a large bowl of iced water. Blanch the peas for a minute, drain and tip into the iced water.
Chop the strawberries in half (or, if they're larger berries, quarters). Whisk together the vinegar and oil and season generously.
Toss the peas and strawberries in the dressing and, just before serving, scatter with the almonds and basil.
Summer berry mess
As the name suggests, messes - Eton or otherwise - are ideal for throwing together on the hoof, the more haphazard the better. Whipped cream doesn't travel well, so this version uses Greek yoghurt and a tangy, homemade berry compote: if you're short of time, use fresh berries instead. Serves six.
350g mixed berries (frozen is fine)
40g caster sugar
300g Greek yoghurt
5 ready-made meringue nests
1 small bunch mint, leaves picked
Put the berries in a small pan with the sugar and a squeeze of lemon. Heat gently, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved, and simmer for seven to 10 minutes, until thickened. Test for sweetness, let cool, then pour into a jar for transportation.
To serve, spoon the yoghurt into a large bowl, and crumble in the meringues. Swirl through the cooled compote and sprinkle over the mint.
Crisps and savoury nibbles
Truly Irresistible BBQ rib flavour crisps, £1.49, The Co-operative Crunchy, sweet and smoky, barbecue-flavour crisps may not be trendy, but they sure are tasty.
Lobster cocktail crisps, £1.69, Marks & Spencer You know when you spoil your appetite with prawn crackers at the Chinese restaurant? Well, you'll have the same problem with these.
Manomasa sea salt and cracked black pepper tortilla chips, £1.85, delis nationwide, Fortnum & Mason, Ocado, Whole Foods MarketA world away from Doritos, these Mexican tortilla chips are packed with seeds, giving them a really satisfying texture.
Nib Nibs exceptional cheddar cheese straws, £2.95, selected delis, BoothsCheese straws can suffer from faint-heartedness, but not these Yorkshire beasts: they're cheesier than a Wotsit at a Barry Manilow concert.
Olives et Al chilli puffs, £2, delis nationwide Just to warn you, with these spicy rice crackers, one handful is never enough. Mind you share.
Marcela Flores salsa verde, £1.79, Booths, Whole Foods MarketFresh, zingy and just mild enough to be utterly addictive.
Beetroot and sesame dip, £1.30, Sainsbury'sTraffic-stoppingly pink dip with a flavour to match: sweet, tangy and thick enough to wedge on a breadstick.
G'Nosh muhuramma, £2.49, The Co-operative, Ocado, Whole Foods Market, Selfridges Hummus is so noughties: this roasted red pepper, spice and walnut concoction is the Middle Eastern name to drop.
Glorious! Caribbean mango salsa, £1.59, OcadoWonderfully summery tropical flavours that work as well with a British ham bap as they do with a grilled snapper sandwich.
Edamame, pea and wasabi dip, £1.69, WaitroseSweet, sour and peppery-hot with Japanese horseradish, this would be lovely with prawns.
Meat, cheese and olives
Black Mountain Smokery smoked Gressingham duck breast, from £7.50, farm shops, delis and smoked-foods.co.ukBeautiful, mild-flavoured smoke and rich, sweet meat - a real treat.
Cheddar rarebit potted cheese, £5.95, Paxton & WhitfieldMuch more practical than trying to balance a cheeseboard on a bumpy rug, this posh cheese spread is made from cave-aged cheddar, mustard and ale. Superb on crackers or bread.
Taste The Difference nocellara olives, £2.50, Sainsbury'sCrunchy, lemony and wonderfully fresh - very summery.
Pitted green olives with semi-dried cherry tomatoes, £2.95, camisa.co.ukGreat firm texture, and a lovely savoury flavour, which makes a pleasing contrast with the sweet tomatoes.
Olives stuffed with garlic and chilli, £4.25, thegarlicfarm.co.ukBig and juicy, with a wonderful, mellow garlic stuffing. That said, not a good choice for a first date.
Mango, mangetout and coriander salad, £2, Marks & SpencerPicnic foods need to travel well, and this zingy number stayed satisfyingly crunchy. Refreshingly fruity.
Taste the Difference couscous, chickpeas and feta, £2, Sainsbury'sNot just any couscous, but fancy giant couscous, which gives this a lovely bite.
Edamame and soya bean salad, £2, Marks & SpencerFresh, crunchy and impossibly wholesome-looking: just the thing to assuage the guilt of all those crisps.
Gazpacho salad, £1.99, WaitroseCrunchy vegetables and tangy vinegar - sometimes, the simplest things hit the spot.
New potato, roasted red pepper and chorizo salad, £2.99, Marks & SpencerUnapologetically hearty, this Spanish-style salad is saved from heaviness by a good sherry vinegar dressing.
Sausage rolls and scotch eggs
Runny scotch eggs, £7 for four, Marks & SpencerThe only ones we tried with an oozy yolk - which made them a shoo-in.
Pork, bacon and tomato sausage rolls, £2 for two, WaitroseThe bacon gives these whoppers a lovely smoky, savoury flavour. Good coarse texture, too.
Cocktail pork sausage rolls, £3.99 for 12, Marks & SpencerLight, buttery pastry and a juicy, well-seasoned filling. Crowd pleasers.
Pork, apricot and sage sausage rolls, £2.75, Blackbird Bakery, LondonMonsters of fruity deliciousness, these are a picnic in themselves. Don't forget to pack a napkin.
Cheddar and caramelised onion roll, £2.59 for three, Marks & Spencer Oozy, flaky and impossibly cheesy - may well tempt a few meat-eaters from their sausages, so buy extra.
Pork pies and tarts
Taste The Difference caramelised onion-topped pork pie, £2 for two, Sainsbury'sMini pork pies often have a poor filling-to-pastry ratio: the sweet, almost-pickle like topping of these ones set the balance right.
Pork pie, £1.50, Hinchcliffe's Farm Shop, Huddersfield A mid-sized pie, big enough to share, small enough to demolish, this award-winning example boasts a great porky flavour.
Taste The Difference no-pastry cup quiche, £1.90, Sainsbury'sA pastry-less quiche may sound as welcome as a wasp at a picnic, but this richly eggy custard, studded with bacon, needs nothing else.
Smoked salmon and creme fraiche quiche, £2.29, Marks & SpencerFresh, light and lovely, a grand classic encased in pastry.
Summer petit pois and courgette quiche, £2.49, WaitroseA satisfyingly deep-filled vegetarian option, bursting with sweet, crunchy summer veg.
Hope & Greenwood strawberry candy floss, £5 for 50g, John Lewis A fistful of floss puts everyone in a good mood, and it's nice and light to carry, too.
Cole's fruitcake for cheese, £5.99, delis, cheesemongers, redmoped.co.ukCrammed full of fruit and nuts, this is a cake only in name - and it's as good on its own as it is with a slice of cheddar.
Bloom's nice and nutty popcorn, £2.19, Planet Organic, Selfridges, Whole Foods MarketDangerously addictive, peanut-covered crunchy snack - open at your own risk.
Bakewell tart, £6.45, riverford.co.ukI like to think I make a pretty good bakewell tart, but I'll grudgingly admit I was impressed by this one, too: crisp, buttery pastry and a nutty frangipane that stays just the right side of sweet, it's only let down by a slight paucity of jam.
Gourmet marshmallows, £6 for a box of six, themarshmallowists.co.ukWith grown-up flavours including blueberry and gin, and raspberry and champagne, these big and squidgy, yet featherlight sweets are the perfect end to a summer evening picnic.
Gusto Sicilian lemonade, £1.99, delis, healthfood shops, Whole Foods MarketA very grown-up choice, this has no added sugar, but loads of extra spice in the form of lemongrass and ginseng. Would make a great mixer, too.
Still lemonade, £2.50 for 1 litre, Waitrose Tart and refreshing, with the highest percentage of lemon juice of all the varieties we tested.
Shloer raspberry and rhubarb punch, £2.25, most supermarkets The pregnant woman's favourite has had a summery makeover - "limited edition", apparently. Pink, sweet and happily summery.
Bottlegreen elderflower tonic water, £3 for a four-pack, selected Sainsbury'sGreat, as it says, mixed with gin, but also rather delicate and lovely on its own.
Cracker still and cloudy lemonade, £1.50, from major supermarkets A lighter, more refreshing still lemonade that should appeal to adults and overexcited children alike.
Fentiman's & Bloom gin and tonic, £3.99, Sainsbury'sI've long been loyal to the classic gin and tonic in a can, but this bottled version, which uses an award-winning London dry gin and a spicy, juniper-spiked tonic water, seems the more sophisticated, grown-up choice.
Wirra Wirra Mrs Wigley sparkling moscato, £7.99 for 50cl, Oddbins, Ocado, The Wine SocietyPeople who turn up their noses at moscato are missing the point: at only 4.5%abv, this isn't supposed to be a serious wine - it's a pink, frothy bit of fun that's perfect for summer afternoon drinking.
Bollinger rosé ice tube, £60, John LewisGranted, this isn't something you'd casually pick up on a whim, but for a really celebratory picnic, this delicate, fruit-scented champagne comes with its very own ice bucket. You know, just to show off a bit more.
Perlezza prosecco brut, £6 until 10 July, then £8.99, SparPear-scented and citrussy, this silver medal-winning fizz is a real bargain for easy outdoor drinking.
Crabbie's raspberry alcoholic ginger beer, £2.12, major supermarkets Fruity, fiery and very drinkable, this would suit a summer afternoon in the park down to the (slightly damp) ground.
Photograph: Felicity Cloake