History at Home

How to have a Victorian Picnic

Once reserved for wealthy land-owners to enjoy on their estates, the Victorians revolutionised the phenomenon of outdoor dining, bringing the picnic to the masses and paving the way for every family to enjoy taking their meals outside.

In her now-famous Book of Household Management published in 1861, the writer Mrs Beeton outlines her "bill of fare for a picnic for 40 persons", offering a detailed insight into the components of a Victorian picnic which can be adapted to make your own Victorian-style outdoor family feast this summer.

Beef, Lamb and Fowl

The Victorians cut no corners when it came to eating outdoors. Meat and fish played a large part in the Victorian picnic. In fact, for a party of 40 people, Mrs Beeton recommends "a joint of cold roast beef, a joint of cold boiled beef, 2 ribs of lamb, 2 shoulders of lamb, 4 roast fowls, 2 roast ducks, 1 ham, 1 tongue" and more. Also on the menu would be fresh pies, perhaps veal or pigeon. For your own Victorian-inspired picnic, roast your meat the day before or buy pre-cooked slices.

The Sandwiches

A staple part of any picnic in Victorian times was - and still is - the sandwich. Far from dainty triangular affairs, sandwiches were intended to satisfy even the hungriest of children. A picnic sandwich for most families would be a substantial pairing of thick-cut whole wheat bread with fillings of salted meat and salad such as cress, lettuce or celery. Cheese was also a popular filling, often grated and mixed with cream or chopped nuts. The sandwich was a wholesome feast.

Sweet Treats

No proper Victorian picnic is complete without a few sweet treats and desserts thrown in for good measure. According to Mrs Beeton's book, baskets would often be filled to the brim with  fruit turnovers, cheesecakes, 'cabinet' or sweet steamed puddings, blancmanges and jam puffs. Why not try making some of your own at home, or follow our guide to making pancakes or refreshing cucumber ice cream with the help of our Victorian cook, Mrs Crocombe.

Beverages

Thirsts need quenching on a hot summer's day, and Mrs Beeton tells us that "bottles of ale, ginger-beer, soda-water, and lemonade" were regular fare. Also suggested are sherry, and brandy for the grown-ups, not to mention plenty of tea. Mrs Beeton says "coffee is not suitable for a picnic, being difficult to make." However, a flask of hot water and a jar of instant coffee make this easier today. And remember, "water can usually be obtained; so it is useless to take it."

A Sturdy Basket and Blanket

Add the finishing touches to your Victorian-inspired picnic with a robust and stylish carrier. Families would have owned a strong wicker basket bought especially for the purpose, complete with a cloth or blanket for seating, if it could be afforded. Why not browse the range of hampers and other picnic accessories at our online shop?

Victorian Picnic Spots

Where better to enjoy a Victorian style picnic than at a Victorian home? From the grand settings of Victorian families to the holiday home of the queen herself, here are six of the more beautiful settings for your Victorian picnic.

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