One of my favorite food scenes in any children’s literature is the picnic at the beginning of The Wind in the Willows. It seems so peaceful and timeless, a perfect Spring morning on the water, but I think what I love most about it is that it is a picture of two people coming together over food. Rat and Mole have just met that morning, but somehow sharing a picnic together seems to cement that friendship for good. Rereading this scene recently, I also loved the delight that Mole takes in unpacking each item of the picnic basket.
I especially love this illustration of the picnic from the Richard Ingpen illustrated Wind in the Willows:
“The Mole begged as a favor to be allowed to unpack it all by himself; and the Rat was very pleased to indulge him, and to sprawl at full length on the grass and rest, while his excited friend shook out the tablecloth and spread it, took out all the mysterious packets one by one and arranged their contents in due order, still gasping, ‘O my! O my!’ at each fresh revelation.”
Somehow, the Moles excitement at unpacking the picnic basket reminds of the pleasure of meeting a new person and learning about them as you share conversation. It’s just a beautiful picture of the beginnings of a friendship and how food can bring people (or animals!) together.
And what was in those “mysterious packets”? According to Rat, “There is cold chicken inside it, coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaldfrenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeatgingerbeerlemonadesodawater -“. While I didn’t think my kids would be too thrilled about potted meat or cress sandwiches, the cold chicken and pickled gherkins sounded just right. I know fried chicken is probably not the most authentic dish for a British book, it is our favorite kind and always seems fitting for a picnic. The Refrigerator Pickles are very easy to put together, just make sure to give them several hours to chill in the fridge before your picnic.
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Time: 45 minutes active, a few hours for marinating
2 cups buttermilk
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3 pounds chicken pieces
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil for frying
- In a deep bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients (buttermilk through worcestershire sauce). Add the chicken pieces turning to coat each one in the buttermilk mixture. Allow chicken to marinate for at least 2 hours in the buttermilk, turning the chicken a couple of times to evenly coat with buttermilk.
- For the breading: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, paprika and pepper until combined. Once the chicken has marinated, remove each piece from the buttermilk and toss it in the flour mixture until well-coated. Discard the buttermilk marinade. Set flour-coated chicken on a large baking tray and let sit for 10 minutes to allow the buttermilk and flour to become tacky.
- While the chicken is resting, heat about 2 inches of Canola oil in a large frying pan over medium-low heat. When hot, toss the chicken a second time in the seasoned flour to give it a nice, thick coating then fry in the hot oil until golden brown and cooked through, about 10 minutes for side. A thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken should read 180ºF when it is fully cooked. Drain on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Eat immediately, or refrigerate until ready to eat.
Refrigerator Dill Pickles
Makes 2 8 ounce jars of pickles
Time: 20 minutes active, several hours for pickles to chill
2-3 small pickling cucumbers, cut into spears
1 large clove of garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, divided
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, divided
4 sprigs fresh dill, divided
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
- Divide the cucumber spears between two clean, 8 ounce canning jars. Divide the garlic, peppercorns, mustard seeds and fresh dill between the two jars, gently pushing it down between the cucumber spears.
- Heat the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to boil. Pour the hot vinegar mixture into the jars, dividing it evenly between the two, until it covers the cucumber spears. Screw lids tightly on the jars and refrigerate for several hours before eating. Will keep in the fridge for several weeks.