Learn how to picnic like a pro this summer

There’s nothing quite like a trip to the seaside to whet the appetite. Valerie O’Connor has the recipe for success when it comes to filling that hamper

Learn how to picnic like a pro this summer

There’s nothing quite like a trip to the seaside to whet the appetite. Valerie O’Connor has the recipe for success when it comes to filling that hamper

Taking off to the beach last minute is one of my favourite things to do. With the weather warming up and that chilly winter behind us, it’s only sunny times ahead and we need to make the most of every minute. For me, driving to the beach is a cure-all, it’s even the drive itself that does the trick, the beach being a bonus at the end of it. Living in Limerick, we are lucky to be surrounded by a kaleidoscope of stunning and unspoilt beaches just an hour’s drive from the city. Spanish Point is my favourite spot and nearby you have Quilty and Seafield if you want to get away from the summer crowds.

I have such strong and fond memories of heading to the seaside with the family as a child, though it seemed to take all day to get what looked like half the house into the car. It didn’t matter where we went or what time we got there, the sea is the sea and the sound of the waves and the fun of playing in the water is something that captures the imagination and wonder of people the world over.

The sea calms us, the rhythms of the ocean tune in with us and make us feel good. The air is fresh and invigorating and even when it’s wild and windy, it’s still the best place to be.

Of course, there’s something about the sea air that inevitably makes me hungry, so snacks are of extreme importance. In addition, being at the beach makes everything taste amazing and there are some things that you just can’t be without if it’s yourself you’re going with or if you have a gang in tow. It’s easy to go to a good deli and buy a whole load of pricey tubs of salads but these few basics will keep you in business and take you back a few decades too.

What to pack

For an authentic Irish picnic you will need a few essentials. First up is the humble boiled egg. A hard-boiled egg by the sea is the epitome of simplicity and deliciousness.

Boil the eggs, depending on size, for about four minutes and then put them under cold running water for about five minutes. To avoid the egg cracking in the water, pierce a hole in its wider end; you can do this with a very pointed small knife or with a special kitchen implement we used in Germany — its name translates simply as “egg-holer”. This allows the air to escape from the membrane between the egg and the shell and will stop your shell cracking and the white spilling out everywhere in the pot.

Roll your egg a few times on a plate or flat surface to crack the shell and then it will peel off easily. Sprinkle with salt and enjoy while staring at the waves.

Bring slices of cooked ham to make ham sandwiches or just have them on the plate with mustard. Cook your own or buy some good stuff freshly sliced from the local butcher’s shop.

To make your own coleslaw, simply shred up a chunk of white cabbage with two grated carrots, adding a little finely chopped spring onion and lots of mayo. Have sauerkraut if you want to skip the mayo.

Pickled beetroot is also a must and it dyes everything on the plate bright pink, see below for recipe. Potato salad is another essential, again see recipe below. It’s important to have a bit of everything on your plate, eventually it will all end up as a pink and semi-crunchy mess that you can stuff into a bread roll. This must all be enjoyed with several mugs of tea from the flask and milk from a ketchup bottle!

New potato salad


  • 1kg baby new potatoes
  • 2 tblsp wholegrain mustard
  • 100ml olive oil
  • Lemon
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Parsley and chives
  • Method

    Boil or steam the spuds until they are just cooked, take off the heat and drain them, crush them lightly and pop them into a large bowl. In a jug mix up the olive oil, lemon and mustard with the salt and pepper and herbs, pour this over the spuds while they are still warm so that all the flavours get absorbed well.

    Roughly chop lots of parsley and chives and toss this over the salad and mix loosely. Season to taste and enjoy.

    Pickled beetroot


  • 6 large beetroot/12 medium
  • 1 litre/2 pints filtered water/spring water
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1.5l sterilised jar
  • Method

    Preheat the oven to 150C/320F, Place the unpeeled beetroot on a roasting tray and bake them for three hours until a knife goes in easily.

    Remove the tray from the oven and leave them to cool. Slice them into slices or sticks about half an inch thick and place the beets in your clean jar, leaving a space of about one inch from the top. Press the down firmly with your hand or a spoon.

    Mix all the remaining ingredients together and pour over the beets, giving the liquid time to mingle through all the spaces. Make sure the beets are just covered and seal your jar.

    Place it in a warm spot, ideally 20C-22C, and leave it for four or five days, checking once a day and releasing the gasses by opening the jar. When the bubbles have subsided pop the jar in the fridge and enjoy with your retro summer salads.

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