Houmous, falafel – and even sushi – have become modern-day picnic staples, alongside the traditional sandwiches, sausage rolls and scotch eggs.

A study of 2,000 adults and insight from a food historian have revealed how the humble picnic has evolved over the last 100 years – from traditional cuts of meat and candied fruit to crisps and quinoa in the modern day.

Tapas-style foods including olives, chutney and flatbreads also proved popular today.

The research, commissioned by Warburtons to mark National Picnic Week, found the rise of meat-free diets have had an influence, with vegetarian sausage rolls, pies and an assortment of salads featuring on modern picnic blankets.

A variation of breads feature – including bagels, pitta bread and focaccia – but sandwiches have stood the test of time, with 58 per cent believing they will always be a picnic staple.

It also emerged that old-style treats including jelly, ice lollies and boiled fruit cake have been replaced by cookies, chocolate brownies and doughnuts.

And when it comes to drinks, sparkling water, prosecco and gin and tonic feature in today’s picnics.

Food historian and TV presenter, Polly Russell, on behalf of Warburtons said: “Though variety has been a defining characteristic of the picnic for more than a century, the influence of different cultures and foreign foods on our tastes is more obvious than
ever on the picnic blanket today.

“Some picnic foods have clearly fallen out of favour though – you’d be unlikely to take tongue or a boiled fruit cake on a picnic today.

“In the 1930s, car ownership expanded the possibility for day excursions – usually accompanied by a picnic – and cold roast meats were often on the menu during this decade.

“Through the 40s and the war, picnics remained an inexpensive and informal way for people to relax and escape day to day worries but rations meant home-grown vegetables were added to the basket.

“Fast forward to today, sandwiches and crisps still top the charts and old-fashioned favourites like Scotch eggs feature, but eclectic tastes and a desire for variation mean picnic goers can enjoy the likes of carrot sticks, dips and crudités.”

The research also found that while 71 per cent of respondents pack crisps for their picnics today, experts explained they first became an ‘essential’ in the 1970s.

Supermarkets have had an influence on picnic foods throughout the decades, with the arrival of pre-packed sandwiches in the 1980s and ‘bagged salads’ in the 90s.

The inventions of different types of packaging affected the choice of food people could take on picnics, including the Thermos flask in the 1920s, the ice chest in the 50s and Tupperware in the 60s.

Today, 38 per cent would still take a flask on a picnic, 46 per cent plastic Tupperware – while 13 per cent opt for sustainable – and 61 per cent would still use a cool bag.

One in five of those polled also take wine glasses on a picnic with them with an eighth carrying plastic flutes.

It also emerged the average adult has three picnics a year, but a third believe the choice of food has changed greatly over time, with 49 per cent agreeing there are more options today.

Despite the modern additions, 41 per cent admitted they ‘prefer’ traditional items such as cold meats and scotch eggs.

Almost half of those polled have even been known to home-make picnic snacks, including 43 per cent of those making sausage rolls, 35 per cent baking a quiche and more than a third whipping up some scones.

According to the research, 46 per cent believe picnics are a typically British event which will always be popular.

The feeling of summer (60 per cent), eating outdoors (60 per cent) and the social aspect (35 per cent) were among the best things about having picnics.

The study, carried out via OnePoll, also found that during recent months in lockdown, a quarter of respondents have had a picnic – with two thirds of them taking place in their own garden.

A further 65 per cent admitted to having had a socially distanced picnic with people outside of their household and a fifth said this has replaced going out for meals.

And 27 per cent believe the event has been more popular than usual recently because it’s one of the few ways people can socialise.

Polly added: “Despite the notoriously unreliable British weather, the British love of picnics hasn’t been dampened for over 100 years.

“From lavish feasts of roast grouse and whole hams in the 1930s, to Tupperware filled with cheese rolls and drinks cartons you can learn a lot about Britain’s changing tastes by looking at the picnic.

“While there are new additions like kebabs and pasta salad, the Warburtons research shows that family favourites like sandwiches, quiche and sausage rolls have held their place on the picnic blanket.”

Picnic Facts:

1. The word picnic is derived from the French verb which means ‘to peck’.
2. The picnic travelled to Britain following the French Revolution.
3. French aristocrat emigres established the ‘Pic Nic’ society in 1801 – this involved holding lavish events in an indoor venue in London where each guest brought a dish and six bottles of wine.
4. 19th century writers including Austen, Trollope and Dickens referred to picnics in their novels.
5. Picnics were so popular in the 1930s that some cars came with a rack at the back to strap a picnic hamper to.

Most popular savoury items to take on a picnic today:
1. Crisps
2. Sandwiches
3. Sausage rolls
4. Cherry tomatoes
5. Rolls/baps
6. Pork pies
7. Scotch eggs
8. Slices of cheese e.g. cheddar, halloumi
9. Cocktail sausages
10. Hard boiled eggs
11. Coleslaw
12. Quiche
13. Baguettes
14. Potato salad
15. Chicken drumsticks
16. Cuts of meat e.g. beef
17. Carrot sticks
18. Pasta salad
19. Dips e.g. sour cream and chive
20. Wraps
21. Crackers
22. Houmous
23. Pizza
24. Olives
25. Nuts
26. Cornish pasties
27. Breadsticks
28. Cheese scones
29. Pastries e.g. spinach parcels
30. Celery sticks
31. Savoury tart e.g. caramelised onion tart
32. Pitta bread
33. Chutney
34. Vegetarian sausage rolls
35. Pate
36. Bagels
37. Greek salad
38. Flatbread
39. Feta salad
40. Falafel
41. Pâté
42. Vegetarian pies
43. Avocado salad
44. Spanish tortilla
45. Stuffed peppers
46. Focaccia
47. Sushi
48. Quinoa salad
49. Waldorf salad
50. Broad bean salad


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