Tips & Recipes for a Perfect Parkway Picnic From Ashley English


A Year of Picnics by Ashley English Enter the drawing to win a copy of A Year of Picnics by Ashley English.
July 22, 2020

We want to make your Picnic for the Parkway special, so Ashley English, author of A Year Of Picnics: Recipes for Dining Well in the Great Outdoors, is here to offer tips for a successful excursion and delectable recipes for an inspired outdoor dining experience on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

While I’m a tenacious advocate for picnicking year-round, the month of July holds the prestigious distinction of National Picnic Month. Bearing that in mind, there’s no time like the present moment to pack a meal, grab a blanket, and head to the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of an epic picnic spot. With the right planning, and disposition, every picnic holds the potential to be a memorable one. Here are a few of my time-honored tips for making the most of your time spent dining in the great outdoors:

1) Make every attempt at letting go of expectations, and try to appreciate the experience for what it is. Don't let a few ants or raindrops make you lose sight of that. Some of the most memorable experiences, in both picnics and life in general, occur when things go sideways. What is 2020 if not a lesson in loosening attachment to outcome? Roll with the punches, and the picnic will be much more pleasant, both in the here and now, and later, when it’s reflected upon.

2) Give the weather of your destination a quick online check right before heading out. It’s always good to know what you might be dealing with, and then planning accordingly. Bringing along an umbrella or back-up sweater can go a long way toward ensuring happiness, no matter the weather. As the saying goes, there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. 

3) Proper footwear is paramount. I simply cannot stress this enough. Nothing harshes your picnic mellow like a sprained ankle or stubbed toe when all you were hoping for was a lovely meal outside. To that end, be sure to wear the right shoes for your destination's lay of the land. 

~Ashley English, (photo by Nicole McConville)

The following recipes are printed with permission from A Year Of Picnics: Recipes for Dining Well in the Great Outdoors, Ashley English, Roost Books 2017.  English's other titles include Southern from Scratch, A Year Of Pies, and Handmade Gatherings. She is offering a summerlong series of virtual Zoom-based canning classes tomorrow. Learn more


A popular refreshing beverage in the Middle East, jallab is typically made by diluting the syrup of grape molasses, dates, and rose water with water, and serving it over ice with golden raisins and pine nuts. In my version, I’m substituting pomegranate juice concentrate, readily available at foreign foods stores as well as online. Pomegranates and pine nuts are both tree-derived foods, ideal to showcase at a picnic honoring trees! 

Makes: 1 gallon

You Will Need: 

1 cup warm water
1/4 cup honey
3 quarts cold carbonated water
1 cup concentrated pomegranate juice
Golden raisins, to serve
Pine nuts, to serve
Ice, to serve

To Make: 

1. In a small bowl, whisk the honey into the warm water until fully incorporated. Allow the mixture to cool for 15 minutes. 

2. Place the cold carbonated water into a gallon-size pitcher or jar. Stir in the pomegranate concentrate and honey syrup until well combined. 

3. Pour into 8-ounce glasses, over ice. Add a sprinkle of pine nuts and golden raisins to each glass.


Israeli Couscous Feta & Herb Salad

Round and fluffy, Israeli couscous is the gregarious cousin to the smaller, grainier couscous many are accustomed to. It is soft and tender and makes for a truly lovely salad when imbued with herbs and vegetables and seasonings (including basil). The salad is best eaten within 1 or 2 days of preparation, as its tender qualities generally don’t hold up too well to moisture. 

Serves: 4 to 6

You Will Need: 

1 3/4 cups water
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/3 cups uncooked Israeli couscous 
1 medium cucumber
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 medium tomatoes, chopped into small bite-size pieces
2 dozen fresh basil leaves, cut in chiffonade
1 dozen fresh mint leaves, cut in chiffonade
Several grinds of fresh black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

To Make: 

1. Bring the water to a boil. While it heats, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the couscous and sauté until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Pour in the boiling water slowly, stirring to incorporate. 

2. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 11 to 12 minutes. Stir the couscous, fluffing it up with a spoon or fork. Set aside to cool to room temperature. 

3. Meanwhile, peel the cucumber, cut off the ends, and cut it in half lengthwise. Using a spoon or melon baller, scoop out the seeds, then cut the pieces in half lengthwise again. Cut the cucumber spears into segments about 1/8-inch thick.

4. Transfer the cooled couscous to a mixing bowl. Add the cucumbers, feta, tomatoes, basil, mint, and pepper to the couscous and toss.

5. Put the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, vinegar, and salt into a lidded jar and cover tightly. Shake vigorously to fully combine, and then pour over the couscous and vegetable mixture and toss. Serve at room temperature.


Chimichurri Chicken

Of Argentinian origin, chimichurri is a green, herb-based sauce meant to accompany grilled or roasted meats. It is immensely flavorful without being overwhelming. Here, I’ve tossed the sauce with roast chicken. You might have a little extra chimichurri left over, depending on the size of your chicken and how liberally you dress it. Store any unused portion in the refrigerator and consider using it with other meats (grilled steak is especially delicious) or eggs. 

Serves: 4 to 6, depending on the size of the chicken 

You Will Need: 

2 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
Bunch of fresh cilantro
Bunch of fresh parsley, stems chopped off
Leaves from about 4 sprigs of fresh oregano
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, or white wine vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lime
A few dashes hot sauce
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
Several grinds of black pepper
Meat from 1 whole roast chicken (set the bones aside for making stock)

To Make: 

1. Mince the garlic very finely, and then chop the coarse salt into it. Leave to sit and mellow for 20 minutes.

2. Pulse the minced garlic and all of the ingredients except the chicken in a food processor or blender until saucy.

3. In a large bowl, toss the sauce with the pulled chicken, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.


Peach & Lemon Verbena Clafoutis

Pronounced KLA-FOO-TEA, this French custard-like dish is quite possibly the easiest dessert I have ever made. Typically baked with cherries, my version uses fresh, ripe peaches and fragrant lemon verbena for a sweet, bright flavor and fragrance. A good amount of eggs are used, so the clafoutis will behave very much like a soufflé when it first emerges from the oven, puffing up high and slowly deflating over several minutes (the flavor is unchanged, though). 

Serves: 6 to 8 

You Will Need: 

3 large ripe peaches
2 tablespoons chopped fresh lemon verbena
4 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

To Make: 

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 2-quart dish or pie pan and set aside. 

2. Cut each peach into quarters, then cut each quarter into 1/2-inch slices. Fan out the sliced peaches in the bottom of your prepared pan. Scatter the minced lemon verbena over the peaches. Set aside. 

3. In a food processor or blender, combine the eggs, cream, flour, sugar, brandy, vanilla, and salt. Process about 2 to 3 minutes, until all of the ingredients are fully combined. 

4. Pour the batter over the fruit and lemon verbena. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top is golden and the batter doesn’t wobble or jiggle in the center. 

5. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.