Seafood and fruit cake for a summer outdoor feast

Baby lamb on a bed of potatoes and onions

Baby lamb on a bed of potatoes and onions - Credit: Frances Bissell

As we finally celebrate the summer weather, we can dare to think about garden parties, barbecues, and shaking old crumbs from the little-used picnic basket.

Food tastes so good out of doors and  there are certain foods that I love at this time of year, especially seafood, and crab. Small brown shrimp eaten with wholemeal bread and salted Brittany butter is also hard to resist and my outdoor feast will include appetisers of tiny sandwiches of shrimp and butter, followed by a crab salad and new potatoes if the weather is warm, or steamed clams in cider if not.

Lamb will be the main course, a leg or shoulder braised on a bed of onions and potatoes if the weather is cool, or rack of lamb roasted quickly to a nice pinkness. With this menu, it would be possible to have the crab salad and the roast lamb, chopped into neat cutlets, once cooked, as a perfect picnic. One of my favourite crab recipes, first tasted in Mobile, Alabama, is called West Indies, brought to the southern American city aeons ago by a sea captain.

Chunky white crab meat is layered with thinly sliced shallots; grape seed oil, cider or other mild vinegar, salt and pepper is whisked together and poured over the layered crab meat and left for 24 hours. If taking it on a picnic, simply pack it in a Kilner jar.

Raw vegetables never go amiss at a summer feast, so a punnet of sharp, sweet tomatoes on the vine, red chicory, baby courgettes and fennel can all be packed in a cool bag or displayed on a platter, with a pot of something nice to dip them in. If you do plan on taking my suggestions on a picnic, a slicing cake, plain rather than creamy, is ideal for dessert, together with some fresh fruit and bars of good chocolate.

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One way with fruit is to heap it into one of those fine wire colanders and tie it in a plastic bag. Take along a bottle of water, and once at your picnic site, pour it all over the fruit to rinse it. This is better than washing everything before you pack it, as it will begin to soften. For the cake, I recommend my summer fruit and ginger cake, or a simple pound cake, one of the easiest of cake recipes.

To drink I suggest cava for an aperitif and then Beaujolais Blanc. Or if you favour red a delicious Loire wine from Saumur or Bourgueil. 

Crab and seafood is perfect for an outdoor June feast

Crab and seafood is perfect for an outdoor June feast - Credit: Frances Bissell

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Steamed clams with thyme (Serves 6)

1.5 to 2 kilos fresh live clams

1 or 2 small onions or shallots

Grated zest of 1 orange

6 to 8 sprigs of thyme

200 ml cider

200 g crème fraiche – optional


Scrub and rinse the clams well, discarding any that remain open. Peel and chop the shallots very small and put in a heavy saucepan, together with the orange zest, thyme and cider. Put the lid on the pan, and set it over very high heat. As the cider boils and gives off steam, you will hear the clams begin to open. Carefully shake the pan so that all the clams come into contact with the heat. Five to 8 minutes should complete the cooking. Serve in shallow soup plates, with the broth, a sprig of thyme and some crusty bread.

A fruitcake is a good cake to take on a picnic

A fruitcake is a good cake to take on a picnic - Credit: Frances Bissell

Summer fruit and ginger cake

This is a large cake, and will keep well, provided it is carefully re-wrapped after cutting. Bake a few days in advance to allow the flavours to develop.

500 g butter

400 g sugar

8 eggs, beaten

500 g plain flour, sifted with 2 level teaspoons ground ginger

250 g each sultanas, dried pineapple, dried apricots,

125 g each dried peaches or nectarines and dried pears

50 g crystallised ginger

Juice and grated zest of an orange

6 tablespoons white rum

100 ml Golden Syrup, heated until runny, but not hot


Cut all the dried fruit to the size of the sultanas; you can do this in a food processor, but avoid making a paste. Double line and grease your chosen tin, which should have the equivalent volume of a 22 to 25 cm round cake tin, and pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F, gas mark 4.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and flour alternately, thoroughly mixing in each addition, but folding gently rather than beating. Stir in the fruit, ginger, juice, rum and honey. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared tin. Smooth the top, making a slight dip in the centre, as this is where the cake rises most; it will be less likely to ‘crack’. Bake in the middle of the oven for 2 to 2 ½  hours. You can also add nuts and seeds, such as pistachios, almonds, pine nuts, pumpkin and sunflower.

©Frances Bissell 2021. All rights reserved.

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