12 Quintessential British Summer Food Traditions 

Across the global north, many families and friends are making their summer to-do lists, filled with trips to take, foods to make, and seasonal activities that fully embrace the warmer months of the year. So, too, are residents of Great Britain, as we begin to see the days extend into the evening, the rain dry up (at least temporarily), and folks of all ages taking to the great outdoors to celebrate the summer weather.

While fireworks season for the U.K. doesn't coincide with summertime like it does in the U.S., there are plenty of other markers of the season, from foods like strawberries and barbecues, to activities like camping and crabbing, music and food festivals, and sporting events. As I sit writing this article staring out into my garden where I've optimistically planted a crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons, hoping to keep the harvest from the inevitable snails and squirrels, I've basically written a list of all of the foods and activities I'm looking forward to partaking in with my family this summer.

Sipping Pimms at a summer garden party

In the height of summer, often all too short of a season here in the U.K., garden parties of all kinds can be anticipated. Whether it means getting dolled up in your best summer frock or a more relaxed affair with kids racing around, no doubt you'll find pitchers filled with one of Britain's best warm weather crowd pleasers — Pimms.

Pimms cup, named after James Pimm, a London-based pub owner in the 1800s, was a drink first served as a means to help Pimm's customers digest their dinner. Now the fruit-filled cocktail is served anywhere that's seen even a drop of sunshine, from Wimbledon to outdoor festivals to school fundraisers. The drink consists of gin infused with spices, and punctuated with slices of lemons, limes, oranges, strawberries, and cucumbers, and known for its refreshing taste as well as its edge-softening abilities, thanks to the juniper-infused spirit.

You can purchase Pimms No. 1 most places that sell alcohol across the U.K.. To make the cocktail, it's recommended to mix one part Pimm's No. 1 with three parts lemonade, which in the U.K. means something fizzy like 7-up or Sprite. Garnish with fruit and mint and serve very cold.

Eating strawberries and cream while watching Wimbledon

The U.K. is one of the only places I know where certain sports require a colloquial "the" in front of them — the tennis (meaning the Wimbledon Championships) is one of them. And while I'm not a big sports spectator in general, I'll happily head to the tennis if only for the excuse to indulge in a cold Pimms cup and a bowl of strawberries and cream; both are mainstays of Wimbledon.

British strawberries are at their peak in the U.K. at the height of summer, with areas like nearby Kent, dubbed "The Garden of England" and known for its production of strawberries, apples, apricots, plums, pears, berries and more. It's a good thing too, as the berries are an exceedingly popular snack with roughly 200,000 portions of the fruit sold inside Wimbledon alone.

The simple dish's popularity is a result of several things: the height of the sweet fruit's growing season, a strong marketing campaign, a delicious taste, and simple preparations. Strawberries and cream have been served at the Wimbledon tennis championships since 1877, though the sporting event has grown in popularity significantly since then.

Bringing sausage rolls on a picnic

While picnics feel somewhat universal, traditional British summer picnics involve their own specific foods, drinks, and even activities. During the warmer, and hopefully drier months of the year, many weekends are often spent arranging picnics large and small, taking place on commons and parks in more urban areas, or in the midst of countryside parks, fields, hills, and everywhere else you can imagine. During many of these outdoor eating affairs, sausage rolls, alongside scotch eggs and likely a punnet or two of strawberries, will make an appearance.

Though a sausage roll may sound very similar to a hot dog in a bun kind of an experience, it is in fact its own separate thing entirely. Made from very gently seasoned sausage meat, which is in a puff pastry casing. Sausage rolls can easily be made at home to customize the type of sausage meat (pork is traditional) and seasonings. Equally, sausage rolls are sold in large quantities at most grocery stores or individually at national chain bakeries like Gregs, or independent ones like The Ginger Pig, with plenty of vegetarian and vegan options now available, too. They range in size and in quality, especially if you're someone who isn't accustomed to eating them, especially cold ones. No matter your personal feelings about them, sausage rolls are an absolute staple to the British summer picnic.

Grabbing a pint with friends after work

Although there isn't really a wrong time to get together with friends after work, on a lovely summer's day you're much more likely to find throngs of office workers spilling out of pubs and onto the sidewalks. In a region that sees so many rainy, grey days, summer can elicit crowds of happy people with a pint of beer or a glass of wine in hand, sharing a packet of crisps with their faces turned upwards towards the sun.

Though there are now regulations that prevent drinking alcohol on all forms of public transport, there remain no open container laws preventing a casual pint in a park or on the pavements of a busy city like London. Grabbing a "pint" though referencing the glassware that beers, bitters, and ales are served in, generally just means a drink of any kind.

In June, across much of the U.K. the sun doesn't even think about setting until well after 9 p.m., leaving plenty of time for languishing in the sunshine and catching up with friends after the workday finishes. The only thing to dampen the mood (other than rain itself) is a shortened sleep; sunrise in the summer months is often before 5 a.m.

Tucking into fish and chips at the seaside

The stereotypes are true, Brits really do love a good plate of fish and chips. But, even more than a plate at a pub, true British summertime will involve hovering over a takeaway container filled to the brim with crispy fish and an overwhelming number of (oftentimes anemic) chips while perched on a rocky beach. This is the proper way to consume the British delicacy fish and chips, made popular first in London by the Sephardic and Ashkenazi diaspora.

While there are plenty of good places to eat fish and chips in London and many other landlocked cities and towns across the United Kingdom, there is something exceedingly satisfying by consuming the deep fried meal seaside, with a salty and often cold wind and seagulls threatening to fight you for any remains. The tradition is so satisfying that many families and friends will make a specific trip to their nearest seaside location each summer, often during long bank holiday weekends, to soak up some sun (if available) and partake in an order of fish and chips and an ice cream cone before calling the trip a success. Whether it's a day out in Brighton, a trip to Cornwall, Margate, Whitstable, Folkestone, Dover or any other seaside town, you can expect throngs of crowds at the weekends, getting their fill of sea air and salty fish and chips.

Picking wild blackberries or raspberries on a countryside walk

Going out for a walk became even more popular during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, when households in the U.K. were only allowed to leave their homes to obtain essential provisions, or once a day for exercise. However, a day of ambling, from gentle to rigorous, has been a much-loved pastime and form of socializing since long before the pandemic.

This is especially true during the warmer months, when many areas are lined with ice cream trucks and hedgerows of wild blackberries and raspberries, available for picking and snacking on during a winding meander with friends. Such activities, most popular during the later months of summer and into the fall, come with advice on how to forage both safely and compassionately. Tips given by the National Trust include waiting until the fruits are washed before eating, and taking care not to decimate an area completely — keeping in mind future propagation of berries as well as wildlife from deer to birds, all which rely on the resource. Wild berry picking can also be a prickly affair so wearing long sleeves and trousers is also recommended. Once you get home there are a number of delicious ways to use blackberries, including eating the plump berries just as they are.

Enjoying a Sunday roast with friends in a beer garden

You would think a hearty feast like a British Sunday roast would be reserved for colder months of the year. And for some, this remains the case. Many Brits however will take to the Sunday lunch tradition rain or shine, heat wave or cold front. Beer gardens of pubs across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland would confirm this to be true. Sundays are a day for many to gather together with friends and family, at home or out at a restaurant, pub, or park when the weather is nice.

Like the inside of a cozy pub, beer gardens allow for a more relaxed atmosphere and can encourage lingering. Oftentimes pubs will provide garden games to entertain children and grownups alike, including ping pong tables or shuffle board, sometimes climbing frames are installed in the gardens to keep kids entertained so parents can relax, too.

Not just reserved for Sunday roasts, many beer gardens feature pizza, tapas, burgers, grilled sausages, chicken, and other more summery fare. Live music is also a popular summertime feature, both day and night.

Making a batch of elderflower cordial

Walking around many areas of the U.K. in May and June and you're bound to find hosts of elderflower trees in bloom, their sweet floral scents practically waft through the air. Not just for decoration or to brighten up the local flora and fauna, many residents also understand that these fragrant bouquets also make fantastic cordials, syrups, liqueurs and other edible treats. Some chefs even make tempura with the blossoms for an intensely floral and satisfyingly crispy, locally sourced snack.

Follow your eyes to spot the delicate, flavor-packed tiny white blossoms, as they tend to grow abundantly, but equally, you could follow their distinctive scent. You do need to be quick as the delicate blossoms will quickly fade. Like with other foraged plants, harvesting the entirety of an area isn't good practice, so no matter what your cooking plans are for the elderflower bouquets, make sure you leave plenty for reseeding and for others. To make cordial, you'll steep the blossoms in a mixture of dissolved sugar, hot water and sliced lemons. To kick it up a notch, adding alcohol like vodka will make for a deliciously floral elderflower liqueur that can be added to a mixer and poured over ice, to be enjoyed in the sunshine.

Going crabbing on the coast

"Oh I do like to be by the seaside," as the song goes. Many U.K. residents wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, as throngs flock to the coast from Cornwall to South Devon and more during the summer months for salty air, sand (or rocks) sunshine (hopefully) and seafood. Thankfully you don't need to have the guarantee of good weather to enjoy some muddy fun clamming or crabbing.

Crabbing is wonderfully inclusive, all ages past time, and a favorite among families as it can be an easy way to keep kids entertained. How you crab is all up to you, as many catch and release the crustaceans while others make dinner plans around how many are caught. Generally, not much equipment is required: A net or line, a large bucket, and a bit of bait is all you really need to safely catch one of the sea's snappiest residents. Residents of Scotland will note that there has recently been new legislation around brown crabbing restrictions in the North Sea to cut down on over-consumption. 

Hosting an (inevitably) rainy barbecue

Each summer my British husband tells the same joke/not joke whenever we prepare to head out to friends' houses or host our own barbecue. He says, "I know how to hold an umbrella over a grill. After all, I grew up in Scotland." And well, it's true. Inevitably the best laid plans for a festive outdoor affair will involve huddling by the back door, intermittently sticking a hand out to see if the rain has let up.

Fear not, however. Brits are used to this sort of predicament and a little rain won't stop most from executing their original plans. In fact, grilling in the rain can make it a bit more fun. While many national food magazines and newspaper food columns will proclaim that from June onwards is grilling season, the truth is that all seasons in the U.K. can be, or equally, cannot be grilling season, as rain is generally just around the corner. It all comes down to the mindset and barbecue cravings of the grill master. Unless it's really stormy, most Brits will grill rain or shine, while inevitably making a self-deprecating joke about it.

Sipping a shandy at a pick up game of soccer or cricket

Informal, leisurely games and sports of any kind, feels like a universal human tendency on a nice day in a communal area. In the U.S. this might be a game of basketball, baseball, or (American) football depending on available equipment. In the U.K. however, soccer, known as football, cricket, or even rounders (a close comparison to softball) are the more obvious choices. These casual, just-for-fun games to pass the time pair well with a refreshingly summer shandy.

A British shandy, originally known as a shandygaff and also known as a radler is a mixture of beer topped with lemonade. Though the drink originally started as a way to stretch ales, and were generally reserved to the lower classes, today they are enjoyed by everyone and can be topped with a variety of soft drinks including ginger beer. The ratio of beer-to-soft-drink depends on preferences. Some pubs just add a lemonade topper or float, while others will use a ratio that's closer to half-and-half. If you're spending the day in the sunshine, you may want to use this refreshing drink as a delicious opportunity to cut down on dehydrating alcohol that could leave you drunk and tired before the game is through.

Eating your weight in street foods at a local music or food festival

While it's true in many places outside of the U.K., music and food festivals in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland reach fever pitch come the warmer months of the year. From Glastonbury Festival to Taste of London, Pub in the Park, Wilderness Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, or the famous Abergavenny Food Festival in Wales, which closes out the season in September, you could just about spend every weekend from May to October eating, drinking, dancing, and laughing your way across the region.

Festivals have really stepped it up when it comes to food offerings, with stalls offering just about every kind of cuisine you can imagine. Whether you're wandering through a local farmer's market and tucking into a grilled sausage sandwich and an array of baked goods, or taking in a bigger festival like Taste of London, which spans across Regent's Park and includes on-site cooking classes plus samplings from top chefs and restaurants, hungry Brits are practically guaranteed to find something delicious to eat and drink, while soaking up the warm weather and the great outdoors.