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feasts-msg - 5/17/96
Ideas and comments for SCA feasts.
NOTE: See also the files: headcooks-msg, fst-disasters-msg, Fst-Menus-art,

feast-ideas-msg, feast-menus-msg, utensils-msg, p-menus-msg, p-cooks-msg.


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NOTICE -
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that

I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some

messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium.

These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with

seperate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes

extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were

removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I

make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the

individual authors.
Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these

messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this

time. If information is published from these messages, please give

credit to the orignator(s).


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris AKA: Lord Stefan li Rous

mark.s.harris@motorola.com stefan@florilegium.org

************************************************************************


Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: greg@silver.lcs.mit.edu (Hossein Ali Qomi (mka Gregory F. Rose))

Subject: Re: Feast Format

Organization: The Rialto

Date: Tue, 6 Apr 1993 05:49:26 GMT
Greetings, all, from Angharad ver' Rhuawn. Dafydd ap Gwystl recently

posted an interesting article on feasting alternatives. He began by

citing a number of common problems with SCA feasts: not much variety,

food arrives too late, courses take too long, they destroy the evening,

etc. Most of these are, indeed, serious problems at lots of events.

But I do not think his proposal really solves them, and I see it as

raising more problems than it solves.
Dafydd's suggestion was essentially an all-day buffet, with dishes coming

out as ready, running until about two hours before feast time, then a one

course formal feast. Not all events should be alike, and I believe that

it follows from this that not all feasts should. There are probably event

structures that work very well with something like this. But in general,

I see it as causing more problems than it fixes.


First, what's good about the suggestion. In my opinion, two really big things:
-- People get fed before dinner time. This, I think, is really important,

and I am a strong proponent of having _something_ available to eat

before, say, 2PM, if it's only bread and fruit.
-- People get used to the idea that you don't have to eat everything that

is served. In _any_ meal of above a dozen dishes, whatever the format,

there's something mildly nuts about compulsively taking some of every-

thing.
But we can get these in other ways. The flip side I see is that there

are at least five real problems.
(1) In many typical cases, time during the day is scheduled -- frequently

with fighting going until about 2 hrs before the feast. Many tournament

formats do not leave the fighters with time to go browse. The result is

that you have just closed the fighters out of most of the dishes of the

feast. They pay as much as anyone else -- but only get to eat a small

proportion of what's put out. AND they're the ones most likely to hit

the feast hungrier than a ravening locust.
(2) It's hard enough to get people to announce what's in an organized,

simply presented course. I can't imagine that as food trickles out all

day, people are really going to know what's out there and when. Even I

am a little hesitant to eat medieval mystery food ("What is it?" "Some

kind of pasty." "I can see that; what's _in_ it?" "Food? How should

I know?"). In addition, it's really unlikely that people will know when

the hot things get out; more likely, most people will try everything

at room temperature. (Which raises interesting questions like, how do

you keep from feeding people salmonella with the chicken?) This sounds

like lots of happy hour buffets I've been to, where getting any of the

better dishes is a matter of luck crossed with black magic. As a cook,

I'd rather have more control over who has access to food, and the condition

they get it in.
(3) Dafydd suggests a larger audience for things like sotelties. If you

want everyone to see the sotelty, the obvious move is to take it all the way

around the (seated) hall. Putting it on a sideboard will only work if

it's inedible (otherwise, people see bits of what used to be a castle),

and there's a further problem if it's temperature-sensitive (has to be

eaten reasonably promptly, e.g. contains chicken, etc.). The set-it-out-

all-day approach works reasonably well for marzipan and for some sorts of

gingerbread (regardless of the feast format, actually, so long as people

don't dig in the moment it gets out!), but not for much else.
(4) Where do you put your feast gear? If the "first course" is not all

finger food, you need to eat it on, in, and with feast gear, which is

thereafter dirty. You probably don't want to try to repack it between then

and dinner. But ex hypothesi, the hall is not set up with tables to leave

it on. -- This kind of structural change has lots on consequences.
(5) Dafydd points out that SCA feasts are not much like medieval ones,

in that a medieval feasts often started at midday and went on into the

evening. That's true up to a point, i.e., one kind of medieval feast

did that. BUT -- that kind of feast was the most intensively served,

carefully seated, and thoroughly engaging kind. People sat; food was

brought to them, usually by pairs, and what they did during those hours

was eat, talk to the people on either side of them, and listen to and

watch entertainment.


I know of no less medieval presentation of food than a buffet without a

seating.
Picnics I can document. One and two course meals with relatively simple

service I can document. Buffets? With no arranged seating? If someone

else can document this to period, I'd be interested in the source.


Yes, serving is a problem. Labor at events often is. I am happier with

trying to convince members of local groups that they are the hosts at their

events, and that it is "spiff" to act like hosts, than in deciding not to

provide service.


*****
Many of the evils Dafydd points to have, it seems to me, three roots:

(a) modern tastes in conflict with medieval practice; (b) resource

limitations; and (c) poor scheduling. I think we should fix what's

broken, and accept the limits that are built-in.


Modern people do not want to spend the time at table that medievals did

when feasting. This, so far as I can tell, is an absolute, and it seems

to me madness to fight it. The very longest people want to stay at table

seems to be something between an hour and a half and two hours. Trying to

hold them longer -- often even that long -- is misguided.
The other side of the coin is that modern people _do_ prefer to sit down

to meals, with their friends. It is easiest to accomodate this in a

hall with general seating. (The buffet approach forces people to get

together and plan when they are going to eat, in a setting where knowing

what time it is -- "Oh, is it that late? Oops -- my lady/lord was

expecting me for lunch an hour and a half ago..." -- makes things harder,

not easier. It also doesn't reliably give them anywhere to sit.)
Modern people, especially U.S. types, frequently don't want to eat what

medievals ate. It isn't budget that keeps me from serving dishes based

on innards.... Now, Dafydd's plan lets cooks cover wider ground -- but

the cost is preparing two to three times as many dishes. In my experience,

time and preparation resources are a worse constraint than money. I

experiment with these things at home or in private gatherings. I respect

-- profoundly -- cooks who can experiment by making 25 to 30 dishes for a

feast instead of the 15 or so I normally make (excluding breads and spreads),

but I don't expect to see much of that. When I do, I expect to see most of

the dishes made before and carried in. Some dishes are better after a

few days -- but most are not. There's a real price to the all-cooked-ahead

feast.
Resource limitations, such as time and kitchen space as well as limited

budgets, are with us to stay. There are things you can do to stretch your

money. (Use wholesale services; special order; take advantage of quantity;

buy in bulk; etc.) The worst limitations, really, are those placed by the

kitchen (or absence of one), your group's ability to store ingredients and

finished dishes, and the amount of labor you can count on both beforehand

and on site. None of these change when you change the format. But some

formats take more than others -- and the proposed one, so far as I can tell,

increases rather than decreasing most of the requirements along these

dimensions.
The worst culprit with regard to the problems Dafydd cites, though, is poor

planning and scheduling. This has at least two parts. The first is the

scheduling _in the kitchen_ that results in courses being too far apart or

delayed waiting on individual dishes. There is no intrinsic reason why

there should be anything like the waits Dafydd described between courses

-- unless there are major equipement failures, which will be a problem no

matter what, or unless you have overplanned your kitchen. I generally

plan on no more than 20 min between courses, and don't have much trouble

making that schedule.
The other part is poor event scheduling. If you schedule dinner for 7, let

everything slide an hour and tell your kitchen to serve at 8, allow an hour

or so for eating, another half hour to clear the hall for dancing, and you're

going to need an hour's clean-up before you go -- and you have to be out at

10:30 -- well, no, you're not getting in any dancing, but that's not the

feast's fault. Dancing gets crowded out so often because it is generally

the last thing on the schedule before clean-up, because the time you have

to be out of the hall is relatively inflexible, and because we tend to let

_everything_ else slide: fighting, court, everything. Cutting into the feast

is not a good solution: people are going to want to eat too. If you schedule

twenty minutes for the feast, and let everything else slide by an hour and

a half -- you still aren't going to dance. The feast gets blamed, because

it is the thing just before the dancing. But it's rarely the culprit, and

monkeying with it doesn't deal with the problems.


Most events I have been to have been scheduled in ways that virtually

guaranteed that the evening's activities were toast. If you want to be

sure that everything happens, the simplest remedy is to set a schedule that

can be followed, and then follow it. If something runs an hour over

schedule, and you have all your time scheduled -- an hour's worth of

something else is not going to happen. Facing simple arithmetic of this

kind is going to be more helpful than any amount of format changing. (The

recent Atlantian coronation is a pretty good example of something that

was carefully scheduled to let a lot of complex and neat things happen,

and that ran pretty well to schedule. It can be done.)


I personally prefer a main meal at midday, for lots of reasons; but most

events built around fighting make that impossible because of the rest of

the schedule. Failing that, I think a simpler solution to the two problems

of hungry people and failed schedules is food available at midday -- but

not much, not fancy, and nothing that takes significant effort away from

making the primary meal -- and a well-planned feast of one to three courses

that takes no more than 45 min to and hour and a quarter, and that starts

and ends on time. By the day of the event, the nobility holding court

should know how many items of business they want to conduct, letting an

experienced herald give a pretty good estimate of how long it will take.

_Use_ that estimate in scheduling court. Move court earlier, not the feast

later, if there is a problem (bearing always in mind that a populace that is

ravenous is not paying attention anyhow). Or -- if you are stuck with a

scheduling problem, deal with it -- but recognize that the problem is

with scheduling.
Anyhow, my initial two cents' worth....
Cheers,
-- Angharad/Terry

From: kuijt@umiacs.umd.edu (David Kuijt)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

Subject: Re: Feast Format

Date: 7 Apr 93 19:18:08 GMT

Organization: UMIACS, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742


Greetings to the rialto from Dafydd ap Gwystl!
The wise, fair, and talented Lady Angharad responded to my earlier note:
>Greetings, all, from Angharad ver' Rhuawn. Dafydd ap Gwystl recently

>posted an interesting article on feasting alternatives. He began by

>citing a number of common problems with SCA feasts: not much variety,

>food arrives too late, courses take too long, they destroy the evening,

>etc. Most of these are, indeed, serious problems at lots of events.

[...]


>Dafydd's suggestion was essentially an all-day buffet, with dishes coming

>out as ready, running until about two hours before feast time, then a one

>course formal feast. Not all events should be alike, and I believe that

>it follows from this that not all feasts should. There are probably event

>structures that work very well with something like this. But in general,

>I see it as causing more problems than it fixes.


Before I get into responding to the note in general, let me say that you

have exposed a hidden assumption in my mind when I was writing the original

note. I was thinking about events without major fighting during the day.

As it happens, this sort of event is fairly rare, and this rarity happens

to make my suggestion for a different feast format significantly less

useful. Oh, well.

Angharad points out five problems with my format: (summarized for brevity)


(1) Fighting (or other activities) during the day. Fighters don't get

to see the food, or eat it.


Point well taken. Now that it is pointed out to me, I agree

completely--at any event where significant fighting or other

out-of-hall activities occur, my suggestion wouldn't work.

(I must confess, when Elizabeth and I were talking about it,

we were discussing feast format and court format at our

coronation, if we were to win a crown tournament sometime

soon. Planning a coronation before winning a crown tourney

is pretty tacky, I know--we weren't planning, it was a

theoretical conversation.)

(2) Presentation problems. "What is that?"


I had visualized the server who is responsible for serving

forth and maintaining the table as also filling the role of

describing the food and knowing what's in it.

(2.5) Temperature and timing.


Warming plates? This isn't an ideal solution, I know.

It isn't necessary to map the normal feast menu to the

first course of this format, though. Having a lot of

pies and room temperature food (pickled beef!!) would

fit my image of the first course. Anything that has

a fast spoil-time wouldn't be appropriate for the afternoon

course.

(4) Feast Gear.


Yeah, this is a problem. Cleaning it between courses is

going to be a problem, leaving it out won't always work,

and if the afternoon course is nothing but fingerfood then

we aren't talking about a two-course feast, we are talking

about snacks and a meal. (Which is also fine, but not my

original suggestion). I haven't got any good answers for

this one (yet?)

(5) Buffets without seating ain't any more medieval than the SCA

feast.
Oh, well. I didn't know.

Moving away from my particular suggestion, and into the problems that

motivated it, Angharad says:

>Many of the evils Dafydd points to have, it seems to me, three roots:

>(a) modern tastes in conflict with medieval practice; (b) resource

>limitations; and (c) poor scheduling.

>Modern people do not want to spend the time at table that medievals did

>when feasting. This, so far as I can tell, is an absolute, and it seems

>to me madness to fight it. The very longest people want to stay at table

>seems to be something between an hour and a half and two hours.

>Modern people, especially U.S. types, frequently don't want to eat what

>medievals ate. It isn't budget that keeps me from serving dishes based

>on innards.... Now, Dafydd's plan lets cooks cover wider ground -- but

>the cost is preparing two to three times as many dishes. In my experience,

>time and preparation resources are a worse constraint than money. I

>experiment with these things at home or in private gatherings. [....]




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