feast-ideas-msg, feast-menus-msg, utensils-msg, p-menus-msg, p-cooks-msg.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that
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Mark S. Harris AKA: Lord Stefan li Rous
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (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.
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-
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
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.
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
(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.
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
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
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.
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.)
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
Anyhow, my initial two cents' worth....
From: email@example.com (David Kuijt)
Subject: Re: Feast Format
Date: 7 Apr 93 19:18:08 GMT
Organization: UMIACS, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742
>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.
>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)
to see the food, or eat it.
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
(2) Presentation problems. "What is that?"
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.
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
(4) Feast Gear.
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
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. [....]