By Baroness Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina (Chris Adler-France).
Looking forward to showing off your latest court garb at Æ Twelfth Night, but not to once again standing in line for an hour at lunch?
Tired of bringing food for your children to eat because they don’t usually like what’s offered at dinner?
Planning on not signing up for onboard because you want to get on the road earlier in the evening?
We think Kingdom Twelfth Night should be the high point in the feasting year. We want this one to be extra special.
If you’ve read the event announcement for the kingdom celebration on January 10th in the Shire of Abhainn Ciach Ghlais, you may have noticed that the group has several different plans in mind for the day’s food—plans that it hopes will address these common concerns and make the dining experience far more relaxed and enjoyable.
(See announcement at http://www.eg.bucknell.edu/~acg/Events/TwelfthNight2015.shtm.)
The autocrat (Mistress Alicia Langland) and head cook (Baroness Bronwyn MacFhionghuin) graciously agreed to chat about these plans with The Gazette: [Editorial clarifications are in brackets]
Q: The dinner plan for Kingdom Twelfth Night is different from the standard feast service at most Æthelmearc events (a two- or three-course meal served at night). Please explain your plan and what inspired it?
A: Bronwyn: We’re offering two feast options, which is one or three meals. The first meal [at lunchtime] is provided to all those attending and is included in the site fee. The second and third meals [mid-afternoon and early evening] have an additional fee and will be served approximately two to two-and-a-half hours apart.
Alicia: ACG’s cooks often provide so much food that our feast guests complain they’ve run out of room (in their stomachs) before they run out of dishes! To combat this, we decided to borrow an idea from a Thescorre Twelfth Night feast many years ago — to serve the feast throughout the day, with time to socialize, participate in activities, and digest between each course. Because not every SCAdian wants to — or is able to — stay for all three courses, I decided to offer two pricing options. The first course would be included in the site fee and thus provided to all, and the second and third courses would be available for an additional fee for those who wish.
Bronwyn: The original idea came from Master Gille. Also, from my point of view doing tablesetting research, big elaborate meals did not take place in the evening by candlelight. When you look at the lists of items needed for a historical feast in various account books, there was a heck of a lot of food prepared. Now, did they eat it all at one sitting? It takes time to prepare, make, and serve all that.
So…why not create a day for the kingdom for everyone to go out & have a grand day dressed in their finery, socializing, eating, being festive, happy & relaxed. That’s how we created an event where one of the big showcases is the feast.
Alicia: One big benefit of serving the three courses separately will be evident at the end of the day. Typically, feasts are served late afternoon/early evening and can last up to two hours, depending on the number of courses served. By this point, folks are generally anxious to get on the road and don’t care to linger for dancing. By serving two of our three courses earlier in the day, we’ll have only one course remaining to serve later, which means there will be plenty of time for dancing. Or, if folks don’t wish to remain, they’ll be able to get started on their homeward journey sooner.
Q: In addition to earlier, spaced-out dinner timing, you’re also planning to serve lunch “family style” (a table’s worth of food served to each table, as is common at dinner) rather than offer the standard stand-in-line sideboard. Why did you decide to serve lunch that way?
A: Bronwyn: Two things—
- The layout of the facilities — we designed the rooms for sit-down meals.
- This is the Kingdom’s big holiday party. We want people to have an enjoyable time and feel festive. Think sitting down to holiday dinner with your family (for those that celebrate that way) or dressing up for a night out & going out to dinner.
Alicia: One of the things we enjoy most about events is socializing with friends. At lunch, this can be hard to do, either because there is no set time for lunch and thus everyone eats catch-as-catch-can or because there’s not enough space at tables for larger groups to be seated together.
In the SCA, lunches tend to be served in a modern style.
With our Twelfth Night feast, everyone gets to enjoy at least one course based on period recipes, served in a way that will allow plenty of time for socializing with friends at your table.
When we hosted Timothy and Gabrielle’s Coronation, it took almost an hour for all of our guests to be served lunch (buffet-style). (I think we had over 300 attendees.) That’s just too much time waiting. And with all the activities we have planned for Twelfth Night, we’d rather our guests spent their time having fun than waiting on line.
Q: You’re also preparing a feast specifically for children. How is that different from the adult meal?
A: Bronwyn: That is my protégé’s idea, Lady Macaah Sitt al Galb. She tried this out at our Shire birthday event and it was a great success. Her own children are picky eaters, so she looks for children-friendly medieval recipes (using her children as taste testers) and creates a menu that also becomes an instructional coloring book.
The food is milder in flavor and subtly differs from food they would normally eat. The meal is very interactive; the menu doesn’t overwhelm the children’s appetites and it gives them the chance to play with subtle teaching. It is definitely geared to the younger child or the smaller appetite. We actually have a few pre-teen/teen girls here in ACG who are not adventurous eaters. Last time, they assisted Macaah with the younger children, as well as eating with them. (Also, prior to the feast, there will be a butter making class where the children will make the butter for their meal.)
A plus here is parents do not have to pay for an adult feast seat when their child may only eat bread, butter, and carrots.
Alicia: One thing I love about the children’s feast is that it introduces children to period food… which they will enjoy eating! (How many times have we heard adults say they don’t like period food? If we win them over when they’re young, these young diners might be more open to eating at feasts when they’re adults.)
Another plus is that since children participating in the children’s feast will be seated at a special table, this frees up those spaces for other guests at the other tables. It also means we’re not serving adult-size portions to someone who’s unlikely to eat it all. This is more economical and efficient.
The children’s feast menu is:
- First course: cheese, spiced applesauce, rolls with butter
- Second course: meatballs, Parmesan noodles, honeyed carrots
- Third course: Fruit, “Food for Angels” (a cream cheese dip), and of course King’s Cake… with the chance to get the “bean” and be King of the day!
I would like to note that the children’s feast is limited to 12 children, aged five to 12. [Children who are not signed up for the special children’s feast table can be signed up for the regular feast, sitting with their parents and eating the normal feast with them.]
Q: You’re also offering pre-seating registration for dinner. Please explain how that will work?
A: Alicia: As an autocrat, one of my biggest headaches has been the feast seating chart. I’ve had guests come to me in tears because they couldn’t sit with their friends at feast because someone forgot to sign them up on the seating chart and all the seats at the table were filled.
Most feast-goers don’t understand what goes into table portioning in the kitchen. Tables often end up not being filled or being over-filled, which means folks are either served too much or too little food.
In addition, people might mistakenly be signed up a two different tables. People who pay to eat on-board sometimes don’t sign up on the feast chart, making it difficult to determine how many on-board spots are available for waiting-list folks to fill. Sometimes, people sign up, but their names are illegible, making it hard to tell if everyone who’s on-board actually has a seat. Large groups might wait so long to sign up that there aren’t enough spaces at any one table for them to sit together …. The list of problems goes on and on.
I wanted to find a way to avoid some of these issues. Pre-seating is one part of the overall plan. This fall, in a post to the Æthelmearc listserve, Her Grace Dorinda mentioned that Stormsport wanted to try pre-seating at its event. Afterward the event, I wrote to her and asked how it went. Based on her comments, I decided it was worth trying at Twelfth Night.
Here’s how pre-seating will work at Twelfth Night (I hope!):
When they send their reservation, guests should include names of and payment for everyone in the group (up to 12). Prior to the event, the reservations clerk will print the pre-seated names on the seating chart. When pre-registered guests troll in, they will be given a sticker to place on the chart. (This will help event staff identify which seats are “unclaimed” prior to serving the first course.) Guests must place their sticker on the chart prior to the start of the first course in order to keep their seat.
By pre-seating folks, we can hopefully avoid the problems I mentioned. It should save our guests time because they won’t have to search for a table that can accommodate them and their friends. I’m hoping folks will take advantage of this opportunity.
Q: Has your group tried any of these meal ideas before at your events and, if so, how did they work out?
A: Bronwyn: We did the children’s feast before. It was very well received by the children as well as their parents.
Alicia: At Timothy and Gabrielle’s Coronation feast, we had a server — wearing a spiffy shire tabard — assigned to each table. Having assigned servers worked out really well, and I thought was much more classy than the typical all-call for someone from each table. At a pre-arranged signal, the servers came back to the serving table, received instructions about what to say when they served the dishes, and then took the dishes to their assigned table. At that point, the servers were free to sit with their friends and enjoy the meal. (They were responsible for periodically checking with their assigned table to refill beverage pitchers and returning emptied dishes to the kitchen for washing.)
Q: For cooks in other groups who may want to try out these ideas, what kind of scheduling or planning concerns have you had to address to accomplish these?
A: Bronwyn: So far we have had to work the schedule to give enough time to eat as well as have the other activities throughout the day. We also need more servers than usual, since the feast will take place in two rooms and have two shifts of servers at lunch. Plus, we also need to provide washing stations twice for the three meals. In addition, there will be two sign-up boards for seating, as well as two different site tokens.
Alicia: Logistically, a LOT of planning went into this event! Starting with the projected attendance (between 200 to 250), I needed to make sure there would be enough seats for everyone to be served at the same time. I used a scale drawing to experiment with various layouts to find what would work best. (It is much easier to move rectangles in a computer screen than to lug tables about!)
As for the head cook’s job at this event, serving three separate courses — with a different cook heading up each course — has added additional levels of complexity. To manage this, Dame Bronwyn is tasked with the job of ensuring continuity among the three cooks and their courses. Unlike head cooks for most feasts, she will not plan a menu, shop for ingredients, or prepare dishes. What she will do is manage the kitchen, to make sure it runs efficiently and that the cooks have what they need.
Q: One potential issue I foresee is that, for a normal sideboard, the lunch cook only needs one or two table’s worth of serving equipment. However, since you’re serving eight portions to each table, you’ll need enough serving equipment for each table, just as you will hours later for dinner.
A: Bronwyn: Correct, plus the first meal serves the largest amount of diners. So, we will be washing dishes, pots, etc. three times. That means we’ll need more serving-ware than we normally would for a first course. But we will have a longer time to accomplish the washing-up. And the second and third courses will be served to a limited number of guests, so there will be fewer dishes to wash after these courses. Also, the recipes we chose are not too elaborate in prep or execution, so that will keep the kitchen moving. Finally, we will bus the great hall tables between courses to keep them tidy.
Q: You’re planning to serve the feast in two rooms at the same time? What inspired that decision and how do you envision that will work out?
A: Bronwyn: The front room will be the Æthelmearc Winter Market. We are designing the room to look like an outdoor medieval winter market complete with merchants, a tavern, and a dining area (think: beer garden). We hope the choice of decor will give that feeling.
Traveling through the market, you will see the entrance to the great hall. This is where the diners partaking of the three meals will be. Royalty will be here as well as the children’s feast. We hope the decor in this room will provide the ambiance of a great hall adorned for the winter holiday.
Alicia: We are fortunate to have a site with two large banquet rooms. Based on my layout experiments, I determined that, to accommodate everyone comfortably, we needed to seat people in both rooms.
From this came the idea for the “Great Hall” and the “Marketplace.” Those diners who pay the additional fee for the second and third Courses will be served in the “Great Hall” and will receive a hand-cast pewter feast token. Those who pay only the site fee will be served in the “Marketplace”; their site token will be more rustic.
Seating in two different rooms is not common in the SCA and will involve extra planning as well as lots of pre-event publicity so folks aren’t so baffled when they arrive.
When they troll in, guests will be given a color-coded sticker with their name on it to place on the seating chart. The stickers for those eating only the first course will be a different color from those who pay to enjoy the second and third courses. They will then place their stickers on the seating chart that is color-coded to match their sticker.
To emphasize the differences between the two rooms, the decoration and layout will be very different. The Great Hall will be more open and formal, with High Table and the Great Throne at one end. The Marketplace will be bustling with activity throughout the day, with merchants lining two sides of the room and a Tasters’ Tavern, with potables supplied by the Æthelmearc Brewers’ Guild, at one end. We hope musicians, jugglers, and bards will add to the lively atmosphere in this room. In the center of it all will be the tables for our guests. A masked ball with live music will round out the day’s festivities.
In addition to the activities going on in the marketplace, court and bardic activities will be take place in the auditorium on the second floor. A vigil, children’s activities, and dancing instruction for the masked ball will be held in the basement. Trying to schedule all of these activities plus three separate sit-down services has been quite a challenge!
All of this is made possible by the hard work of a number of people and a LOT of communication. I am extremely grateful to the event staff, who have worked so hard to make this event happen.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add about the event?
A: Alicia: We think Kingdom Twelfth Night should be the high point in the feasting year. We want this one to be extra special.
Although ACG is centrally located in the Kingdom (four hours from almost everywhere) and conveniently located at the nexus of two major interstates, many folks think it’s too far to travel to.
Hopefully, with the promise of a delicious feast, the Tasters’ Tavern, merchants, an amazing auditorium for bardic activities, and a masked ball, folks will find something to entice them to come!
I feel very lucky that our cooks (and shire members) are willing to try something new. I just hope it works the way I’ve planned it in my head!
—submitted by Baroness Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina