SCA-Feasts-art - 3/10/12
"Orts It All About, Alfred? - (Attending your first year or two of SCA Feasts)" by Lady Caterina della Pieri of Politarchopolis, Lochac.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Orts It All About, Alfred?
(Attending your first year or two of SCA Feasts)
(with apologies to Joss Stone)
by Lady Caterina della Pieri
What you need for your very first feast, if all you want to do is eat in a modestly civilized and period way:
· A plate and bowl, or two bowls
· A spoon
· A knife
· Something to drink out of – tankard, goblet, beaker, or another bowl
· For most night-time feasts, it's also a good idea to bring a small white/cream pillar candle, or at least a couple of tea-lights; a holder or dish to set it on or in; and some matches or a lighter. It's best not to use colored candles, as the wax drips will permanently stain the tablecloth. Check ahead of time to make sure open flames are allowed in the hall. If they are not, bring instead an enclosed candle-lantern or some battery-operated, realistic-looking tea lights or candles.
· Forks were not used in most of the SCA time period. If you have to have a fork, use one with only two long-ish prongs or tines (the Victorians used these as "pickle forks"), and choose a 16th-century Mediterranean persona. Or see the notes about "Other Tableware," below.
Bring an appropriate container to hold it all in – a drawstring fabric bag, a small basket, wooden chest, something like that. No leather bags, though, unless you like cleaning the wrong side of leather: you'll most likely be carrying your dirty dishes home in the container you choose.
Once you start attending feasts on a regular basis, you'll probably want to expand the kinds of dishes and dining accessories you bring with you. So, here's a list of other dishware and such that you can consider adding to your basket. None of these are essential, but they make your dining more comfortable, authentic, and "cool."
· A flat plate for bread, which can double as a cutting board if needed
· An additional drinking vessel
· An undecorated shot-glass, or other tiny drinking vessel, in case a brewer brings their latest batch and needs comments from willing and knowledgeable tasters
· Extra spoons and a knife or two, including one or two of serving size
· A three-tined fork or two
· A corkscrew
· An extra plate or two
· An extra bowl or two
· A carafe or other period serving vessel
· A fitted cloth bag with a drawstring at the neck, to fit over your wine-bottle or other modern-looking drink-bottle. It's the easiest way of disguising some of the most annoying and intrusive modern items at feasts, while still enjoying their convenience. Don't bring drinks of your own in cans: these not only look modern, they sound it, too.
· A pitcher in a period style – for serving drink or water. Advice: don't serve anything other than water in any metal pitcher. Actually, metal pitchers are best reserved for hand washing. Use pottery or glass pitchers for drinks.
· A salt cellar, with your own salt. Salt cellars are lots of fun to research, there was such a variety used throughout history.
· A small dish with VERY SMALL nuggets of sugared ginger, to freshen the breath, "aid the digestion," and have fun in the sharing. Just a little bit goes a long way, though, so buy the smallest-size pieces you can get. An alternative breath-freshener is diced-up pieces of fresh fennel bulb.
· An orts bowl. This is where everybody's food scraps go: the chewed-over chicken bones, the soup your kid hated, the extra gravy on your plate, the one-too-many macaroons you were given, etc. In the middle ages, it was one of the steward's tasks to set out orts bowls at regular intervals along the table centers in the great hall. Each orts bowl had a slice of old bread or bread-crust at its bottom. At the end of the meal, when the diners had deposited all their leavings in the bowls, the steward would have the bowls collected onto trays and carried out to the gate at the back of the kitchens or manor-house, where pilgrims and the poor and starving would be waiting with empty bowls of their own. The steward would distribute the orts amongst however many beggars were waiting. Orts bowls at SCA feasts mean we don't have to get up and take the unwanted bits somewhere at the end of each and every course. Any extra dish will do as an orts bowl, but for aesthetic reasons, it's better to choose a tall or round container (such as a brass plant-pot).
Other Feasting Accessories
· A cloth napkin, plain white, linen or maybe cotton, and long & rectangular. In period, one napkin was commonly shared across two laps. No, people didn't just wipe their hands and mouths on their clothing, or the tablecloth, not if they wanted to be respected. Just like today.
· A pitcher-and-bowl set for handwashing. In period, this was actually provided by the host, and presented by servants near the door of the dining room with a towel. Guests knew to make use of them before seating themselves. Often, the wash-water had rose-petals or lemon-juice added for their aesthetic appeal and mild cleansing properties.
· An ice-bucket for your ale or wine – but people didn't get to use ice routinely in period, so normally, drinks were chilled in tubs or buckets of cold water. If chunks of ice were available, these might have been added to the water at times.
· A whole candelabrum, with candles. It's nicest to have several candles to see your food and your friends by. To have the flames raised a bit above eye-level is best. Prepare for wax drips, though – bring a platter, plain white dish-towel (not terry-cloth), or placemat to catch the wax so you don't ruin the tablecloth.
· Glass chimneys for the candles, if the venue is drafty: glass cylinders for propane camping lanterns can be bought from camping-supply shops fairly cheaply, and are excellent for use especially at outdoor feasts.
· Glass-sided or horn-panel-sided lanterns.
· Games: board games, card games, and dice games can be played between courses. Also bring the rules.
· A booklet of poems and songs. And one of dances, if you think it could be useful.
· A small packet of wet-wipes in a cloth bag, hidden discreetly away most of the time.
· An apron, if you might want to volunteer as a server. Nice if you match its color to your own garb.
· A small sponge or dish-cloth, a small squeeze-container of dishwashing liquid, and a dish-towel, all sealed in a zip-lock bag.
· A large dish-towel or a thick cloth bag, to carry your dirty dishes home in. Some stewards offer dishwashing facilities at their feasts, but most do not.
· Leak-proof containers, in case you're offered desirable leftovers to take home.
Attending a Feast
A medieval-style feast is more than just a meal. It's a whole evening of entertainment, which just happens to be presented around the food courses. What happens at a given feast depends on what the occasion is for holding it, and on how formal the stewards have decided to make it.
Before going to a feast, make sure the steward or cook knows about any special dietary needs you have! If you don't let them know, and your need is significant, there may just be no dish there that is safe for you to eat. Medieval recipes are often quite different from modern expectations: you cannot safely assume, for example, that a fairly plain-looking meat dish contains no wheat, no dairy, no yeast, no sugar, etc. So tell people! And then, when you arrive, seek out the steward, explain who you are and what needs you specified, and they will guide you to someone who can tell you which dishes are safe.
On arriving at a feast, find out where you can put your feasting gear and any clothes such as cloaks and hats. Usually, this will be along one of the outer walls of the dining hall, preferably near your seat. Never cover over or sit on anyone else's gear, even if it looks like part of the furniture (small chests, for example).
At most feasts, tables, chairs or benches, tablecloths, and a certain number of candles in candelabra are provided. Some stewards provide little additions, such as salt-cellars, salt and pepper, dishes of nuts, table-runners, strewn flowers or herbs, and so on.
There may be one or more "sobtelties" presented. These are often displayed throughout the feast, but sometimes they are presented during the feast, or at the end of a Court. Sobtelties are usually foods, made into decorative, sculptural decorations, often presented with great fanfare. The presenters will tell you if the sobtletie is edible or not, and will announce when an edible one is available to all who wish to eat of it.
A sobtletie could be an inedible basket covered with icing "feathers," with icing wings and an icing-covered marzipan swan's head – and the basket-swan's body filled with nuts or candies. Or it could be a marzipan or sticky-rice-pudding castle, complete with pennons depicting the visiting royalty's devices. Or maybe it’s a painted-marzipan griffin, rampant on a honey-bread mountain, with a choice of nuts, milk jellies, and dried fruits flowing like rivers out of the caves in the sides of the mountain. Or it could be a skin-on smoked trout, stuffed with something savory, set upright on a tray, as if swimming just above bread-roll "rocks" and salad-greens "river weeds." Not all edible sobtelties are sweet, but most are.
In medieval great halls, the lord and lady and their guests sat at the high table, which was set parallel to one short wall. In many halls, there was a permanent dais for the high table to be set on. The tables for the rest of the diners were set up in two long rows, parallel to the long walls of the hall. This made a long U shape, with the High Table as the bottom "curve" of the U. The seats were only set at the outsides of the tables (between the tables and the walls). The diners sat on the seats, and the servants served all the food from the inside of the U. This is the basic model that SCA feasts use in the hall set-up, though there are many exceptions.
Whenever passing in front of the high table, bow or curtsy to the
"crowned heads" seated there. As a mark of respect for the crown,
bow or curtsy even if the rulers aren't actually there at that moment.
When you arrive, choose a seat as soon as you wish, especially if you want to eat with a particular person or group. Reserve your place by putting some of your dishes down on the table. Don't eat anything yet, even if there is bread or nuts, etc, on the table; wait until the "crowned head" hosts have formally and publicly invited everyone to break bread with them.
It's courteous to find out if the steward still needs help setting up when you arrive. Of course, it's equally courteous, if you can, to help pack down after the feast, too, and sweep up.
All lighting at feasts is sunlight, candlelight, or oil-lamp-light. Very rarely, there may be firelight or torchlight. The start of an evening feast is signalled (indoors) by the turning off of all electrical lighting (except in the kitchen and rest-rooms). Late in the evening, there is usually a five-minute warning given for "lights on," signalling the end of the feast.
Bards, jongleurs, acrobats, musicians, and dancers sometimes perform for the feasters between courses of food. If there is no performance, demonstration, or Court between courses, then conversation, games at the table, and singing or poetry are the usual entertainments.
A loud "Oyez, Oyez" is the herald's cry for silence from the populace while an announcement is made. Heralds speak with the voice of the King (or Baroness, etc), and you must be quiet while he or she is speaking.
Any feast at which the King and Queen are present is likely to have a chunk of time during it devoted to a Royal Court. Most feasts at which "crowned heads" rulers are present will have a Court. The "crowned heads" are formally recognized SCA titled folk, from Barons and Baronesses on up; they are not just any old attendees who chose to wear some sort of crown with their garb that day. (If you arrive at the feast expecting, not a fancy-dress party, but a semi-scripted piece of improv dinner-theater, you are highly unlikely to embarrass yourself – even if you're brand new!)
A Court is the time when thanks are publicly given, and ranks and honors are awarded, and announcements are made. Courts, especially Royal Courts, are ideally where the very best is displayed of all the pageantry and theater of the Middle Ages, with SCA style and traditions, as well. You may see a warrior knighted at a Court, or a Pelican or a Laurel granted. You may see wondrous gifts given to those who have pleased the rulers, or marvel at the gifts given to the rulers by travellers "returning" from "exotic places" far away (think of a gift fit for the Queen, of three rare and precious bananas ...). You may see tribute paid, or even a declaration of war, delivered to the rulers by visiting ambassadors. The best Courts are high theater, and pure magic.
So have a seat, partake most heartily, and enjoy your feast! Or, as we say in my part of the Known World, "Eat! Eat! You're way too thin!"
Copyright 2012 by Beth Schoenberg. <schoenb at grapevine.net.au>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.