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State-Dinner-art - 12/21/08


"State Dinner at Pennsic" by Dame Alys Katharine, O.L., O.P.


NOTE: See also the files: p-manners-msg, camp-kitchens-msg, SCAguests-msg, SCA-royalty-msg, Servng-Roylty-art, feast-decor-msg, Handwashing-art, high-table-msg, meat-carving-bib.





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.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



[NOTE – As well as elsewhere in the Florilegium, see more articles by Dame Alys on her webpage at: http://home.netcom.com/~alysk/ -Stefan]


While this article was written for hosting a state dinner at Pennsic by the Midrelm, the information in this article can be easily be applied in other kingdoms and at other events.



by Dame Alys Katharine, O.L., O.P.


A number of Middle Kingdom people contributed to the development of this article.  It is intended to help new Royalty understand the importance of preparation well in advance of Pennsic.  The Crown should designate a person to keep in communication with those who will be preparing the dinner so that the end result reflects well on both that Crown and the Middle Kingdom.


The State Dinner represents a formal embodiment of the Midrealm's wealth, power and glory.  It should show off the best that the Midrealm has to offer.  It needn't, however, try to outdo the previous State Dinner.  It is not a competition with the East to spend money or show conspicuous consumption, but it should be regal, demonstrating high status and confidence of position.


The quality of silverware, tableware and serving dishes should reflect this.  While plastic serving dishes and platters can be used, they should mimic high-end glass, metal or pottery.  Disposable metal foil items are not appropriate in front of the guests!  Sets of silverware can be obtained from places like Goodwill.  Each person's utensils should match within their set but the sets need not match each other, although they should "coordinate".  Or, consider renting the items that you will need.  This minimizes the need for storing the number of utensils needed and the cost is not that exorbitant.  Renting silverware, plates, goblets and serving dishes guarantees that items will match and be appropriate for a State Dinner.


Midrealm Royal is currently a transient camp.  Each year the kitchen setup is different and some years there is no royal kitchen, only the private kitchen of various campers.  While the individual campers may be willing to share their items with you, do not count on it!  Be sure that all borrowed items get back to the person who lent them.


Making an agreement:


A checklist of "necessities" and "extras" can start the discussion.  Both the Cook and the Royalty have their own ideas of what is needed and wanted.  In the press of time, or because discussions might be carried out at a distance, it is imperative that both parties fully understand what they think they have committed to. 


From previous experience, it would be wise to make a detailed record of all verbal agreements and discussions.  Make notes of what you agreed to and then review those points when concluding the agreement.  This is important for the Royalty as well as for the Cook.  Give everyone a copy of what all parties have agreed to.  It is a fact of life that what one person remembers that was promised is not necessarily what the other party remembers being promised.  Written notation of the discussions – and perhaps use of a checklist – can save much unpleasantness later.


Possible staffing:


While responsibilities may overlap, someone should be responsible for each area.  It isn't fair to dump it all on the cook!


1. Head cook – food prep, supervision, budget, menu

2. Hall (feast) steward; majordomo – decorations, directs servers, responsible for "atmosphere"; possibly announces the courses and entertainment

3. Midrealm camp liaison – coordinates with cook and steward on the physical plant – what cooking facilities are available, tables and chairs, utensils and serving ware, what can be borrowed

4. Servers – responsible for taking the food to the guests and serving it.  Unless a dish can be held easily in one hand there should be one person to hold the dish/platter and one to serve from it.  Food should not be placed in front of the guests unless it is one dish for each set of Majesties.  It ain't couth for the Crowns to ask that the butter be passed down the table!

5. Clean-up staff – not an automatic responsibility of the servers!  They are in their good clothing!


Additional:  A herald to announce the incoming royalty; a staff member to direct them to our king and queen as well as indicating where the retinue can place any boxes or gifts.  These people are not part of the staff that has agreed to do the State Dinner but are a vital part of the Midrealm Dinner staff.  See "When guests arrive". 




Coordinate with Their Majesties' chamberlain as to whether the guests need to bring tableware with them.  Ask the chamberlain to see if there are any allergies among the guests and to which foods.  Bring the list of guests and allergies to Pennsic.  Verify the number of acceptances.


Bring the menu and a list of all ingredients in each dish to Pennsic.


If there are not enough serving dishes, plates, silverware – all the fancy tableware that is needed – consider renting the items.  Plates, glasses and tableware can be rented for less than they can be purchased.


When guests arrive:


The State Dinner is not just food.  It is warmth and hospitality from our kingdom.  Often overlooked in the rush to prepare food is the actual greeting of the guests and their retinue.  A formally-attired Midrealm herald should be stationed at the gate to announce each arriving king and queen and to either escort them to our king and queen or hand them off to a second herald or a chamberlain who can direct them to our royalty and show the accompanying staff where to put any gifts or boxes they may have brought.  These heralds are not the responsibility of those preparing the food, but the person(s) planning the State Dinner should discuss this with the Midrealm's State Dinner liaison since that person may be inexperienced.


Hors d'oeuvres or some pre-dinner snacks and/or beverages might be considered during the informal arrival time prior to the dinner.  This should be planned for in the State Dinner budget, proper serving utensils should be included as well as arranging for servers to pass through the crowd.  A table for distributing the snacks and receiving used glasses or plates would be helpful.  Be sure to include this table in the count of those needed for the Dinner.  Don't forget to provide trash collection.


Some form of seating should be available for the retinues during the State Dinner – either benches or additional chairs.  Again, include additional chairs in the count of those needed for the Dinner. Make provision for inclement weather.  It would be nice to offer some form of beverage for the waiting staff along with cups (paper or plastic will suffice).  Depending on the cook's custom, leftovers could also be offered to the visiting staff.  Or, a note can be included in the information sent to the visiting royalty that because of certain constraints, we are not able to feed their retainers.  They should bring something with them or eat beforehand.




If the cook is not providing beverages as part of the meal, then the name and Pennsic contact information of who is should be kept.  Verify the arrangements a day before the dinner.  If Midrealm is providing drinks at the bar, see that bartenders have been assigned.


* Water, plus one non-alcoholic beverage.

* Two goblets or cups at a minimum are needed for each place setting (alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages).

* Adequate number of pitchers for non-alcoholic beverages.

* You may want a server who just takes care of beverages.


Table setting:


If either the Midrealm or the person doing the feast does not have a large stock of tableware, it is permissible to ask each couple to provide their own but this needs to be requested when the invitation is issued and coordinated with their chamberlain so that they can bring the items to Pennsic.  Be prepared to provide a few settings for those who forgot.


* Nice sets of silverware, perhaps gleaned from garage sales or resale shops.  Consider allowing more than one spoon and/or fork per setting, especially for desserts.

* Plates – more than one is desirable so that the dirty plate can be removed when that course is done and a new plate can be used.  Plan on doing something with the discarded items on the plates.  Voiders could be provided for the scraps and then removed and cleaned for the next course.  It isn't very regal to have unwanted food accumulating on the Crowns' plates for course after course!

* Napkins – provide something!  Linen tablecloths purchased from resale shops can be cut into large squares and hemmed for use.  Quality paper napkins might suffice.

* Tablecloths.

* Decorations.

* Lighting – verify that there is adequate lighting.  Low lights are a Victorian affectation.  While candles are pretty, they are usually insufficient and can pose a hazard to servers.  Place them carefully.




The cook needs to coordinate with whoever chooses the servers so that the food is plated appropriately.  If there are two servers per two couples, the food should be plated for four, not for eight or ten.


Under no circumstances should the royalty be expected to cut off slices of meat from a roast or similar food.  Meats should be pre-carved before serving.  Nor should the royalty be expected to tear off hunks of bread.  Either the server cuts it or individual pieces (rolls, manchets) should be provided.


* Adequate number of serving bowls, trays, plates.  The maximum number of invited guests to date is 38 (19 kingdoms). 

* Will serving bowls/platters need to be used for another course? 

          + Is there hot water and soap available with a diluted bleach-water rinse? 

          + Are there towels for drying the dishes?

          + Is the sump full? 

          + Is there a "dirty water" sump?

          + Be aware of allergies and avoid cross-contamination of utensils and dishes.

* Provide adequate (and appropriate!) serving utensils.  Soups need a ladle.  Salads need two spoons or a spoon and fork.  Meats need a fork to spear the slices.  The server should have a knife to make pieces smaller, if requested.  Pasta or rice needs at least one large spoon.  Servers should not have to scrape food out of the dish and onto the royalty's plate, nor should the server have to deal with food that falls off a too-small utensil.

* Most servers expect to be able to snack on leftover foods from the table.  If this is the case, budget in some paper plates and plastic utensils.  If you don't want the servers to have any of the leftover food, be sure to make that known ahead of time.

* You might also allow the visiting retinues to snack off the leftover food.  Leftovers can be placed on the table used for the pre-dinner snack, but be sure to have plates and utensils available.


Cooking and Food Preparation:


Coordinate with the camp liaison to verify what tables are available for cooking and for staging the food.  Verify anything that you have been promised will be available. 


Bring adequate supplies for your use:

* Soap

* Dish cloths (or sponges, etc.) and towels for drying

* Towels and soap for hand washing

* Paper towels for cleaning surfaces, etc.

* Lighters or matches

* Cooking pans and utensils – if you need to borrow from the camp, verify that there will be a Midrealm kitchen.  Write down the name of the person (and where they're camped) who gives you permission to borrow items.  List those items!

* What camp stoves or cooking facilities will you need?

* Provide coolers and ice for everything that needs refrigeration.  Usually the camp refrigerator is full.  Don't count on using it.

* In the past there has been no hot water available in the camp sink.  Check with the camp liaison to see if this is still true and if you will need to heat water for washing dishes.




It is expected that the guests' dishes will be washed and dried before they leave.  Any dishes that belong to you or the Midrealm do not need this immediate attention, but anything that the guests have brought or that is being given to them as a gift (goblets, plate, etc.) need to be cleaned.  Be sure that hot water and soap are ready.


Arrange (prior to the dinner) for people to help with clean-up.  Hopefully, they will be there at the end of the dinner to help you.


* Trash bags – bring your own and bring plenty of them.

* Rubber scrapers to clean plates before washing up.

* Clean up everything.  Don't leave food behind.  Don't leave garbage behind.  Put all borrowed materials back.


What you serve


Thinking carefully about the menu in advance will make your life easier later.

Do TRMs have a persona or preference for food?  Tying the feast theme to the period/country of TRMs is a nice thing to do, however they may prefer something different.

How many courses do you plan on serving?

How much of the meal can you make in advance?

How much of the meal can you serve cold?

How do you plan on cooking it? 
Is it balanced?  E.g. all dishes don't contain one ingredient, there are choices and alternatives for people with the most common allergies (wheat, nuts, dairy), there are good vegetarian choices.




Your major job and major headache is logistical.  Be aware when you are planning your menu of the facilities available to you.  What is your timeline for food preparation?  What is your timeline for cooking? What is your timeline for serving and decorating plates? Who is doing what and when? If you have a written plan, try and stick to it.  If you don't have a written plan, make one.  Remember if you are planning to cook over open fire that weather can (and does) happen at Pennsic, how will your roasts cook when the fire is put out by a sudden downpour? How can you prevent this from happening? Do you know how long it takes to fire cook the items you are intending to serve? Do you have contingency plans in case a piece of equipment breaks or you fail to get it?  If it can go wrong, plan for it.


Food safety


Keep hot foods hot, keep cold foods cold, keep flies off everything.  This can be a challenge in a camp situation.


Coolers can be utilized as hot boxes, provided that the food is put in there hot, and the cooler is as full as possible. Be aware though that food will continue to cook.


Ice is your friend, ice baths can be used to keep things cold while prepping. 


Netting is easily obtainable at any sewing supply center, apply some beading around the edge and you have made fly netting.


Poisoning the heads of state of the known world is likely to get you well known, just not in the way you originally anticipated.




Can you get the food out in a timely manner?  Will hot food be served hot or just lukewarm? How long will dinner take?  Have you figured in entertainment?


Copyright 2008 by Elise Fleming, 3950 Walter Road, North Olmsted, OH 44070-2111. <alysk at ix.netcom.com>. 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 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.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org