[Sca-cooks] Advice on feast cooking and supplying.

Huette von Ahrens ahrenshav at yahoo.com
Sun Feb 24 04:27:38 PST 2008

I never started out purchasing stuff just to purchase stuff.  Half the time, my purchases
have been need based, the other half because I found a bargain too good to pass up.

When I cook a banquet, there are so many different aspects to consider.  Cost of food, size of
kitchen and equipment, how many cooks, varying tastes, how many people are you cooking for,
what kinds of serving equipment is needed, how time consuming a recipe it, how many people
per table there will be.

When I consider a menu, I first choose whether the menu will be truly period or just periodesque.
I tend to do periodesque, because truly period menus tend to be meat heavy, with lots and lots of
dishes per course, which I someday would love to do such, but I would need more money than most
groups are willing to part with and most modern people [us] just can't handle.  So I tend to do 
the periodesque.  I usually have a poultry course, a meat course and a fish course, with 
subtleties interspersed between them.  I tend to have at least one meat, sometimes two, per 
course, one meat substitute, a vegetable, a fruit and a starch.  The meat substitute is usually 
for vegetarians and can be egg or cheese or mushroom based.  When choosing the recipes, I like to
consider [although this is a modern idea] what the tastes of each dish is so that the tastes 
either aren't all the same or don't clash horribly.  I also consider what the colors of each dish
are, so that each course doesn't have all the same color.  I also look at the shapes of the foods,
so that all the dishes in a course don't have all the same shape [i.e. round meatballs, round 
peas, round melon balls and round tortalini.]

I like to do trial runs of the courses, not because I unsure how to make each dish, but to test 
out all of the above to make sure I haven't overlooked something.  Many, many years ago, I went
to a banquet where all [and I do mean all] the dishes were sweet and almost all of them were
varying shades of brown.  While each individual dish was tasty, it just didn't cohere into a
unified whole.  After a few dishes, I wanted something piquant or salty or just something not
sweet.  And, to me, while brown is a nice color in the food palate, it just isn't appetizing
when everything is brown.  I wanted green peas, orange carrots, red beets.

Another reason to do a trial run is also to see how well coordinated each dish is
oven/stove/workspace wise.  You shouldn't have every dish need to be baked at the same time,
because you will only have so much oven space.  You shouldn't have every dish be simmered in
pots all at the same time because you will have only some many burners.  And then you will have
to coordinate your oven/stove/workspace around however many courses you are having.  You don't 
want to have an hour between courses.  If you are planning on having baked chicken for the first
course, a roast beef for the second course and baked salmon for the third course, you will have
a clash of oven space that needs to be addressed.  Perhaps you can get large electric roasters
to warm up the chicken which has been baked previously.  And you can choose a salmon recipe
that only requires 15 minutes baking time, so that when you take out the roast beef for slicing,
the salmon can then go in.

The trial run will also tell you what kinds of equipment you are going to need to cook each
recipe.  If you discover that you are going to need three large pots to cook three of your
recipes in course one and three large pots for course two and two pots for course three, then
you either are going to have to have eight large pots for your banquet or use and quickly
rewash three pots after using them.  Which could be a problem, because said pots might be
too hot to handle to wash so quickly.  And if one of the dishes is a blancmange, you invariably
will have burnt rice on the bottom of one pot which will take a lot of time to scrub out.
So, if you find that your menu is using more pots than you have, then you have either change
your menu, or get creative in how you make the dish.  If you have spit barbeque for your
beef roasts, that might free up your oven space and perhaps you could buy disposable aluminum
pans and find a way to bake the blancmange, so that if frees up the pots and it doesn't burn.
Or perhaps you could cook the blancmange in three or four large crockpots or rice cookers.
And don't forget mixing spoons, knives, ladles and such.

You also have to figure out where your cooks are going to be working and when, so that they
are not all needing the same space at the same time.

So, once you have determined what kind of equipment you are going to need to cook your
menu, you then need to determine what kind of equipment you are going to need to serve your
menu.  If you are serving your roast beef, then you will need one platter per table and one
fancy one for the head table.  Your blancmange will need one bowl per table and one fancy one
for the head table.  Your green salad will need one bowl per table, one fancy one for the
head table and a small bowl or bowls for the dressing/s.  Your cheese tart can be served in their
pie pans, except for the head table.  Your baked apples would look best served on a platter.
Let us say that you have thirty tables of eight you are serving and a head table of eight.
The roast beef and baked apples will take up sixty platters and two fancy ones.  Your blancmange
and your salad will take up sixty bowls, plus thirty small bowls for the dressing.  And the two
fancy large bowls and one small bowl.  The pies will require thirty pie pans and a fancy platter
for the head table.  You cannot say, well we will send out the beef first, bring all the platters
back and then send out the apples.  That would be a logistical nightmare, because not everyone
will finish being served at the same time, and, if you don't have thirty servers, they are going 
to have to leave a platter at one table while going back for their second and/or third table.
Then you have to clean the platter and replate it for the apples.  This could easily mean that
serving one course could take thirty or fourty minutes or more, which isn't a good thing.  Each
course, in my humble opinion, needs to have all the dishes served within a few minutes of each
other.  Otherwise you get a very disjointed meal.  Here's the meat.  Ten minutes later, here's the
salad.  Ten minutes later, the salad dressing.  Ten minutes later, the blancmange.  Ten minutes
later the apples.  I have been to a feast where the beef came out and, being hungry, the table
ate it and finished it, and then got the sauce that was supposed to go over it.  The service of a
course should be all at once so that while they are loading their plates with one dish, another
comes out, and another, and another, so that they are kept busy with the loading until everything
is out, they have a good look at all the pretty food and enjoy it as a unified whole.  So, in
regards to serving equipment, each dish of a course should have its own bowl or platter.  You can
reuse the same pieces for each course, but you will have to make sure that you have a quick wash 
up crew.  Also don't forget serving utensils.  If you are going to send out a whole chicken or
whole roast you are going to have to also send out carving knives, or else you carve the roasts in
the kitchen and serve slices to the table.

Now comes the hard part.  Where do you get all this?  Haunt your 99 cents stores.  They usually
have things like platters, bowls, roasting pans, cooking utensils, etc. at very cheap prices.
Their quality isn't very high, but for that one banquet, sometimes that is all you need.  Haunt
your local thrift stores or junk shops.  I once found at a thrift store a huge, good quality
cooking pot, that new would cost $120 for $5.  Yes, it had a couple of small dings in it and it
needed a really good scrubbing, but it was worth the effort.  Sometimes you can find inexpensive
items at swap meets.  Just be careful.  Antique stores tend to be overpriced, but occasionally I
have found bargains.  But I think I was just lucky.  I once went to a local yardage shop, only to
find a lot of cooking equipment also being sold.  The owner's brother-in-law had a restaurant
supply place, lost his lease and couldn't find another place affordable.  So the stuff was being
sold at the yardage shop. I saw 60 wooden salad bowls, being sold at $3 a piece.  I offered to buy
all 60 for $1.50 a piece. My offer was accepted.  You never know where you find stuff.  I have
found stuff on eBay, but you have to be very careful not to get to involved in your bidding or
your inexpensive item might turn into an expensive one if you become too determined to win that
piece.  You just have to keep your eyes open.  And you have to be willing to invest your money in
it.  Don't do it all at once or you can overwhelm your finances, unless you have a lot of
disposable money.  Spend $50 or $60 one month, $30 the next, as you find your bargains.  Yes,
perhaps you will have spent $500 in a year, but it won't kill your budget when spread out.  I also
had the advantage when I was collecting most of my equipment of having a good paying job, and no
family or mortgages to burden me, so that I could expend money as I found bargains.  

Over the years, I have purchased a two burner propane stove [not a Coleman stove, but a large
freestanding one], about five years later, I found a three burner on sale and purchased that.
I also have a large propane oven [again not the Coleman one].  I found a Coleman broiler at
a garage sale for $2.  And it works.  I inherited a regular Coleman stove and a Coleman oven
attachment from a relative.  I purchased a smoker for a feast some years ago, so that I could 
serve smoked duck.  When I was planning on cooking an Asian feast, I purchased a lot of rice
cookers and steamers off of e-Bay.  Unfortately that banquet got cancelled, but I can use that
equipment some other time.

Another consideration for collection feast equipment is space.  You will need an empty room,
basement or shed so that you can keep all your stuff in decent condition.  Rented storage spaces
can be fine, but they also can add to the cost of your collection.  Around where I live, a
rented storage space for all my stuff would cost me at least $80 per month or more.  And while
I don't mind spending money, I would rather spend that on actual equipment.

I am not sure that this is what you were asking for.  I hope that it is.  Let me know, and
I will try to write something from another angle.


--- Bhadra <bhadradharma at gmail.com> wrote:

> Huette, if you were to advise someone just starting out as to what they
> might need to do a period feast 
> in the way of both cooking and serving gear, what would you suggest they
> accumulate?
> I'd love to see a list.  I have never cooked an SCA feast but am learning so
> that at some point
> I will be ready to do that. I have quite a bit of cooking gear at home
> because I like cooking for people.
> But I would like to see what your "laundry list" would look like. Then, if I
> don't have it, I can tick it off the list
> as I get things and when it is my time to start cooking feasts I will own
> everything I need, and it will all be marked.
> Our barony has been collecting things for years and has everything, but as
> you have noted, its a good idea to
> have your own gear.
> Sabina
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