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

Bhadra bhadradharma at gmail.com
Sun Feb 24 10:57:24 PST 2008

All I can say is....WOW!!!

I agree with everything you suggested here. I doubt seriously 
with my limited vision, that I would ever cook a feast that large..but hey,
anything could happened, right? I especially agree with the budgetary
suggestions, as on 2 fixed incomes I'd have to do it that way anyhow.
99cent stores was a surprise though. We've got one and we cruise it

Thank you so very much, I'm going to keep this in my treasured file.

On storage, we are lucky, we already have a storage unit that only costs us
$40 a month. We are truly blessed.

Thanks again for your advice. I appreciate it.

-------Original Message-------
From: Huette von Ahrens
Date: 2/24/2008 6:27:53 AM
To: Cooks within the SCA
Subject: [Sca-cooks] Advice on feast cooking and supplying.
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
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
> 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
> 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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