The Well-Tempered Feast Basket: a guide for newcomers.
House Drakewhistle has a feast basket. It holds the feast gear for five of us and any guests we invite. Itís a large basket, with at last count nine goblets in it. It squats in a corner of the kitchen and snaps at the kittens and the legs of the unwary. It eats candles and spits out the remains. It is not a well-tempered feast-basket. Hereís what a well-tempered feast basket possibly should be:
The SCA setting requires that gentles bring their own feast gear to events, a sensible policy which means each branch doesnít have to acquire several hundred bits of crockery and cutlery for its members to break, eat or lose. Feast gear is defined as anything you personally need to survive the evening atmospherically and in persona. The following checklist gives suggestions for feast gear, not only what to bring, but where to find medieval or medievalish items.
There are two schools of thought on this: the goblet, and the tankard. Genuine medieval goblets would be metal - silver or gold in the case of nobles, or possibly pewter. In the current middle ages, with gentles lacking large land holdings to finance their tableware, silver-plate is popular and pottery very common and perfectly acceptable. Most people tend to avoid glassware - it breaks. Tankards follow the same rules, although theyíre more of a peasant and less of a noble choice. Youíll probably need at least one per person, with a few extra for guests, breakages and serious drinking bouts. Craft markets are an excellent place for goblets. The Red Shed at the Waterfront has a pottery place with lovely large goblets. Homeshops such as Stuttafords stock the metal varieties, as do lots of junkshops.
Remember that the fork was not in use until very late in our period. Medieval eating was done with a knife for cutting and spearing things, a spoon for broths, and the fingers. Itís surprisingly easy to do this neatly, with practise. Youíll need a bowl and a plate per person; one extra each means you have the luxury of not having to wash them for the dessert course. The plate is an equivalent to the medieval trencher, a slice of hard bread which was used to serve food (the soaked bread was later given to the poor). A small wooden board would also work as a substitute. The bowl is for broth and stews - plain pottery or wood is the standard. Itís rather nicely authentic to eat with your belt-knife, if you have one. Wooden spoons can be bought at most craft markets and curio shops, and at Greenmarket Square (we tend to buy the ones with crude animal carvings, and saw off the carvings). A wooden-handled knife is a reasonable substitute for a belt-knife. You will also need napkins, since finger-eating is the rule; one largish white linenish napkin per person. If we were really organised, weíd have the Drakewhistle badge embroidered on ours. (Weíre not).
Itís really up to you to provide light at your table setting, which means you should bring candlesticks and candles, enough for at least one candle per person, preferably a couple. Candlesticks could be wooden, pottery, metal. Again, craft markets have wonderful selections, particularly the wrought-iron stuff. (Ask the Herald, the man with the largest personal candlestick collection in the Shire).
Itís not just the practicalities which count, itís also the atmosphere. Tablecloths! Embroidered napkins! Water-jugs! Finger-bowls! Salt-bowls! Nefs! And, most importantly, personal display - banners, shields, your badge on as many things as you can fit it on, as colourfully and ornamentally as possible. The SCA is about the pageantry of the Middle Ages, and donít you forget it!
You can see why a household is so useful: it makes sense to build up a collection between several people, and use your stuff to decorate a common table area when you feast. It also helps to have several people to lug the basket or chest or whatever you decide to cart the darned things in. (If it has to be a plastic something, bring a cloth to throw over it).
And, while you build up your collection, any hints as to taming the Drakewhistle basket would be gratefully received... No! Down! Back, sir! Aaaargh....