An Introduction To
LARP Feast Holding

BY AMY JOHNSON

 


TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Foreword
Getting Organized
Initial Planning
Menu Planning
Shopping
Cooking
Entertainments
Other Meals


Foreword

This book is designed to help people who are already involved in a Live Action Role Playing group throw a feast. It is NOT a cookbook. The specific rules of your LARP's game will dictate your ability to design a plot for your event (assuming you want one), and it will also dictate many of the choices you make when working out the details of your event.

The beauty of a simple feast (that is, a feast thrown solely for the purpose of feasting, rather than as an addendum to another event) is its simplicity. A feast event, especially one thrown during the "off-season" (i.e. winter months), is a perfect opportunity to get together with all of your friends when regular eventing is stunted by piles of snow or frigid weather. Feast events do not have to consist solely of feasting, however; you can have a plot, tourneys, games, and awards. A feast event is also the perfect place for bardics, holding court, and knightings.

This isn't to imply that the food isn't important - just the opposite. You can have the greatest plot in the universe for your feast, but if the food is terrible, people will only remember that they went hungry. You want your feast to be remembered as a feast, not a fast!

I would like to thank my LARP community, the Realms, as a whole as the inspiration for this book. Specifically, I would like to thank Andi Dunphy, the indisputable Queen of feast-throwing, for all of her help in teaching me how to throw a feast. I would also like to thank October Project for "Falling Farther In," which was my sole listening entertainment during the writing of this book. And of course, Steve Johnson for pushing me into this - I may have needed the push but now I'm falling farther in!

 

 

- Amy S. Johnson -



Getting Organized


Deciding on a Plot

 

The first thing to do after deciding that you want to throw a feast is decide why your character wants to throw the feast. If your only reason is that you feel like throwing a feast, don't worry; in that case, the reason your character wants to throw the feast can be as simple as wanting to see his friends during the cold winter months. It can also, of course, be more complicated. Your character might wish to announce his betrothal, or celebrate the wedding of another character. You could also have the event be a yearly gathering thrown by the in-character group you belong to.

After you've determined the basic plot, you can decide what is going to happen at your event. Will you have bardic competitions? Board games such as chess? You can also hold competitions for writing poetry, writing stories, drawing art, and anything else you can think up. The best bet is to use tried-and-true activities typical of events in your LARP group, along with some new activities that you have thought up. Consider having regular fighting tourneys if your event hall is big enough and you can get permission from the hall owners. If you have a personal reason or an in-character reason for not liking padded weapons at feasts, this would be the time to make your decision regarding allowing them.

The last step of this beginning process is thinking of a name for your event. Your event can be named using a number of different methods. If your event is being thrown in honor of a certain character, you can name it after that character (i.e. "Lady Bedelia's Feast"). The event can also be named after your in-character group's name (i.e. "The Feast of Scarlet Crest").


Finding a Site

The next step will be finding a site at which to hold your event. If your LARP group has indoor sites that it typically uses, then you're home free. Otherwise, you are going to have to do a bit of leg work.

Check your Yellow Pages under "Function Halls." Also, look in the White Pages under specific town's names for VFW halls and the like. Churches can also be wonderful sites, since they often have both function halls and servicable kitchens. Call any organizations that are close enough to you to be feasible to ask if they rent their hall (some halls don't). If they do, ask who is in charge of organizing the rentals. Usually this will be a specific person so that the hall can avoid double-booking. Either talk to this person or write a letter to the hall.

You should definitely go down to the hall and look at it before you get too immersed in this process. Some halls claim that they can seat 300, but upon closer inspection it will be clear to you that this would be impossible. The hall may also be too big, or the wrong shape, or the wrong style. You should still ask how many people the hall seats, but use your own judgement as well as the word of the person who rents the hall.

The next question should be whether or not you are allowed to use the kitchen. Some halls will not let you use their kitchen, being concerned about liability. They may tell you that only licensed caterers can use the kitchen, or that only their own staff can use the kitchen and that you can hire their staff. If they will not let you use the kitchen, this doesn't necessarily rule out the hall. If the hall is very close to your house, you can do the cooking there and then transport the food in a series of deliveries. However, this can be very difficult to organize. If the hall will allow you to use the kitchen and the size of the kitchen is adequate for your needs, you can move on to the next question.

What is the cost of rental? Some halls charge a flat fee for the whole day, and are very lenient about letting you come in early to set up and stay late to clean up. Other halls will only let you rent the hall for a five or six hour period of time, with an extra charge per hour after that. Some halls will charge you an extra fee for using the kitchen. Many will charge you extra if they feel your clean-up job was insufficient - if this is the case, be sure to do a good job! (You might also want to ask what the extra charge is... if it is small, it might be worth it to you to pay the hall to do the clean-up for you!) In any case, ask for a list of all pertinent charges and fees, in writing if you can get it.

Generally you will be allowed to come in early the day of your event (or late the night before) to set up the tables. Some halls will even set the tables up for you, but be sure to either give explicit written directions of how you want them, or be prepared to move them around again when you arrive at the hall. Some halls will also supply you with white paper tablecloths free of charge if you ask. If not, buy them yourself or do without them.

If there is a bar at the hall, decide whether you want it to be opened or not. All bars at halls of this type will serve only legal adults who have an ID with them, so you don't have to worry about your liability in the case of minors drinking. But you do have to worry about the possibility of people drinking too much and getting out of hand. It's rare, but it can happen. Ask about the hall's bar policy. Some halls will charge you $50 if you want to have the bar open, and others will charge you extra if you want to have it closed!

If the hall is very large, you might want to ask about fighting tourneys indoors. Be sure to explain the sport in detail and be ready to hear a refusal, because in general halls don't want to take the legal risk of someone being hurt on their property, or of something in the hall being damaged. Keep a smile on your face and reassure the hall that really, this event is just meant to be a gathering of friends who do medieval recreation and anything they want is OK with you. You have to remember that the public generally doesn't understand why people LARP, and explaining why you love the sport or your community can sometimes make a difference in getting a site or in what you'll be allowed to do at that site. If your LARP group has a flyer describing the sport, this would be a good use for one.

Assuming that the hall meets your needs, ask about available dates. In the winter halls usually have a number of dates open, so it really shouldn't be a problem. Saturdays are probably preferable but a Sunday could work too depending on how far apart your group of LARP friends lives. Some halls may want a deposit when you book your date. Most professionally-run halls will provide you with a standard rental contract - make sure you read it and understand what it says before signing it. If the hall doesn't have a rental contract, write one up yourself; include date of rental, charges and fees, and any other information. Then have a hall representative sign it, and sign it yourself as well.

Once you've set a date, you're on your way!


Initial Planning

Before you spread word about your event, you have to set a budget. No one wants to lose money when they throw an event. Indeed, it is possible to throw an event without losing money - you only have to be willing to make some compromises in the way your event is run. You may, if you're extremely lucky, even be able to come out ahead when your event is over. You shouldn't plan on this happening, though - if you cut too many corners, people will feel ripped off. You need to do a lot of careful planning if you want to come out even.


How to Calculate Cost-Per-Person

The first thing to figure out is how much it will cost to throw your event. (This is very difficult for a first-time eventholder. If you have never thrown an event before, get some advice from experienced feast-throwers in your LARP group as to how much things usually cost.) Some costs are non-negotiable. An example of this would be your site fee - probably a set fee of $85 - $225 per day. (It is not entirely true to say that the site fee is non-negotiable; there are always exceptions. A hall may be willing to lower their fee in exchange for manual labor, including cleaning up after other people's parties. But in general, the site fee is a set fee.) Estimate and add in the cost of props (if you need them), food, prizes, and everything else you'll have to pay for. Once you have added up all the costs, you can divide that amount by the number of people you expect to attend, and that will be your approximate cost-per-person. For example, if your site fee is $200, your prizes cost $50, and the food will cost $750, then your total cost is $1000. If you think that 100 people will attend your event, then $1000 divided by 100 people equals $10 per person.

You can also estimate the cost of your event by how much money you want to charge event-goers. If you want to charge, say, $8 per person and you estimate that 100 people will attend, then that gives you a budget of $800 to work with. Keep in mind that you may not get as many people as you are hoping for. Also keep in mind that leaving a little bit of money set aside is a good idea - there will always be last-minute things that you'll have forgotten.


Pre-Registration

For some events, like one-day tourney events, getting people to pre-register isn't that important. But for a feast event, it is absolutely vital that people register in advance.

Because you need money if you're going to be able to buy the food, you have to convince people to pre-register. There are a number of different things that will help. The first is to choose a convenient date. If half of the people in your LARP group live three hours away, then having your event on a week night is not a good idea. The best day for a feast event is Saturday, because many people have the day off and will also have Sunday to recover from a long drive if they had to go to the next state for your event. You also want to consider holidays - don't hold your event on a holiday weekend, because most people have family obligations.

People need an incentive to pre-register early. If your cost-per-person works out to, say, $13, then you can have an early pre-reg price that ends a month before your event of $10, and then raise the cost to $15 thereafter. This will serve two purposes - it will help you get some money in early, allowing you to buy non-perishable ingredients or ones that you can freeze, and it will also allow you the potential of making a little bit of money. Although some people will pre-reg by the early date to save money, the majority of people will forget until the pre-reg deadline and will end up paying the more expensive fee. For a feast, you MUST have the pre-registration period end two weeks before the date of the event. Otherwise, you won't have the money in time to buy the food that you need to buy. (Also, some halls will want a final head-count a week before the event.)

If the day before your pre-reg deadline comes and some of your friends have still not pre-registered, give them a call and remind them. Tell them that, if they put the check in the mail the next day, they can still come to the event. You can get at least a 5% increase of attendees that way.

Keep in mind that people will still forget to pre-reg. Hold firm and not let people pre-reg late, but if you were planning for more people than ended up pre-regging, you may want to let them sign up late. Count on at least a few disorganized souls calling you up the night before the event to ask if they can still come. Also, it's not a bad idea to plan your final head-count to include 10 extra slots, in case people show up at the door with no warning, because this will probably happen too. If they have driven three hours to get to your event you will have a hard time turning them away, and if you plan for those 10 extra slots you won't have to worry about anyone going hungry.

The only pre-reg is a PAID pre-reg. Tell the late pre-regs that you'll put them on an "approved" list, but that they won't be considered pre-regged until you have their check or cash in your hand.


Advertising

After you've made all of the planning decisions, get word of your event out as soon as possible. Start advertising at least 2 1/2 months in advance of your event date. The best method of advertising is to advertise in your LARP group's newsletter. This way, the maximum number of people will find out about your event, and you can make sure that they receive all of the correct information. Check with your newsletter's publisher about how to make a submission and in what format to send in your information.

Mention your event to all of your friends. Even those who aren't involved in your LARP group might be interested in attending your event out of curiosity. If you have friends who have expressed an interest in LARPing in the past, this would be the perfect opportunity to introduce them to the community. Ask if they would like to help with the event in some way or offer to let them come for free if your budget allows it. If they get hooked, they'll be glad to pay for your events in the future!

You can also make announcements at other events that you attend. Ask the event holder if there is some time when making your announcement wouldn't interrupt the activity, and speak up! Tell people that they can pay the cheaper, early admission price... IF they pay you now. Give details about the event and, if possible, bring out...

THE FLYERS. You can make these very cheaply by either hand-writing them (if your hand-writing is legible), typing them out on a typewriter or computer, or having a friend type them out on their computer for you. Copy them at the local copy shop on the cheapest paper available, and hand them out at events, mail them out to friends, etc. Be sure to include all important information about your event: Name, Plot, Date, Time, Place, Cost, how to contact you, and directions. Be sure to give good directions! People will not remember your event fondly if they spent the first two hours of it driving around lost. Complete directions must include exit numbers and mileage.. when writing out the directions, pretend that you've never been to the site before, and try driving there according to your written directions to see if they are accurate.

Note if your site will serve alcohol (a "wet" site) or not ("dry.") If your event is "wet," remind people that they won't be served alcohol without a valid ID. Mention that vegetarians or other people with dietary restrictions should inform you of such when they send in their pre-registration. Also, if you want to prohibit people from bringing their padded weapons to your feast event (a phenomenon that sometimes strikes our LARP group), make sure you let them know in the flyer.


Menu Planning

Planning the menu is one of the most enjoyable tasks in planning your feast event. You can let your imagination run wild - BUT, you have to keep practicality in mind as well.


Choosing the Courses

First, decide on how many courses you would like to serve. This decision should be at least partially based on the amount of time your feast is going to last. If your feast starts at 10 am and ends at 8 pm, you have a ten-hour period of time in which to work. In ten hours, you could easily serve 8 or 10 courses, depending on how much plot and how many tourneys you want to have. A course will take about 10 - 15 minutes to serve and 20 - 30 minutes to eat, so plan on each course taking approximately 45 minutes. You can decide to serve 8 courses, each divided by some bardic entries or short plot activity. If you are having fighting tourneys, you might want to serve 3 courses, then hold the tourneys, then serve the rest of the courses (you don't want people fighting on extremely full stomachs). You could serve 4 courses, have a break for playing games and other non-combat tourneys, and then serve the remaining courses. Breaking a number of courses up into sections like this is known as a repast or "remove". You could have a repast of 3 courses from one ethnic background, and then a repast of 3 more courses from another background. Or, each repast could consist of one type of course only: the first repast could be 3 appetizer courses, the second repast could be three entree courses, and so on. Each repast could also consist of an appetizer course (salad, soup, etc.), an entree course (poultry or beef), and a dessert course. It's really up to you, so be creative!

Some of the traditional courses served in our LARP group have been soups (including vegetarian, chicken, beef, lamb, and even chili!), salads (vegetable, green, pasta), entrees such as chicken, turkey, and beef, side dishes (potatoes, rice, noodles, pasta with cheese sauce), hot breads stuffed with meats and cheeses, meat pies, fish, quiche, a fruit and cheese course, and cheese and crackers. Bread is usually on all tables at all times, along with butter or honey butter. Desserts have included everything from baked fruit compotes to chocolate trifle to cheesecake!

Depending on the size and complexity of the kitchen, you need to choose courses that compliment each other by method of preparation. For example, soup is a stove-top prepared course, so it should be served either right before or right after a course that will need the use of the oven for preparation. Unless you have a number of large ovens, it's better to alternate oven-prepared courses with stove-top or cold courses. This way, you won't have a great deal of time elapse between courses. Organize everything so that it runs smoothly, and thankfully that generally corresponds with the order of courses also being most aesthetically pleasant. It's nicer to have a cold course in between two hot courses than to have two hot courses followed by a cold course and then dessert. Similarly, if you're serving both a hot pasta with cheese sauce dish and a potato dish, it's better to put another course in between them than to serve them both together.


Serving the Masses

There are several ways to get the food from the kitchen to the mouths of your hungry event-goers. The method that you choose depends on the resources available to you. If your LARP group has a servant's guild like ours does, all you need to do is hire them. The master of this guild will probably be able to make suggestions as to the best way to serve certain dishes, and should be able to tell you how many servants you will need based on the size of your event. Make sure that you contact the guildmaster far in advance, so that he or she has time to organize the guild's presence at your event. The guild will most likely require compensation of some kind (in-character) in exchange for serving. Find out what the fee is ahead of time and make sure that you are sufficiently prepared to make recompense on the day of the event.

If you aren't lucky enough to have a servant's guild at your disposal, your in-character group may be large enough to serve at the event. In general, you probably need 3 or 4 people to be working in the kitchen (for at least the first half of the event) and another 8 to serve. If your event is small (less than 85 people), you could make do with a few less, and you could eliminate half of the kitchen workers if you do a lot of preparation ahead of time. When your in-character group is serving at the event, go over the serving plan with them ahead of time so they know what's expected of them. Also, don't complain about free labor! If something goes wrong, keep a sense of humor.

The Society for Creative Anachronism has yet another suggested serving plan - that each table of participants supplies one server. This plan requires that you have an individual serving dish for each table for each course, but you can wash and reuse the bowls between courses.

The above three plans (servant's guild, in-character group, and SCA plan) assume that you want event-goers to sit at their tables and be served there. There is a third plan that doesn't require nearly the amount of help, but is more complicated to pull off. This is the buffet option. There are pros and cons about using this option. The most important pro is that it will allow you to pull off your event even if your in-character group has only 6 members. The negative aspects are that you will need a considerably larger amount of food if you have a buffet, because you lose almost all control over portion size. This is the reason why professional caterers often charge more for a buffet than they do for a sit-down meal. The first 40 people go through the line, heaping their plates (because everyone's eyes are bigger than their stomachs,) and the next 60 people are left to pick over 2 platters of potato casserole. No, it's not really that bad, but it's frustrating to see some people end up with slim pickings when the first 40 people throw away plates that are three-quarters full.

The way to control this problem at the buffet table is to have servers at the table. This way, you control portion size and you still only need three people to do the serving. Instruct the servers to give small portions of everything that the event-goers request. The biggest con about any buffet method is that it is extremely slow. More than an hour can pass before everyone gets through the line once, and this is very boring and exasperating for the people at the end of the line. Obviously, I advocate the table-serving method, but the buffet can be a viable (if difficult) alternative for the event holder who has a small crew.


Choosing Recipes

Once you've chosen the number of courses and the serving method, it's time to choose the recipes you'd like to use. The sources for these are endless. You can use cookbooks that you or your friends or family own, cookbooks borrowed from the library, cooking videos borrowed from the library, cooking shows taped off the TV, medieval source books, recipes from friends who have thrown feasts before, and your own imagination.

Decide whether you would like to stick with primarily "period" recipes, or modern recipes. Some people would prefer that every dish at their event be strictly medieval, while others throw caution to the wind and make pizza! Either way is fine, but keep in mind your own cooking abilities and practice making a period dish before you set your heart on having it at your feast. Some dishes that were common long ago (especially venison and rabbit) are too expensive to feasibly make for your feast event, unless you are a hunter or someone in your family is. Also keep in mind the dishes that most tantalize your friends. If most of them have never tried unusual dishes and aren't adventurous, you might want to stay away from anything too exotic or strange-looking. Trust me, you'll feel better seeing everyone eating and enjoying meatball grinders than seeing them throwing away plates of the most period recipe, even if you got incredible satisfaction out of preparing something "truly medieval." If you're creative and take your time, you can find recipes for dishes that closely resemble both period and modern recipes. For example, calzones, a popular modern dish, closely resemble the meat pies that were common fare in medieval times. A dish doesn't have to be authentically medieval for people to think that it is!

The season is also something to consider. If your feast event is in winter in New England, you will want to serve a number of hot dishes to keep people warm. You wouldn't want to include fresh strawberries in a dish, because they are not in season and would be incredibly expensive, even if you could find a source for them. Similarly, if your feast event is in the fall in New England, you might include apples or pumpkins in a dish, because they are readily available and will be fresh and inexpensive. If the feast that you are planning is in mid-summer and you expect the heat to be a factor in people's appetites, serve several cold dishes that aren't too heavy, such as a light pasta salad, a green vegetable salad, and a fresh fruit and cheese course. If you have the freezer space, this would also be a perfect time to serve an ice-cream dish for dessert.

Consider which dishes will double, triple, or quadruple easily. Most recipes work well in large portions - but do your calculations carefully! If you are quadrupling a recipe for soup (or anything else), don't quadruple the amount of spices automatically! Add double the normal amount of spices until it's almost time for the dish to be served, and then taste it and add more accordingly. This is especially true of salt. It is also true of sugar. If the recipe is being doubled, add one and a half times the amount of sugar; if the recipe is multiplied by 8, use 3 or 4 times the amount of sugar - and then TASTE it! Recipes that call for cooked eggs, such as custards, don't multiply well. If you aren't sure if the recipe will double or triple successfully, you can always make the dish a number of times separately and freeze it until the event. Or, if you're brave and don't mind eating repetitious dinners, triple the recipe and make it for yourself, judging it for taste and consistency.

When you intend to make a dish ahead of time and freeze it, check a small portion a few days after freezing to see if it reheats well. Many things do, but some don't. Anything with a milk, sour cream, or yogurt base probably won't reheat well. Most main dishes will reheat very well, especially casserole- type dishes such as lasagne and meat pies. If you aren't sure what the results will be, check ahead of time.

Don't forget to let your creative side out! You can adapt many recipes to suit either your taste or your budget. Substitute an inexpensive ingredient such as white mushrooms for expensive truffles, or a local cheese for an imported one. If you hate celery, drop it from your soup recipe and add extra carrots instead. Pasta can be combined with almost any sauce you like. If your adaptation isn't a simple one, make the recipe at home and test it out - maybe on your friends!

Also, keep in mind that there are people out there, especially vegetarians, who can't eat certain foods for a variety of reasons. If you think that it will be too complicated to make additional dishes to cater to people's dietary restrictions, advertise your event as having a set menu. However, as long as you let it be known that people must make you aware of their dietary preferences in advance, (ideally when they pre-register), it isn't hard to offer them an option that they can eat.

If there are only one or two vegetarians attending your feast, you can make one main-dish casserole with vegetables instead of red meat or chicken, heat up one can of broccoli soup that they can have instead of your famous chili, and so on. If someone really wants to attend your feast event but has so many dietary restrictions that they really won't be able to eat anything, offer them an extremely reduced price in exchange for them bringing their own bag lunch!


Liquid Refreshments

Especially when you are serving a large number of courses, people will drink large amounts of liquids. The most popular beverage in our feast crowd is kool-aid, largely because its affordability means that we can serve more than enough to quench anyone's thirst. Milk often doesn't go with a number of dishes, and it can be expensive and cause storage problems unless you have lots of refrigerator space. Fruit juices can be incredibly expensive, and also need refrigerator storage because warm juice is worse than no juice at all. Frozen juice could be affordable depending on where you live, but make sure you have enough freezer space for it. Kool-aid type beverages, including lemonade and iced tea, can be bought far in advance, are easy to mix up using cold water from the tap, and aren't too expensive. Just be aware that if your feast is being thrown in the hot and humid summer months, even sealed drink mixes can "go bad" (get lumpy and sticky). You probably won't be able to save the mix from one event to the next if it's summer time, so maybe you'll want to pass it on the event holder who is throwing the event directly after yours.

If you own some large electric coffee urns, use one for coffee and one for hot water, and put them off on a little side table where they'll be out of the way and where people can serve themselves. Coffee can be bought in large quantities at your local wholesale supply warehouse and made up in the first urn. Tea and cocoa can both be made using hot water from the second urn. Encourage people to use their own feast gear, but you can also supply cups and spoons. Don't forget the cream / milk and sugar!


Judging Quantities

This can be the most difficult aspect of planning your feast. The question of how much people eat cannot be answered simply; it depends on too many varying factors. The weather, the popularity of a certain dish, and the altering appetites of your event-goers all add up to create a challenge for you - "How much do I make?" At this point, I have not yet thrown a feast where we didn't have enough food - we have always had far too much. Obviously, it is better to have too much and have to deal with leftovers than it is to have people go hungry, but ideally you want to come out with just the right amount.

Andi Dunphy once told me that the more people are at a feast, the less they eat, and this seems to be true, though I have no idea why. Generally, you will have more leftovers from the later courses than you will from the earlier ones, because people gradually become more and more full as the feast wears on. Since in LARP communities there are often more men than women, it is important to keep in mind that the men will eat more than the women. If your feast is Saturday night after a full day of eventing in the woods or fields, people will eat more, unless the weather is extremely hot. If you are having 10 courses, you can calculate somewhat smaller servings than usual, but if you're having 6 you might want to stick to the recommendations that follow.

Usually, our LARP group gets regular Italian bread or Vienna bread from a bakery to serve on the tables. I generally calculate one loaf of bread for every two people - on some occasions this has been right on target, but on one there was a lot of bread left over. Since the bread is on the tables when people arrive and are the hungriest, the bread is usually one of the most-consumed items at the event. We make honey butter with approximately one to one and a half cups of honey blended into a pound of butter, and this amount will serve about 15 or 20 people.

A green salad made with iceberg lettuce and an assortment of other toppings will serve approximately 10 people when made with one head of lettuce. Dressing the salad just before serving is the easiest method, and will require about 5 oz. of salad dressing. If you want to serve dressing on the side at the tables, you'll need approximately 1 ounce of dressing per person.

Soup is difficult to calculate. I never make soup from a book recipe - we make it up as we go along. I took the pots that I was intending to make soup in, and measured their capacity by adding water, one soup-bowlful at a time, until the pot was mostly full. My pots held 50 soup-bowlfuls comfortably, and it's quite safe to calculate one bowlful per person. Everyone's feast-gear has a different-sized soup bowl anyway! To make a 50-bowl pot of soup you would need 12 lbs. of boneless chicken breast or an 8 lb. whole chicken, or approximately 12-15 lbs. of stew beef, or 15 lbs. of ground beef (for chili).

The general rule for serving meat is approximately half a pound per person. If you are having two meat courses, you can lessen this to a third of a pound. Poultry is harder to calculate unless it is boneless, but generally one 4 lb. chicken would serve about 6 people, or up to 10 if you are having another meat course. A typical meat pie (made with about a 9-inch pie crust) will serve approximately 8. When you are serving fish, it is most likely an additional entree, not the only entree, so you might calculate a quarter of a pound per person.

Side dishes are one of the least-eaten dishes at feasts. I suspect that this is because they generally follow soup and salad, and accompany a more-attractive main dish. Pasta with any kind of sauce is generally rather heavy, so a 1 lb. box of pasta will easily serve 10 or twelve people. A potato casserole of any variety made from a 5 lb. bag of potatoes will serve at least 12 people. Two cups of uncooked rice will serve approximately 10 people. These estimations should give you the ammunition you need to calculate other side dish quantities.

Vegetables are rather unpopular in our crowd, so we rarely see them at feast events. If you wanted to serve cooked vegetables, one cup would serve about 3 people. For corn on the cob, you would need 1 ear for every person, because it is extremely popular.

Desserts are usually served at the end of a long day of feasting. A full sheet cake bought at the bakery will usually serve about 75 people - ask your baker and he'll tell you how many servings his cake yields. A 9-inch fruit pie will serve approximately 10 people. A cream pie such as chocolate or banana will serve about 8. An 9" by 13" pan of fruit crisp or compote will serve about 15 people. A trifle in a standard trifle bowl will serve about 15 as well. In general, if it's chocolate, assume that people will eat larger portions.

Beverages are consumed at a much greater rate at feast events than they would be at a normal party or meal. It is far better to buy too much beverage mix and end up with leftovers than it is to buy too little and end up running out, especially since you can never count on the taste of plain tap water and since the sealed beverage mix will last for some time, allowing you to pass it on to the next eventholder if you have a lot left over. Each person will drink approximately 4 eight ounce servings of liquid. Since a 2-qt. pitcher holds 8 cups, a 2-qt. pitcher will serve 2 people. If you are expecting 100 people at your feast event, you will need enough beverage mix to make 25 gallons, or 50 two-quart pitchers of liquid, or 100 quarts of liquid. If your feast is being thrown in the summer or during warmer weather, get 50% extra beverage mix because people will be drinking a lot. Read the beverage mix container to see how many quarts it makes - it varies.

Your local library will generally have catering books that have good advice about portion sizes and multiplying recipes. If you're worried about your ability to calculate these things, check out a book or ask a friend for some input.


Portions for Serving

If you use a buffet to serve your event-goers, then all you have to worry about is your servers giving appropriately small portions. If you are serving at the tables, however, you need to decide how to serve each course in the most efficient and realistic manner. Because most halls have rectangular- shaped tables that seat either 10 or 12 people, the following figures are based on tables that seat those numbers of people.

Bread and honey butter can be put on the tables before the event begins. If the tables seat either 10 or 12, figure on putting 2 loaves of bread and two small dishes of honey butter on each table. Salad is most easily served in one large bowl. If your tables seat 10 then a large bowl of salad made from one head of iceberg lettuce will be sufficient. If your tables seat 12, make each salad in the same large bowl, but with 1 1/3 heads of iceberg lettuce (or a comparable amount of other lettuce or greens).

Soup is almost impossible to serve at tables. The best alternative is to have a pair of servants walk around with each variety of soup in its pot and serve people from one end of each table. Event-goers who would like that variety of soup pass their bowls up the table. One servant holds the pot with pot-holders and the other uses a ladle to dish up the soup.

For all other dishes except dessert, the way you divide up the total dish depends on the size of your tables. If your tables seat 10 people and you have 10 tables, make 10 containers (or platters or whatever is appropriate to the dish being served) and serve one to each table - the event-goers pass the container around and serve each other. If your tables seat 12 people and you have 8 tables, make 16 containers and serve two to each table, one on each half of the table. The exception to this rule would be a dish that was very large that could not be divided - like a large turkey; in that case you would serve only one to each table regardless of whether the tables sat 10 or 12.

If your dessert is something simple like pies or cookies, you can divide them evenly among the number of tables you have. If your dessert is more difficult to serve, like a large sheet cake, you can serve it from an extra side table. Ask people who would like dessert to bring their plates up, and have two servants cut and serve the cake from the table.

The best way to serve kool-aid (or other liquid) is to assign 2 or 3 servants the task of mixing the kool-aid in the kitchen and continually walking around the hall with a pitcher (or two, if you have more than one flavor of kool-aid), stopping at tables and asking if anyone would like some kool-aid. (In our LARP group, kool-aid is generally referred to by its corresponding color: i.e.. "Would anyone like a drink? Red, or yellow?")

As long as someone in the kitchen knows the order in which the courses are to be served, things should go smoothly. This knowledgeable person can tell the servants when to serve each course. Unless you are attempting to follow some pre-determined schedule of serving (which is almost impossible to do successfully), the best time to serve the next course is when people seem to be finished eating the previous course. The empty and mostly-empty platters from the previous course should be removed to the kitchen, and the next course brought out, at this time.


Shopping

The most careful initial budget in the world won't do you any good unless you know how, and where, to shop. If you have budgeted a certain amount of money for the soup course and you find that the mushrooms for the beef stew are way too expensive, then you need to either eliminate the mushrooms from the recipe, or adjust the budget from one of the other courses to compensate for the extra expense. Similarly, if you budgeted $150 for dessert and find out that it will only cost $75, you can either split up the $75 by adding it to other courses where it's needed, or you can figure out a course that you can do for the $75. Knowing the approximate cost of most items helps immensely in determining your budget for each course, so if you aren't normally the food shopper in your household, get ready for an educational experience.


Where to Shop

First, look at your menu and make a list of every amount of every ingredient you need to buy for every course. (Obviously, if you need butter in different amounts for six different courses, combine the amounts of butter into one total.) Don't forget non-food items such as aluminum foil, plastic wrap, zip-loc storage bags, paper towels, etc. Put this list aside. Now, make another list of just the ingredients you need, noting amounts only for things that come in different sizes (i.e.. if you need exactly 32 oz. of vegetable oil, note that, but don't note 20 heads of lettuce, just put "lettuce.") Take this list to your local stores that are noted for having low prices (don't go to expensive convenience stores) and, for each item on your list, write down the price of the item at that store. This way, you'll be able to see that Price Cutter has the best prices on vegetable oil, but that Stop and Bop has much cheaper produce. Save this list! It is your most valuable tool. If you have identified the cheapest price in your area for peanuts, you'll be able to tell if peanuts are actually cheaper at the wholesale club, or if a "sale" on peanuts at another store is really a sale. Be sure to note unit pricing; although a larger package usually yields the least expensive price-per-ounce, there may be a sale on a smaller sized package that will save you money. And now, you can go back to the first list you made, and multiply the cheapest price available for each item by the amount of that item that you need, thus establishing your estimated cost for food and supplies. You will be able to tell if you are way over your estimated budget and need to make changes, if you're under your budget and can be a bit more extravagant, or if you're right on the mark.


Your Local Grocery Store

Plan to buy the items that are the least expensive at Price Cutter there, and the ones that are least expensive at Stop and Bop there. Don't forget to look at store brands! They are usually your cheapest alternative. Now that you have determined the cheapest price on each item in your area, you can watch for the sale flyers that come in your local paper. If you see something that you need is on sale, check with your list to be sure it's really a good deal, and then, if it's a legitimate sale, go ahead and buy! If nothing else, you can be confident that are actually getting a bargain. This works best for non-perishables and other supplies, obviously, though it can also work for things that freeze well, assuming that you have the freezer space. Another hint: if you need to buy a large amount of meat, ask at the meat counter if they'll make up an "economy pack" for you. This is a large package of meat, usually 5 lbs. or more, and usually a good bargain - you'll not only end up with less packaging to cart home, but you may get a lower price-per-pound because you're buying in quantity.


Wholesale clubs

You or someone you know may be a member of a Wholesale Club such as BJ's. These are huge warehouses where, for a yearly fee of about $25, you can purchase bulk amounts of grocieries and many other items. These stores can be your best bet for some items, but are not a good value for others. Often things are a better deal at the wholesale club simply because you buy them in larger quantities. If you have the resources, wholesale clubs are usually great places to get aluminum foil and plastic wrap, precisely because you buy them in huge amounts - they don't go bad, and you can always save them for next year's feast. Wholesale clubs can also provide good deals on large amounts of cheese, on canned vegetables, and on enormous jars of spices (which do go bad eventually, so only buy a large one if you need a large one). Some wholesale clubs carry very large containers of beverage mix - this would be a purchase to consider. You can often buy a large package of frozen, pre-made pie crusts, which would be perfect if you are planning to make meat pies or fruit pies. Sometimes, you can buy something already made at a wholesale club for less money than it would cost to buy the ingredients and put it together yourself. A good example of this is lasagne, which can be expensive and time consuming to make and might cost less pre-made at the wholesale club.


Bakeries

Bread is something you'll want to buy at the bakery, because it will be fresher than at the grocery store, and possibly cheaper as well. You may also want to purchase your dessert from the bakery. Check your Yellow Pages for bakeries that are local to you. (If your event site is more than 15 minutes from your house, check for bakeries that are near your event site.) Note a few likely candidates and, when you have some free time, take a drive over and check them out. If you like the looks of them, and the bread looks good, buy a loaf and ask about volume discounts. Many bakeries will take up to 25% off your total cost if you buy more than a certain amount of loaves. Most will be thrilled to take an order for 50 or more loaves! Be sure to find out how far in advance you need to place the order; it may be a week or only a few days. Usually the bakery won't expect payment until you come to pick up the order. Be sure to check out their selection of desserts as well. Be open-minded - if the eclairs look wonderful and the price is right, they'd make a great dessert. Cakes are easy too, because a sheet cake will feed a large number of people, or smaller individual cakes can be served one-to-a-table. You can't really ask for a sample of a sheet cake, but you can buy a smaller cake to sample at home before placing an order. Some frosted cakes will need to be refrigerated if you want them to look good at serving time, so keep that in mind.


Cost vs. Convenience

In some cases, you will need to make a decision about which is more precious to you, saving money or saving time. If buying a lasagne at the wholesale club costs a dollar more than the ingredients for making a comparably-sized one yourself and it will take you an hour to make the homemade one, is an hour of your time really only worth a dollar? (Maybe you're homebound and bored and you want to make lasagne, in which case, feel free.) But you do want to keep that in mind. This is also the reason why no one in my LARP group bakes the Italian bread for events - the cost would be about the same, and it would take forever to bake that much bread! Another example is kool-aid. When I threw my first feast event, pre-mixed, pre-sugared kool-aid was rather expensive, even the store brand. However, the price of sugar was very low. I bought unsugared kool-aid packets, sugar, and store-brand zip-loc sandwich baggies. I then put one packet and one cup of sugar in each baggie (the right amount to make one pitcher of kool-aid) and sealed them up. It was a pain, but I saved the event $35 by doing it and it only took about half an hour. Where else can you make $70 an hour? Looking back, I'd do it again if the opportunity arose, but by the last feast event I threw store-brand kool-aid was back to a low price. The best advice would be, determine how much something is worth to you, and then only do things that are worth it.


When to Buy, What to Buy

Buying some things far in advance of the event is good planning, and makes good economic sense if you can get things on sale. If you feel confident about the number of people you think will attend your feast event, you can spend your own money if you see a good sale and then reimburse yourself when more event funds come in.

The best things to buy in advance are non-perishable food items, supply items, and foods that you will prepare in advance and then freeze. Kool-aid mix, crackers, bread crumbs, spices, paper towels, canned fruits and vegetables, oil, salad dressing, and sugar are all things that are good to buy in advance. This will save you from having to buy them at the last minute, when you will probably be stressed out and less likely to make wise economic decisions.

Things that you shouldn't buy until the last minute (the night before the event, or possibly the day before that if you have a very cold cellar in which to store vegetables) include fresh fruits and veggies, meats that you won't be freezing, sour cream, milk, cream, and eggs.


Cooking

If you haven't done a lot of cooking, this would be the time to read some cookbooks. It is very important to understand some basic tenets of food and cooking safety before you begin to prepare food for a large number of people.


Food Safety

The most important and basic rule of food safety is to wash your hands well with soap and hot water before you begin cooking. At the grocery store, do not purchase cans that are bulging or rusted, and if anything has a suspicious odor or color when you get it home, return it to the store promptly for a replacement. Dairy foods and meats should be refrigerated as soon as you bring them home from the store, and you should carefully wash all surfaces that come in contact with meat or meat juices. Cutting boards and cutting areas should be cleaned with a hot water and bleach solution after they have been in contact with the meat, and before you cut anything else on them.

Knives should be kept very sharp so that they can do their job - if you have to bear down hard to make a knife cut through something, the knife is more likely to slip and end up cutting you. If you do cut yourself, clean the cut well and apply proper first aid, including a band-aid. And take your time! You may think that you are being more efficient by cutting vegetables up quickly, but you won't end up getting done any sooner if you cut yourself and have to spend 10 minutes getting first aid.

Make sure that everyone uses pot holders to take hot things out of the oven or off of the stove. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case anything catches on fire, and be sure not to leave that first aid kit at home.


Supplies

There are quite a number of kitchen supplies that you'll need. Some things you probably already have in your home, but others you will need to either purchase, or borrow from someone else who throws feast events. You'll need:

 

  • Large pots (with lids are best, but you can make do without lids - 4)
  • Baking pans (cheap aluminum are ok, but make sure you dry them after washing or they'll rust! - at least 12)
  • Pitchers (to mix and serve kool-aid in - about 10)
  • Large bowls (to serve salad etc. in - about 20)
  • Large platters (for serving - about 20)
  • Cookie sheets (for baking and re-heating - about 6)
  • Large spoons (for cooking - about 5)
  • Large ladles (for serving - about 5)
  • Asst. knives (for cooking - as many as you can find)
  • Vegetable peelers (2)
  • Wire whisk (only 1 - but it's indispensable)
  • Can opener (manual is fine - your hall might not have one!)
  • Turkey baster (for ease in removing liquid fat from pots)

With most of these supplies, the more you have the better off you'll be, and the easier it will be to do all that cooking! The above numbers are probably close to the minimum you should have access to - you can most likely manage with this number, unless you're expecting 300 people at your feast event! Don't feel like you have to rush out and buy everything, either - borrow the stuff if you can. For my first event, I borrowed supplies, and then I used the profits from the event to buy my own supplies.

There are, of course, nifty gadgets that you can buy to make your preparation and cooking easier. None of them are essential, but they can certainly help!

 

  • Expensive knives - these are usually much better than the normal variety, and their edges last and last.
  • Food Processor - makes chopping onions, carrots, and celery a breeze!
  • Microwave - great for that last-minute defrosting job when you forgot to take the boneless chicken out of the freezer!

Last but not least, keep in mind that you will want to have some feasting supplies on hand. In our LARP group, everyone is exepcted to bring their own feast gear (plate, bowl, flatware, etc.) to a feast that they attend, but people don't always remember. It's a good idea to have some spare (even disposable) cups, plates, and plastic utensils around for those who forget and don't want to go hungry!


Freezing

A freezer (and I mean a real freezer, not the little compartment above your refrigerator) is one of the most valuable appliances you can own if you throw feast events. A freezer makes it possible to buy almost anything months before your event and have it be fresh and ready when you want it. This way, you can take advantages of sales. Most items and dishes can be successfully frozen for up to three months. Things that freeze particularly well are meats, cheeses, butter, bread, and casseroles such as lasagne and meat pies. Things that you want to avoid freezing include whole milk, cream, sour cream, eggs, anything that has mayonnaise as an ingredient, and smaller baked goods such as cookies and brownies (because they get really dry during their stint in the freezer).

Whatever it is that you freeze, be sure that you wrap it properly before freezing. Butter and cheese can go straight into the freezer from your shopping bag. Baked goods fare best if wrapped in several layers of plastic wrap and then placed in a freezer bag. Most books recommend that you take meats out of their store wrapping and re-wrap them with plastic wrap and freezer wrap. I've rarely bothered to do this and my meats have never gotten freezer burn, but perhaps that's because they've rarely been frozen for more than a few weeks. If the store wrapping was torn in any way you'd want to re-wrap it, but then again, if the store wrapping is torn you should return the meat to the store anyway.

One of my biggest pitfalls in feast throwing has been thawing. Most Americans now have a (healthy) fear of meats and other foods spoiling when not refrigerated. I am so careful that I only allow about a quarter of the time for thawing that it actually takes, and end up desperately trying to thaw foods in the oven or microwave. At my first feast event, I estimated that it would take 3 hours for large pans of garlic mashed potatoes to thaw, and took them out of the freezer 3 hours before they were scheduled for reheating. They were still frozen solid when they went into the oven, and after more than 2 hours of "reheating" at 350 degrees, they were still frozen! We ended up not serving them, and after the event was over I went home and threw them in the trash. And we had spent almost 4 hours making them in the first place! Freezer bags of boneless meat chunks similarly thawed for 15 hours and were still icy in the middle. So, if you want something to be thawed in time for cooking, make sure you allow plenty of time.


Preparation

Anything that you can do prior to the event will save you time and energy on the day of the event. If you choose to make homemade lasagne, doing it three weeks ahead of time and then freezing it will be a real time-saver the day of the event, and you'll have the peace of mind that at least something is taken care of. The best choices for early preparation are casserole-type dishes that include some kind of sauce, because the sauce will keep the dish from drying out during reheating. Things that work well include baked beans, meatballs in tomato sauce, potato with cheese dishes, and meat pies.

Another thing that will save you a lot of time at the event is to pre-cut meats before freezing them if you're going to want them in small pieces anyway. An example of this is meat for soups or pies. You can buy the meat weeks before the event, bring it home, cut it into small pieces, and then put all of the pieces in a large freezer storage bag and freeze. When the time comes to make soup, just dump the thawed pieces into the soup pot and you're an hour ahead of the game!


Last But Not Least

Herbs and spices are vital to making many dishes come alive. Soup especially wouldn't be the same with herbs. You should be sure to have:

 

  • Salt and pepper
  • Oregano
  • Dill
  • Coriander
  • Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme (!)
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves
  • Cumin, Curry powder
  • And Garlic

Garlic is indispensable. Although fresh garlic is best for salad dressings, it is difficult to work with - it is time consuming to peel and mince and makes your hands smell awful! I highly recommend that you buy a large jar of minced garlic in oil, usually available in the produce section of your grocery store. A large jar (32 oz.) costs about $4, and your crew will bless you for it! It lasts forever in the refrigerator, too. For more generic spice combinations, such as "Italian Spices," you can buy a larger jar. It won't stay good forever but it can be used for a variety of dishes. Those really tiny jars of spices are not economical unless you really only need a few tablespoons and will never use the spice again.


Poor Calculations


Or, Dealing with Leftovers

Hopefully, luck was with you and your calculations about portions came out pretty evenly, in which case you don't have much food to throw away. No, really, I was just kidding, DON'T throw out any food.

Leftovers should be frozen or refrigerated as soon as possible to avoid spoilage. Small amounts can be taken home by you - trust me, after throwing your feast event you won't feel like cooking for several days, and even event leftovers will look mighty appetizing. Large amounts of foods can be put into the refrigerator or freezer right in their pans, if you wrap them up carefully. (Don't refrigerate acidic sauces such as tomato-based sauces in aluminum pans, because the acid reacts with the aluminum and turns the pans an off color. Freezing them this way is okay, though.)

Assuming that you don't want to give leftovers out to people in your own bowls and pans, it would be a good idea to have a supply of zip-loc storage bags on hand. Portion leftovers out into bags in 2-3 serving amounts, so that people can select a few different items - that way no one gets stuck with all of the salad while someone else gets to take home chicken.

The first people to offer leftovers to are, obviously, cooks and servants. If there's still food left after they've gone through it, offer some to NPCs. And if there's still some left after that, (hey, it wouldn't be the first time) declare free rein to all event-goers. At the end of our feasts, we've given away a huge array of items, including 15 lbs of chicken, heads of lettuce, and whole chocolate cakes!

Another potential outlet for leftovers is to donate them to a local soup kitchen. If you're in an urban area, there should be a soup kitchen nearby. Call a few weeks in advance to find out how to donate your leftovers; and be sure to ask which leftovers the soup kitchen will accept and which they won't. The soup kitchen will be grateful, and you'll feel good that you were able to do something so helpful.


Entertainments


Or, "What Do You Mean, All We're Doing is Eating?"


Non-Combat Tournaments

This section is based on tournaments that do not include actual light weapons combat, since all of the halls that I've used wouldn't allow fighting anyway. There are a number of different non-combat tourneys that people can compete in, and often it makes a feast event a little bit more interesting to have some competition.

People can compete in standard board games such as chess, or you can create board games of your own. Some British catalogs sell medieval-style board games. You can also modify existing games into medieval forms. For example, you could replace the standard tiles for Scrabble with runic letters to create Runic Scrabble. Or you could modify the maps for Risk (or Castle Risk) or Diplomacy to include the lands and kingdoms that exist in your LARP group. Most games tourneys are a good choice for feast events because the people playing them can continue to eat during the competition, and therefore you won't have to schedule a blank space of time in between the serving of courses.

Another popular competition at feast events is a Garb competition. This can also be done easily as far as scheduling goes, because the entrants can come up one at a time and display their garb without disturbing the courses being served. In general, the way for a piece or outfit of garb to qualify for entry is that your feast event is the first event that it has been worn to, but this is not strictly necessary. You might simply ask that garb that has won in another competition not be entered. Make sure that you announce the garb competition in your flyers and newsletter announcement, so that people know to bring their newest creation!

Poetry competitions can be fun too. You can hand out "official" pieces of paper with your feast's name at the top, and ask entrants to write their poem on the paper and hand it on by a certain time (probably at least an hour before the end of the event). You can have specific categories if you like (such as humorous poems, love sonnets, etc.), or you can choose to be more general and accept anything. If you would like people to be able to write their poem ahead of time, be sure to announce the category in your flyer and announcements, but sometimes it's more fun to surprise people and ask them to come up with a poem in a short period of time. You can always require entrants to read their poems aloud for the benefit of the whole hall!


Bardic Competitions

Because the bardic category encompasses so many sub-categories, it really deserves its own section. Bardic can include poetry, story-telling, "tall tale" telling, and joke telling as well as singing. Bardic competitions work extremely well at feasts because the entrants get the full attention of the hall, since most event-goers are just eating anyway. You can create a bardic schedule full of five-minute "slots," and when the entrants sign up, fill the slots up with their names. You can usually fit two or three slots into each course - it's better to wait until the course has been served and then have people perform one at a time. It would be a good idea to get a volunteer to be in charge of keeping track of the entrants and announcing when it is each entrant's turn to perform.

You have a lot of creativity open to you when setting up the bardic competition. You can ask the people to sign up for certain categories (Humorous songs, Love songs...) and then have all of the songs in each category performed in a row. Or you can just have a general bardic and make the judging decisions based on your own private categories. Or, you could let each entrant perform as many songs/presentations as he or she can, and then award the biggest prize to the person who made the greatest number of presentations. (This can be very fun and exciting, but can require a great deal of time if some of the entrants know many songs and could perform for hours!)


Judging

Deciding on the winners of each competition can be simple in some categories, and difficult in others. For example, the winner of a board game is generally very clear to all participants. The winner of Funniest Song, or Best Garb, on the other hand, is much more subjective. Everyone has different ideas about what is funny, or what makes garb attractive. A song may have been very funny but rather in poor taste, and therefore the judge might vote against it even though it may have been the funniest entry. It is very difficult for even the most honest judge to set aside all personal feelings when judging a competition. In some cases, the easiest way to avoid hurt feelings on the part of entrants might be to keep the official judge a secret, but this is almost impossible to pull off. When you are the event holder and know that you are going to have a lot of other things on your mind as well as judging, it would probably be simpler for you to ask someone else to judge the competitions for you. You can ask more than one person if you like, creating a "panel" of judges. Generally, it would be the best idea to choose judges who have some years of experience in your LARP group, and ones who are knowledgeable about the particular categories you are asking them to judge. Be honest and warn your judges that it is possible that entrants who fail to win may blame the judges.


Prizes

You don't have to spend a fortune on prizes to have a great event or show people a great time. In fact, prizes is one category where you can really cut corners without making a big difference in the quality of your event.

One way to accomplish this is to make some prizes yourself. This will allow you to use a large portion of your feast event budget for other things. If you are creative and even the slightest bit "crafty," you can make a number of quality prizes, including staves, rune sets, garb, and jewelry.

Having some experience with woodworking can help make your wooden prizes look professional, but even a novice can produce things of decent quality. Staves are relatively simple to make. First, find a large (appropriately sized) stick in the woods. Ideally, you want to find one that has been lying around on the ground for a long time, so that it will be dry. Do not cut down young saplings, no matter how attractive they may be - this is rarely legal (the exception would be if the sapling were on your own, privately owned land) and anyway, unless you are doing it at least six months in advance, the wood will still be green when you want to work with it. You can choose to remove the bark from the stick (this is easy if the stick is very dry) or to leave it on, depending on the look you are trying to cultivate. If you do choose to remove the bark, you might want to sand the staff until it is nice and smooth. You can wood-burn on the stick, including things like the name of your feast event and the name of the category it is the prize for, such as "Best Poetry." You can also paint these words on the stick. You can attach a crystal to the top of the staff if you like, or rabbit fur, or you can carve tiny holes in the staff and imbed small crystals in the holes (use glue for this.) The final step is to put several coats of polyurethane on the completed staff - this will allow it to be used in the woods, even on the rainiest day. You can also make wooden rune sets - cut cross-sections of a good-sized stick to make the disks, sand them well, wood-burn or paint the symbols on them, and then polyurethane. Presenting them in an attractive velvet or suede bag makes a nice prize. Talented woodworkers could also make small wooden boxes as prizes.

Garb also works nicely as a prize. (You probably wouldn't want to use it as a prize for the garb competition, though, because the winning entrant will most likely have made something much more beautiful!) If you know how to sew a basic tunic, you can purchase a few yards of nice fabric on sale at your local fabric store and sew one up. This especially looks good if you get some attractive trim and put it along the neck and arm seams. As long as you don't use anything too gaudy, most people would probably be happy to receive garb as a prize (almost everyone can use another tunic!). A way to make this prize particularly useful would be to make it of either extremely light or rather heavy fabric, since most people's garb is medium-weight and either too warm for the hot summer months or too cold for winter events. Wool blends and bubble-gauze come to mind. If you can't afford fabric for a tunic, you can make hats with a relatively small amount of fabric (check out the library for a book with patterns,) or if you want to do something especially nice, cloaks are very popular.

Many craft and fabric stores sell books on how to make jewelry from an assortment of items, including beads, clay, and paper. If you feel strongly about learning how to make jewelry, then view these books as an investment - once you learn how to make the jewelry, you can make jewelry as prizes for all of your events and maybe even for other event holders.

Etched glassware looks very impressive and is relatively inexpensive to produce. You can buy etchers from a variety of sources, and in a variety of price ranges. If you aren't sure that you want to do etching, go down to your local hardware store and ask for an etcher. The clerk will point you toward a small electric tool that will claim it is designed for etching glass and other materials. (This tool is meant as a way to mark your personal property with a code number in case of theft.) It should probably cost less than $15 - we got one on sale once for $6.99. This tool will not last for a lifetime of event holding; it is merely meant as a way for you to test out your etching abilities. If you later decide to continue with etched glassware as prizes, you can purchase a professional glass etcher from a glassware supply company - this one will cost about $65, but will last longer. (You can also buy etching kits that consist of stencils and a paste which "eats away" the top layer of the glass - I don't have any experience with these, but you could ask at the craft store. There are also hand etchers that work by scraping gradually at the glass with a small, pen-like tool. These are extremely time-consuming and probably not worth it.) One warning with the electric etchers is that breathing glass dust can be very hazardous to your health, so you'll want to get some disposable face masks at the hardware store, too. Practice with the etchers on one of your own glasses before moving on to prizeware. You can watch for glassware sales at the local department stores (6 mugs for $9 or $10 would be a pretty good deal) - or check out outlet stores, which may sell mugs or goblets for $1 each. Sturdy wine glasses etched just fine but I'd be careful with delicate ones - the etcher might break them! You can also etch other things like vases or hurricane lamps - use your imagination.

You could ask an especially talented padded-weapons-maker to make some boff weapons as prizes, too. If he's your friend and willing to provide labor for free, your only cost would be the materials. These weapons can be marked with a paint pen with the name of your event. Again, almost everyone can use a new weapon!

Knives are very popular as prizes with our crowd. You can get many mail-order catalogs that sell knives at discounts, or order through a local merchant. Make sure to place your order far ahead of time to make sure you actually have some prizes to hand out at your event! (This requires you to put down some of your own money if the merchant wants a deposit.) You may be able to get a discount through the merchant if your order is particularly large.

You can also shop for prizes at tag sales or flea markets. Just make sure that you know the realistic retail value of items that you buy, because it would be annoying to see a brand new glass mug for $2 when you paid $2 for a used one at the flea market. Tag sales and yard sales are usually better places to search for real bargains, because people usually only have one sale per year and really want to get rid of their stuff, whereas the merchants at the flea market will be there again next week. If you see something that you like at the flea market but it's priced too high, ask the merchant if he'll take less. Even if he says "no," the item might still be there in two weeks and he might be glad to say "yes" then. Try tag sales early in the morning, when the most merchandise is available. If you go tag-saling and to the flea market even once a month, there's a good chance that you'll find something you want - from camping equipment to feast gear to fabric!

Discount stores are worth a shot, too. Most areas nowadays have at least one "dollar store," where everything in the store costs a dollar. These are good places to look for glassware and also candles, and you never know what else they might have. Remember, it's good to have an idea of the normal retail value of items, or you might end up paying $1 for something worth 30 cents.


Other Meals


The Feast As A Meal

After you've tried your hand at throwing a feast event, you might want to try throwing a feast at a camping event, either your camping event or someone else's. When you throw a camping event it is generally from Friday or Saturday night through Sunday evening, so most event holders choose to have the feast on Saturday evening. Even if you're having a one-day event, you could throw a feast once the questing and tourneying are over. The only real requirement here is that your event site have a hall of some sort that will be used as the tavern, and that the hall has a kitchen that the site will let you use.

You can either make a separate budget for the feast, or you can include the feast budget in with the rest of the event's budget. Calculating the budget can be done in the same manner either way, it's just that there are a few more things to keep track of than if you were throwing a feast only.

The most important thing to keep in mind when throwing a feast that is attached to a camping event is the weather. If your event is during the hottest month of the year, remember that when planning your menu, and don't plan dozens of hot dishes and heavy recipes. Try to keep things light and cool, and people will eat more and feel better.


Breakfast

If you are throwing a camping event with a feast on Saturday night, you might also want to consider serving breakfast on Sunday morning. This won't be as difficult as it sounds if you serve a "continental" breakfast. This typically means that no hot dishes will be served, but that a simple buffet of assorted items will be left out for people to eat as they get up in the morning. If there is a long counter in your tavern, that is the ideal place from which to serve your buffet.

Hot beverages are popular first thing in the morning. Set out your coffee urns from your feast, again, one with hot water and one with coffee. Put out tea bags, herbal tea bags, and hot cocoa mix, along with honey, sugar and cream (or milk, or non-dairy creamer powder, depending on your preference.) People will be too uncoordinated in the morning to find their own mugs and spoons, so leave a supply of plastic spoons and some disposable hot cups out.

If you have the financial resources, orange juice is nice in the morning. You can mix it up from frozen concentrate in pitchers or large beverage coolers, or whatever else is available. The frozen concentrate is both the best economical choice and retains the most vitamins for the longest period of time.

Now for the actual breakfast. If there's a place on the counter to put a toaster or toaster oven and a handy outlet, people can toast their own bread, cinnamon bread, english muffins, or bagels. Leave a bunch of these out on the counter near the toaster along with napkins, paper plates, knives, and butter. You can also supply whipped margarine, jelly, cream cheese, or peanut butter.

Cold pastries are also popular - things with sugar in them get people's blood flowing in the morning. You can make pastries yourself or purchase them at a wholesale club, which usually have excellent bakery departments. Consider muffins, mini-muffins, danish, fruit pies, and donuts. These all store well and are easy to eat when you only have one hand free.

Fruit is also a good choice - it's nice to offer at least one healthy alternative for those who prefer to eat well in the mornings. Bananas and apples are the best options, because they taste good and are easy to eat. Oranges are hit-or-miss; sometimes people eat all of them, and sometimes no one eats them. They are hard to peel first thing in the morning when you're not quite awake yet. Seedless grapes are good too, and if there are leftovers you can leave them out in the tavern for people to eat during the rest of the day.

Of course, if you wanted to get more elaborate you could consider cold cereal with milk (assuming there is enough refrigerator space for the milk), or you could make oatmeal, or if there is a large griddle you could fry eggs, make pancakes and bacon and sausage and... well, you get the picture.


The Tavern

At almost every event except a feast event, you will want to have a tavern. Even if there isn't a hall at your event site to have your tavern in, you can still supply drinks and light snacks to help keep people's energy levels up. The only thing you'll definitely need if there isn't a hall to use is some large beverage coolers. It is every event holder's responsibility to supply players with an adequate amount of liquid, even if that liquid is only water. If the weather is very hot or people are doing a lot of running around, remind everyone that they should keep drinking water if they want to avoid heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

It's a good idea to provide something to drink other than water if you can swing it financially, because of lack of access to cold beverages. Even when you're very thirsty, drinking warm water seems very unattractive. Alternately, warm kool-aid doesn't seem that bad. For most taverns, pre-sweetened kool-aid in a can will be the easiest option because you won't have access to measuring cups out in the woods. (But check beforehand to see if you need a can opener to open the kool-aid!)

The snack foods that are available at your tavern can vary greatly. Salty foods are good in hot weather because they encourage people to drink more liquids. Pretzels are the best choice nutritionally, but unfortunately people usually don't eat them unless there's nothing else available. Popcorn usually isn't very popular either. Mixed nuts, while rather expensive, do get eaten and are a good choice if you don't mind that some people will pick through them to get all the cashews. Assorted snack mixes like Chex mix go relatively quickly. Regular potato chips seem to get eaten as well.

You can have anything else at your tavern that you like yourself or that you know your friends like. Assorted pastries, cookies, bread with honey butter, cheese, pepperoni, brownies, fruit, and M&Ms are all things that I've seen at taverns.

 


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