I couldn’t have asked for a better re-introduction to the Society for Creative Anachronism. People were pleasant, friendly, helpful, knowledgeable within their chosen time period and origin (of their personae, not just of their modern lives).
First of all, I got permission to set up an eruv around my campsite (look it up). As it turned out later, I didn’t need one, because the entire campsite was surrounded by fencing, rivers, and telephone poles and wires. But before I’d really checked it out to determine that, we’d already set up the eruv, so at least now I know how it works, and have got practice doing it. The rest of the camp went up much more quickly than I could have hoped for — maybe two hours, instead of the planned-for four or five hours. After that, I headed off to see the chatelaine, who keeps a Gold Key station, a place where people can go to find something to wear if they don’t have their own garb yet. I did have one outfit to wear, but we’d be there for two nights and parts of three days, and I didn’t want to stink, so I begged a garment for that first night.
The chatelaine, the lovely Lady Liesel von Metten, outfitted me in beautiful style. Poor Lady Liesl kept apologizing for not having any non-European attire with her, but to me, a fair bit of the available clothing didn’t look European at all — it looked Middle Eastern and Indian, albeit with less florid coloring. What she thought of as a grey underdress for a European was also perfect as an outer dress for a Middle Eastern/North African Jewess. She also found me a black wool cloak with grey flannel lining and a black leather strap attached by two pewter buttons with some fancy-schmancy carvings (I think they were vaguely Celtic, but I don’t know, as I’m not big in my knowledge of European styles). I brought my own headgear, a plain black headscarf and a plain white one. Lady Liesl also offered a thick turquoise-blue and turquoise-green cloak for Akim, who had his own garb (thanks to some brilliant Salvation Army finds) but nothing to protect him from the night’s bitter cold.
I was so grateful for all Lady Liesl’s help that I invited her and her husband, Lord Brendan Dalcassian, to eat dinner with us. They came, and so did several others, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. That first night I was visited by about a dozen people. Lady Catrina and Lord Azrael brought their son, the tiny Armand, for candle lighting and to share a bit of wine (grape juice, ahem) and homemade whole-wheat bread followed by the Sabbath meal. They’d barely left when, in ones and twos, others came to sample our za’atar chicken soup, lemon-ginger-honey drink (which proved to be far too strong for most folks, even when I diluted it with 3 parts water to 1 part drink) followed by apple-oat crumble for dessert. Imagine this, people: I fed a dozen people with one chicken, five carrots, five celery stalks, two cups of millet, ten apples, two cups of oats, a cup of brown sugar, and some spices. A dozen! I’m pretty proud of myself. Oh, and there were leftovers. We put about two servings worth of the chicken soup into the pot that was holding the Sabbath lunch and dinner.
Speaking of Sabbath lunch and dinner, I was even more proud of that. I made a double-recipe of Persian cherry chicken: two chickens, about a pound of pitted sour cherries, and some spices; plus some Persian fruited rice that involved dried currants, sultanas, and gooseberries (okay, they were cranberries, but cranberries aren’t Period, and anyway, YOU try finding gooseberries in a modern mainstream grocery store); more wine/juice and bread; sekanjabin; and some molasses quickbread that Akim made while I was shopping for the ingredients for the other items on the menu. The molasses bread wasn’t strictly Period, either, because it involved a cup of cornmeal, which wasn’t typically used in the Old World, and also because molasses is a byproduct of refining white sugar and was therefore quite expensive back in the day… but my goodness, was it delicious.
There wasn’t enough feast gear. I brought three ceramic bowls, two metal cups, and a bag of ‘disposable’ Bambu utensils. We went through all the utensils, and had to wash the bowls and cups multiple times to serve everyone who came to our table without feast gear of their own.
Next time I’ll be a better hostess. I’ve already found some fairly nice metal dishes at the Salvation Army for a song. I will clean them extra thoroughly, remove the tarnish, clean again, immerse them in the mikvah (look it up) to change the ownership in a ritual sense, then boil them to make them kosher. They’ll be ready for my next event. I don’t have a lot of individual gear, but at least I have serving dishes now. Individual dining plates are next, I think, if I can find some for a good price.
Once the last guest was served Saturday evening dinner and I’d cleaned up as well as I can do within the laws of Shabbat (look them up, but I warn you, they’re extensive), Akim and I wandered down to the hound encampment. There was greyhound coursing earlier that day, though I hadn’t seen it, and I had noticed a certain Household insignia worn by more than one of the dog handlers. We had a lovely chat while passing around bottles of various alcoholic beverages (which I didn’t sample) and the sekanjabin that I’d brought as a guest-offering. If I meet more people of the same Household, and if they turn out to be just as welcoming, warm, honest, intelligent, fun-loving, thoughtful, and serious-minded as these ones, I would really love to be a part of them.
A Simple Day In The Country turned out to be both simple and very complicated. The hardest part was organization, knowing where things were and remembering to use them. When I got home, I unloaded the cooler and found that I’d completely forgotten to make the Forbidden Fruit salad that I had intended to make, so I had a cooler of cucumbers, scallions, apples, pears, and spices that were just sitting in their bags or containers, waiting forlornly. They still tasted good for dinner the night I got home, so it wasn’t a loss, but I feel bad for having not provided my guests with a cool, refreshing side dish. Not that they could have eaten it, anyway, what with the lack of plates, but I really had meant to offer it.
Then there was the cold. Even when wearing everything we’d brought, plus our cloaks, neither Akim nor I could stand the cold. We got almost no sleep the first night. We also left the event at about midnight the first night (Shabbat ended, and then we talked it over and tore down our campsite immediately), because we couldn’t face another night of freezing. Now we know better, so we’ll be much more prepared for the next event. I intend to bring many, many blankets for under and over each of us. Also, forget it — no more air mattress. It was a good idea, but we’ve learned that blowing it up in the daytime while it’s hot doesn’t prepare us for a cold night when the air inside contracts, leaving the air mattress flaccid and unsupportive.
Even so, I’m chalking this up in the Success column. I had forgotten over the past ten years how to organize a camp home; I had prepared inadequately for tableware and for bedding; I didn’t know anyone, and didn’t know how to find guests to share the table. Nevertheless, I managed to feed about 30 people (some with tiny portions and some with seconds and thirds, God bless them!), who gave effusive and very generous compliments, and no one left my board (table) hungry. I even had three little containers of leftovers to bring home, which made lunches for three days after. Next time I hope it will be even better, because I’ll be more aware of what to expect.