Strange Food.

It seems that every two years or so, I’m unable to resist the need to do something ridiculous in the line of catering, and the last couple of times it’s been for lrp events. In 2015, Rupert Redington, Pru Greenwood and I did a 50s themed Christmas for Crooked House, and this year Megan Lloyd joined Rupe and myself to cater for a Regency investigation into a gate into a Fae realm for Strange LRP.

Sketches and stratagems…

Some of the deal was the same as GRYM: make the food part of the flow of the event, characterise the staff sufficiently so they’ll be fun to be, and make the kitchen as IC as possible. Big difference this time round? We didn’t have Christmas to hang the food plan off.

Initial research was a bit skimpy, I admit. I’d watched maybe half of the BBC Strange, vaguely remembered that cartoon with the pudding in it, seen all of the third series of Blackadder and done a few Wikipedia pages. This is the Regency, the age of gout, Careme and the Brighton Pavilion. Beautifully, it was also the cusp of the change from Service à la Française (Soup, then everything else, then dessert) and Service à la Russe (A whole load of courses in a row, with a lot of it plated.) which gave us some useful first ideas about our first two problems.

Problem 1

Prepping leftovers. © Oliver Facey

We had neither the budget nor inclination to feed everyone Upstairs meat all weekend. Without that, we had to fake it, so fake it we did. The bones of the plan were to show the players  extraordinary extravagance on Friday, then feed them with mostly leftovers the rest of the weekend. So rather than one single “main” remove on the big Friday dinner, where everyone could have eaten all the nicest bits, we gave them two. One course of steamed stuff to fill up on, then one course of hugely impressive protein they’d not be able to eat all of. Or indeed much of. Eight suet puddings is still an impressive sight, and i was very proud of the layering there and the fact that only one of them split at all. However, it was there to be cheap and filling ahead of the roasts. A pile of game birds literally two feet high, which we set fire to with brandy. I doubt Carême would have approved, not really, but it was bloody impressive to see, and it gave us sufficient left-over meat for Saturday’s game pasties, afternoon tea sandwiches, some crew stew, a spare soup which I think we only actually served one bowl of, and three chickens for the evening buffet.

Problem 2

Jelly is happy waiting. © Oliver Facey

There was a larp event on. On Friday, the feast had its slot and that was it. On Saturday, folk were busy doing stuff. No character had *quite* the same level of authority to make meals run to time, so we had to be more flexible in timings. (Granted, what they were up to was a mystery to the kitchen staff, but whatever it was, they were busy at it.)  On Saturday, we had to be really flexible; it was the day of multiple buffets. Luckily, with a bit of a tweak, those also feel right for the time. Essentially, we flanged afternoon tea into 1820 so we could serve sandwiches and cake and players could help themselves – see below.

Tactics and trifles…

We used the same kind of purchasing process as for catering for God Rest Ye Merry : start with a strategy, make a list of dishes, list all the recipes, then sort the ingredients alphabetically and add’em up for a shopping list. It’s all in a Googledoc over here for those who are interested – we came in on budget, so basically a shade over £20 a head for food.

Some of our plans did survive contact with the event, and some didn’t. I’ll try note down what we actually did and give a little reasoning, but to be honest I’m not 100% sure of the detail myself any more. (Except to say we have a lot of left-over lettuce after we didn’t get round to roasting any.)

Friday night’s DINNER, nine thirty

We had half an idea of running nibbles out before dinner, but never got round to it. Probably for the best. Dinner was for 36 in the end, I think, and much to our surprise pretty much all the soup went. Each remove was plated by a chef in the hall, which wasn’t what we’d planned but there turned out to be more tables than we were expecting. The lovely turn here was the food going anti-clockwise from kitchen to hall, then hall to scullery where the Downstairs players and crew attacked it before it got back to the kitchen.

A remove of Soups

Before the soup. © Oliver Facey

Soup was both essential historically, and part of our “extravagance cheat”. Much to my surprise, all the mock turtle soup went. It tasted OK, mostly of Manzanilla sherry so there was something of the sea about it. However, the pureed veal you allegedly thicken it with gave it an odd grainy texture I wasn’t entirely happy with.

  • Potage Parmentier
  • Pea soup
  • Brown onion soup
  • Mock turtle soup

A remove of Suet Puddings

“Don’t one of you dare split.” © Oliver Facey

The challenge here was firstly, do we have enough pudding basins? In the end we needed 9 to cover our combinations of dietary requirements and volume. Then, can we steam them all? Some I made the day before at home, some we cooked on the day. Then, can we keep them warm for service given we’re late dining? That wasn’t an issue thanks to Treowen’s marvelous catering-capacity warming trolley and they’re pretty forgiving things anyway.  But finally, will they split? One did, a bit, and I felt myself lucky for it… The layered puddings looked pretty darned good on the plate.

  • Layered mushroom pudding
  • Beef pudding
  • Layered stilton and celeriac pudding
  • Chicken and bacon pudding

“There were many, many superb moments, but I believe that mushroom and chestnut steamed pudding was best of all.”

Also served: platters of steamed brassicas, and onion gravy…

A remove of Roast Foods and Fowls

Rupe sets things on fire. © Oliver Facey

We weren’t entirely sure how to serve these when we reached site. I simply wanted “A heap”, but Rupe found a paving slab of slate a metre each side, and then he knew. Once you’re serving on stone, it’s almost impolite not to set it on fire too. Service was a little chaotic; we’d planned to return to the kitchen and carve there. Sadly, I forgot that. We really just dismembered everything there and then so some of the meat got to table out a little slow. Not so neat, but it was dark in the hall. Thank you to the folk that organised candlelight. Looked great, covered a multitude of sins.

  • A sodding big heap of various game birds and chickens, to the height of two feet, served on fire.
  • A brace of baked camembert
  • A brace of roasted celeriac
  • A brace of roasted pine-apples

Also served: A Cumberland sauce, and a bramley and garlic sauce.

The trifle bowl. A pint of milk, for scale.

A remove of trifles

Rather than the five trifles we had planned, in the end we only had the one trifle. It was simply dried fruit soaked in tea custard, and sponge cake. Next time, I’d steep the fruit for longer.

It was Satisfyingly Large, though. I’d imagine a gallon and a half or so?

Saturday morning’s BREAKFAST, ten

Rupe and Meg served breakfast. I was still asleep. © Oliver Facey

Not your usual lrp breakfast, but definitely correct for the period. Given how late they’d eaten on Friday, I don’t think anyone noticed. Specifically, we served Madeleines which are historical, I checked. “Downstairs” characters got bacon and eggs as well, I think. We never got round to porridge, sadly. Some people probably got some of the “crew OOC” breakfast too.

  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Madeleines
  • Maderia and other rectangular cakes

Saturday afternoon’s LUNCH, one thirty

I don’t think anyone ate the salad. The pasties were made that morning, which took a while, and went within seconds.

  • Game pasties
  • Cheese and onion pasties
  • Salad

Saturday afternoon’s AFTERNOON TEA, three thirty

I know the tea cup is anachronistic, and essentially irrelevant to the shot. But the expressions… Oh, those expressions. © Oliver Facey

The sandwiches were not as elegant as they might have been. I generously forgave us. I can’t recall what cakes were served other than to say we intended to make them, but on seeing the oven, just bought two of every cake Waitrose had in stock.

  • Game, bacon and lettuce sandwiches
  • Egg mayonaise sandwiches
  • Cucumber sandwiches
  • Sponge and other round cakes

Saturday afternoon’s DOWNSTAIRS DINNER, four

Honestly not sure how many downstairs characters got any of this, but it definitely got to some crew OOC.

  • Pease pudding
  • Red cabbage
  • Onion gravy
  • Ham hock

Saturday afternoon’s BALL BUFFET, six

“Yeah. That’ll do.”

The cheeseboard was actually served on the same metre square slate we’d used for the game the night before. The jelly was made in three fish moulds, and looked amazing. However, the star of the show was Megan’s Union Flag in meringue and food colouring.

  • A board of eight cheesesp2707518288-o139644434-3
  • Mushroom and fennel pinwheels
  • Cauliflower and rice salad
  • Piccalilli
  • Runner bean chutney
  • Pickled onions
  • Pickled turnips
  • Pickled walnuts
  • A sliced ham
  • Three chickens
  • Oat cakes
  • Water biscuits
  • A gin and autumn fruit jelly
  • A simulacrum of the Union Flag in meringue.

Saturday evenings FOOLISHNESSES, eight and thereafter

By this time, the kitchen had basically done its job, and we simply fed anyone who looked hungry and didn’t move fast enough to get away. And we made cocktails again, very modern but bang on for the Regency period. The drinking custard was brilliant; and so simple: bought custard, 3pts; cream, 3pts; maderia 1pt, oloroso a half-pt. Slipped down very nicely.

  • Devils on horseback
  • Drinking custard
  • A variety of cock-tails

Sunday morning’s BREAKFAST, ten

  • Bacon
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Sausages – Cauldron or pork
  • Black pudding
  • Devilled kidneys
  • Gammon
  • Steaks
  • Toast and preserves

p2705238896-o139644434-3Fantasies and fae…

I think my biggest regret was that the Fae food stretch goals we set ourselves never got done, save two.

The redcap leader aka “The horrid one” never got their body parts set in aspic, or their “finger sandwiches”. It turns out that it takes quite a while for aspic to set, and it’s not the clear jelly of your dreams unless you are really careful with it.

However, the king of untold blessings did get a pretty big pile of golden apples, russets sprayed gold in fact which worked OK, though it would have looked better in candlelight. Key there was the right apples – russets start looking a bit Fae, and hold the paint nicely, and a good mix of paints and lustre sprays. Basically, I bought one of everything on Amazon and used all of them on four dozen apples.

Egg sorbets

However – the Pale Queen got a bowl of artfully and rustically presented “boiled eggs”. These were really raw eggs carefully emptied and washed, then filled with alternating lemon sorbet and mango sorbet. The idea was you’d start surprised by a frozen egg, then delighted it was lemon sorbet, then blown away it had a “yolk” too. I’d done it for my 40th birthday, so I knew it worked and it had the effect I wanted…

“The delight of the sorbet egg is the thing that almost made the whole Larp for me!”

“INCREDIBLE! And the “delight” led on to so much… I expressed my sheer delight to the Fae queen she borrowed my pleasure for the evening. I found out my husband was already married. I ended up in the kitchen, drinking du cognac chez mes nouveaux amis…”

Newspaper printing and image by @plasticsmithy

Hacks and history…

We were genuinely inspired by the Regency, we did a bit of research, but we were there to cook good food that people would want to eat, could eat as part of the event rather than having to stop play to eat, and would remember well after wards, so history needed a bit of a shove sometimes. As luck would have it, Jamie Hall was in need of words for the event’s edition of an IC news paper. The Morning Post was part historical interest and a lot of a plot hint and setting dump. While you’d have needed to be very alert to have spotted it, some of our anachronisms were covered by adverts and an article in the paper. These were mostly badly mangled Wikipedia cut-and-paste, but I was quite proud of them, and here they are.

New at Fortnum’s….

Fortnum and Masons had already existed for a hundred years in 1820, and their “adverts” covered up a few sins…

We needed to give vegetarians something as impressive as a pile of roasted game and were very short of historically accurate and then, someone mentioned liking a baked Camembert, so…

A welcome return to our shores for the first time since the war of the fine soft cheese of the village of Camembert in Normandy, first made by a Marie Harel some quarter-century ago, and recommended served hot from the range.

and whole roasted, spiced cauliflower is pretty neat too, so also…

A spice-paste called Garram Massallah, as utilised in the cuisine of the famous Hindoostane Coffee House of George Street, London, the first “restaurant” in the United Kingdom to serve the cuisine of the Indies, as opened by Sake Dean Mahomed, a captain of the John Company. Most recommended on chicken, or a whole cauliflower, roasted.

Worcester Sauce is a little late, and has anchovies in it so isn’t vegetarian at all. Henderson’s Relish is is vegan and with a small advert’s worth of justification we fixed its place in our timeline:

A novel relish of pickl’d Tamarindos, produced by a Mr Henderson of the county of Yorkshire, provided as an experiment to those finding Mr Perrin’s sauce from the county of Worcestershire overly piquant for their taste.

This went in mostly to fill another column inch or so, but also because I like mushroom ketchup which we used wherever our mushroom-averse people weren’t

The most welcome return of “Apicius Redivivus, or the Cook’s Oracle: Containing receipts for plain cookery on the most economical plan for private families, etc.” by William Kitchiner M.D, famed creator of wow-wow sauce, as first published in 1817. This new edition includes no less than nine catchup recipes, including two each for mushrooms and walnuts, one for cucumber, oyster, cockle and one for mussels.

This was just to cover fresh-made crisps if we ever got round to them. We didn’t.

A novel recipe for Msr Parmentier’s especial favourite vegetable entitled “Potatoes fried in Slices or Shavings”, instructs the reader to “peel large potatoes, slice them about a quarter of an inch thick, or cut them in shavings round and round, as you would peel a lemon; dry them well in a clean cloth, and fry them in lard or dripping.

This last was entirely made-up to cover an intention to serve small portions of pudding on those little chinese soup spoons late-on if all the bowls were still being washed up after the soup course at the ball. In the end, we didn’t even get a soup course out, still less serve individual pudding portions but it’s a nice conceit I think. I’m sure it’s the sort of thing the Beau Brummel would have approved of.

We are delighted to announce that our Chinoissery department is first to be re-supplied with Small Soup Spoons, after a recent Soiree of Prinny’s quite cleared every shop in the Capital of their stocks of such items as a presentation for Ices and Puddings to delight the palette tween dances!

On the Marchioness of Tavistock and her “Afternoon tea”

This, the biggest sin against history. We needed something to fill a long-ish gap between a light lunch, and a ball-buffet we intended to serve at 8. Historically, the Duchess of Bedford had a similar problem and invented afternoon tea. In 1847. Too late. So we demoted the same historical figure to her rank and title of 1820 and hacked this together out of a series of Wikipedia bios.

Belvoir castle has been the home of the Manners family for three hundred years and seat of the Dukes of Rutland since the creation of the title, over a century ago. Even those who have not had the pleasure of an invitation to the Wyatt castle, will recall the terrible fire which tore through this masterpiece of the gothic revival not four years ago, and willl be delighted to know that its rebuilding proceeds apace, the construction greatly speeded by an Act of Magic by a magician who I am told is Most Notable. Sadly, paintings by Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck and Reynolds are irreplaceable and lost to us forever.

Still, sufficient of the fabric is now complete for the house to entertain guests, and the 5th Duke has taken full advantage. At a recent weekend party, and event of Such Notice took place that your diarist records it here, so that Posterity may be able to give credit where it is due.

Many of you will recall the Francis Russell, son of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford and his delightful wife the Hon. Georgiana Byng? Francis was educated at Westminster School and graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1808, with a Master of Arts. Marquess of Tavistock since 1802, he entered the Commons in 1809, sitting as Member of Parliament for Peterborough until 1812 and currently representing Bedfordshire.

(By the by, your diarist contends he may not be the brightest light in the family. His younger brother John may have entered the House of Commons by virtue of his father, the Duke of Bedford, instructing the 30 or so electors of Tavistock to return him as an MP even though at the time Russell was abroad and under age, but he has recently embraced the cause of parliamentary reform, and we forsee a gilded future for him.)

We expect lasting fame to rest upon his wife, Marchioness of Tavistock as you will know her, Anna Maria, ne Stanhope, eldest daughter to General Charles Stanhope, The Right Honourable The Earl of Harrington, Eton and the Guards who we feel confident you will recall from the Battle of Saratoga amongst other adventures.

At this recent weekend at the Manner estate, the party had enjoyed a delicious – though light – luncheon of pasties and potted meat at midday. Dinner was announced for 8pm, as is customary, and the party took to the garden for a most agreeable turn around the grounds, enjoying the vistas for which Belvoir is eponymous. The afternoon lenghened, with no refreshment at all, and as a consequence of such exercise some of the ladies of the party were left feeling more than a little peckish. Without even her hostess’ permission, the marchioness summoned the staff, and instructed them to prepare a light meal of tea – we believe she chose Darjeeling – cakes – such as one might have for breakfast – and sandwiches – ham and mustard, to be precise. This, she reflected, would give the correct balance for an afternoon snack that would provide perfect refreshment. We predict this “afternoon tea”, will soon become an established and convivial repast in homes of the upper class, and thence become popular in households of the more middling sort.

Gags and gotchas….

Catering for 65 for a weekend when you’ve not catered professionally for 20 or so years was always going to be hard graft. We learned a few things, some not for the first time…

Don’t do a big feast on the first night of a lrp event that starts that evening, or if you do, don’t let service slip. We’d designed the menu to be resilient to running a bit late, and it still ate well. However, we were clearing the kitchen until 2.30am, and as an indirect consequence I missed breakfast service the next day which knocked me off my stride for a bit. (And also meant I didn’t see the reaction to a breakfast of cake first hand, which I regret.)

Pause between courses to check the plan. For want of a quick check we were still planning the same tactics for the Remove of Roasts, we started clearing plates for some reason, and that threw the main course service out of whack quite irritatingly.

Know how many crew you have to feed out of character. The big gotcha was crew food. At GRYM, I think there were maybe two people on “crew” – folk with no characters who could easily join in Downstairs eating. At Strange, there were a load more, and some of the NPCs couldn’t either. That made getting them food at bit harder, and gave us a surprise requirement for an OOC breakfast before time-in, and for OOC food on Friday. That we didn’t entirely drop the ball on this is basically down to Stephen Canfield and Simone of Larptronics, who helped out no end.  OOC crew stews, bacon/other sandwiches, neatly packed microvable meals from left overs were always available, but actually getting folk to eat them was much trickier. I guess I should have remembered that…

Keep a crisp distinction between IC and OOC. We started feeding folk at 9am Sunday, before a 10am time-in. However, as we’d started feeding OOC in the IC scullery, food kinda carried on in there, which was a bit of a shame when the house had a perfectly good banqueting hall where it could have been  it bit more suitably served for most characters. Ah, well.

And it was, and just as in a real kitchen, you get by on swearing, shared adversity, and shared jokes at customers’ expense. Just a couple are easily shared…

As has happened to IC kitchens before, and probably will again, we were asked for salt several times by hopeful ritualists. They were met with a sneering “Table or ritual salt”, and if they told us the second, they got table salt, not our precious stock of Maldon.

Anyone asking for a glass was met with a curt “For red, white or water?”. “Water” got them whatever was closest, “red” or “white” got them a wine glass. If you sleep-deprived and watching from a position where you could see the hand reaching for one of our only type of wine glasses, this was quite funny.

I’m truly sorry for anyone we actually offended by being pretty blatantly rude for almost everyone; particularly the crewmember who opened the door and just said “Teaspoon”. OK, they could have been more polite, but it was Sunday of a weekend of hard-graft and I could have just given them a teaspoon rather than enquiring what they wanted it for.

Comments and kindesses…

Some folk have said some good stuff on Facebook. I’m bloody proud of all of it, particularly the last bit.

The food being so good it made me like and enjoy food I normally dislike and eat out of politeness. I know role play and stuff happened and I will froth later, but I have been telling everyone about that because holy shit.

I never forgot to eat at this larp! (I ALWAYS forget to eat at larp at least once)

The food was excellent and plentiful, thank you! Also: the food was excellent as part of the immersive experience, which I for one very much value 🙂

As the chefs and as The Chefs you all excelled. The best food I’ve ever had at a larp, plus such wonderful characters to interact with. Thank you so so much.

I don’t know what to say, except… wow. Just wow.

Your dedication to cooking for us right up until time out on saturday night was incredible. Highlights for me were drinking custard, devils on horseback, the ham, the trifle and the eggs – Oh the eggs! Also a meat-full breakfast on Sunday morning that hit the hangover spot ❤

The food was both triffic and myffic.

And finally…

I think this is my favourite feedback of all –  I’d got as far as “Let’s aim for stunt food they’ll remember”, but no further – the idea the food roleplayed too is very satisfying.

The food was not just amazing (it was amazing) but it also enriched the narrative so, so much. My character’s life choices to suppress her own personality and stay on the right side of the rich and powerful was entirely affirmed by the smell of all the steaming puddings and the sight of the flaming mountain of birds. On the other hand, the reversal of that decision and the change that led to her being crowned Raven Queen started with the frozen fae egg. Thank you so, so much!

Thanks so much to my partners in crime Rupe and Megan, and to Terry and Abi for being so inspiring.

Megan at the doorway, Rupert prepares to pour, and me still relieved the puddings didn’t collapse. © Oliver Facey

7 thoughts on “Strange Food.

Add yours

  1. Reading this from the bottom of the world, just wow. Also, a _brace_ of roasted pineapple! In an age where pineapples were rented as centrepieces, you really were being extravagant.

  2. The food was epic and delicious, the cod ‘French Chef’s’ were hilarious, and the barking at people taken entirely IC. The flaming Devils on Horseback in the drawing room and the drunken midnight sweeties were wonderful.

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