Outdoor Feast Cookery

by Mistress Rosemounde of Mercia

The most important thing to remember when cooking outdoors is simplicity. This will apply to every aspect of your feast from menu planning to serving.

Menus: Don't have a lot of different dishes. Plan on a few simple foods that everyone will eat and have a lot of them. It is very periosd to have only meat, bread and beer. If you want to do more than that, think about using raw fruits, vegetables and foods that can be prepared in advance and will keep well. Below are two menus I have used.

Menu I
(limited kitchen facilities)
Cooked for 150 people

    Marinated mushrooms
    Celery and carrot sticks
    Side of Beef, basted in herbed wine
    Three Whole Pigs, basted in spiced honey
    Bread
    Stewed Apples
Menu II
(no kitchen)
Cooked for 200 people

    Salad of lettuce, spinach and mushrooms with choice of dressing
    Whole Beef, basted in beer
    Wheel of Cheddar Cheese
    Bread
    Apples and Pears

Setting up the kitchen area:
Pick a spot on high ground with a gentle slope that provides both sun and shade. Mow and/or machete the entire area. Watch out for snakes while you do this and remember to dress appropriately to keep chiggers and ticks out of your clothing. You may wish to "Yard Guard" the entire area to keep down the bugs. If you do, you should not take out any food for at least an hour and never place any food on ground that has been sprayed. Your fire pit should be in an open area with no overhanging branches. Dig it about 2-3 feet deep and encircle it with cinder blocks (you can use big rocks if you can find enough, but they don't work as well). It should be large enough around to easily accommodate the biggest thing you are going to cook. Put your wood pile nearby, and have a water source at hand to quench any fires that might start where you don't want them. Refrigeration can be accomplished easily by digging a pit 1-2 feet deep in a shaded area. Line it with a plastic drop cloth and fill with food and ice. Cover it with another plastic drop cloth. At night be sure to weight the top with rocks to keep out skunks and other nocturnal predators. Your work area should also be shaded, and a covered pavilion, tarp or screen house will make the work far more pleasant. you will need two picnic-sized tables to work on. It is a good idea to have a large vehicle parked near your kitchen. Besides being an emergency vehicle, it is also the best place to store utensils and non-perishable foods. It can be used for thawing foods as well. Lay your frozen foods out on newspapers, and the sun, intensified by the window glass, will thaw them in about half the time.

Important things to remember:
Have a first aid kit redaily available. Do not store anything on the ground overnight as the dew and insects will get into it. Any food which will be out of doors for very long should be i na watertight, airtight container. Keep perishable foods cold by replenishing ice as needed. Once your food is out, do not use chemical warfare against insects. Use a repellent that goes on the skin for personal protection and citronella candles and flyswatters to deter flying insects. Pour boiling water on ant hills. Remember that the smell of food attracts larger beasties as well--skunks, racoons, opossoms and bears will come out at night to be fed. Be on the lookout for them. the first three can be shooed away, but if a bear wants your food, let him have it.

Cooking:
Cooking over an open fire is time consuming. A side of beef takes about 24 hours to cook, and will still be very rare inside. A whole pig will take 8-10 hours and chickens about 4 hours. You do want to cook over a slow fire. One that is hot and blazing will burn the outside of your food while leaving the inside raw and will not reduce the cooking time. Even with a slow fire, your meat will tend to char on the outside. This is all right, it helps seal in the meat juices. Your cooking surface should be sturdy enough to support the food you are cooking. I recommend you make a grate out of heavy re-bar (concrete reinforcing bars: you can purchase them at ready-mix concrete plants or construction supply houses, or you can pick up scraps at construction sites. Remember to ask first!). Lash it together at the intersections with heavy wire. cover this with heavy chicken wire or expanded metal screen and lash it down with wire at even intervals. Lay this on top of your cinder blocks, making sure to leave a section of your pit uncovered so you can add wood to the fire as needed. The fire can be made of wood alone, charcoal alone, or a combination of the two. I have always used just wood with good results. wood used should be primarily hardwood as pine burns too fast, too hot and leaves a resin which affects the taste. Be sure to trim the excess fat off your meats to help avoid fat fires. Be aware that whole pigs catch fire very easily from dripping fat. Do not poke them with forks while they cook and keep them at the proper height from the fire. Pigs should be 2 to 3 feet from the flames, beef does well at 1/2 feet and chickens and other birds are best when spitted and cooked about 1 foot from the heat. Meats must be basted frequently. Every hour for beef and pork and every half-hour for the poultry. If you are doing a side of beef, you will need someone to stay up all night to tend the fire and baste. If you tend your meat carefully and it still catches fire, put it out with water. The fire can then be rekindled and the meat still cooked. Don't worry if you get a lot of smoke during cooking. This usually improves the flavor of the meat although it is unpleasant for the cooks.

Serving:
Keep it simple. Put big platters of food on the tables or serve buffet style. Don't make yourself crazy. People will be pleased and astounded that you have done a feaast under such primative conditions. They wont expect fancy service. Chances are, that if theres' no kitchen, theres' also no hall. If you dont' have an experienced carver in your group, be sure to aske the company where you bought your meat for a carving chart. Most of them have one, especially for cutting up whole sides of meat. Be sure to include several heavy duty knives in your utensils as well as some means of resharpening them.

Sources:


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