Running a Fighter-Support Field Kitchen
‘The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself” – Proverbs 11:25
What is a Field Kitchen?
As currently done in Calontir, our “Soup Kitchen” is an organization that prepares snacks for consumption before and after battles for our kingdom’s fighters when they attend a foreign war. Our activities include fund-raising, organization of workers, preparing things like jerky and cookies, feeding them to people, and cleaning up the mess.
Our Soup Kitchen developed from Waterbearing activities. Other groups have similar organizations that have different backgrounds or intents. The idea behind ours is that many fighters will refuse to eat breakfast — but they will eat jerky. Whether a fighter ate sensibly in the morning or not they rarely if ever get lunch at a major war, and once they crawl back to camp at the end of the day dinner will be delayed by the natural lust for a shower felt by all tired fighters. Thus the snack before battles and the soup after may be the only food they see between dinner the night before and dinner after their shower. And if not — well, a nice warm cup of salty liquid after physical activity is a Good Thing anyway. This has been upheld by recent studies indicating that chicken soup is better for an athlete than sports drinks — but who wants to dump a pot of soup on the coach?
Assuredly the best effect of our Soup Kitchen has been the reinforcement of the group bond. Over the years our fighters have become trained to come to the Royal Pavilion for soup even if they had come back early to camp and had been resting nicely at their own tent. These group bonding and post-battle discussions are what turns fighters into brothers-at-arms, and armchair tacticians into generals. The archers and non-fighting Support Crew help loll about and slurp soup, and so are absorbed into the Army even more than before. The commanders and Crown can give that unofficial but heart-felt praise that is more precious than peerages, and people can rest among friends. This is the Best Thing.
How to Start Up
First, start with your Waterbearer’s Guild. If you don’t have one, start one immediately, and prepare yourselves for the propositions of marriage (and less honorable things) from grateful fighters. This really should be an official guild with official status and financing, whatever your eventual plans for your Soup Kitchen. Besides the excellent benefits from having a Waterbearer’s Guild for its own sake, this will develop a group of people used to dealing with fighters and hard work in the heat, used to handling modest amounts of equipment and dealing with expenses.
Once your Waterbearers are up and running, initiate them into the fun of feeding orange slices and pickles to the fighters. This is not only great for the fighters; it gets everyone used to the idea of Food, with all attendant hassles and joys. These are usually a Waterbearer expense and matter, if you wind up running your Soup Kitchen as a completely separate entity.
You can progress to other fresh fruits. These do not take much bother although pickles are better chilled and icy cold bananas are a particular hit. You might consider convenience foods such as rolls from the bakery or even delightfully unhealthy snacks like Twinkies. A slightly further step is things like carrot sticks, or Bugs on a Log. (Carrot or celery sticks topped with peanut butter upon which raisins have been decoratively arranged. Very popular with hungry fighters.)
If you have access to a good dehydrator, dried fruit is quite popular, and easier to deal with than fresh. Once you’ve done fruit, you’ll want to try jerky. If you use a good recipe like the one provided below, your fighters will go crazy. If not before, they will react positively now to the idea of fund-raising to continue to support this habit.
Although I mention soup last here, it was actually the first thing we did in Calontir. Because we use a high-quality instant soup for convenience and safety, it is an expensive proposition though not as costly as jerky. As of this writing (Fall 1999) feeding soup to 50 fighters and proportionate Support Crew and by-standers costs about $50.00, and the jerky about $30.00 a bag — they go through 2-3 bags a day. With other expenses, exclusive of instances where you have to buy bottled water, I put the cost of running our Soup Kitchen at its current level at $150.00+ a day for 50 fighters and support personnel. This includes soup, three bags of jerky, pickles, secajabin to drink, dried fruit and sometimes other small snackies. You don’t have to do that right off! It took us a decade to work up to this, and the serious stuff only really kicked in after I started doing fund-raisers to pay for them.
The following feeds up to 50 (on the field) fighters, and about 10 (on the field) support crew. If it is cold, make a pot and a half unless you have serious other food like sandwiches. Take a 20-quart size pot, and fill with 4 gallons of water. Water quality is not greatly important for soup that is brought to boiling, as long as it is safe to drink and not too disgusting to taste. Heat to boiling — or at least until too hot to touch and little bubbles come up from the bottom. Chuck in 24-36 packets of dried soup. (Chicken Noodle is our Army’s absolute favorite.) Stir without ceasing from the moment the first noodle touches water, until the fire is turned off. Chicken Noodle flavor is milky in appearance at first, but will clarify as the noodles approach done. Test by ladling some noodles into a cup and sampling them — do not sample off the ladle or dip your sample cup in the soup, that is gross!Once done, turn off the heat and cover until the Army returns, stirring occasionally. (Underlined directions prevent burnt-on noodles or gooshy starch soup.)
Because a person newly or precariously on the wagon should not be offered anything made with alcohol or the flavor thereof, it is our moral responsibility to make no more than 50% of the jerky with an alcohol-based marinade, and to offer an attractive alternative jerky at the same time as the alcohol-based jerky. Because of this, and possible food allergies, the person handing out the jerky should announce what they have to offer.
(The basis for this position on alcohol in food and the alcoholic is based on information from the University of Kansas Rainbow Alcohol and Drug Rehab Unit obtained in the late 1970’s, backed by two decades of personal experience.)
One gallon-sized ziplock bag, packed fairly full, per 20-25 people. Twenty-five is pushing it. One bag per 15 fighters would be very nice.
Sex Red Wine Jerky
The Calontir Army Standard
adapted from a recipe by Tamara Tysjachyvolosova
(‘sex’ refers to sextuplet the original amount of pepper, ‘red’ refers to the type of pepper and the red wine)
When making jerky, obtain the leanest meat you can get your hands on, and cut it thin — 1/4” or less. I have the luck that my butchers will slice it for me on their machine. Slightly frozen meat is easier to cut thin, if you do not have a friendly butcher. (Keep your butcher friendly — bring them samples, and tip them occasionally. ) Thinner slices dry crisper and keep longer, thicker slices are chewier but harder to dry properly and keep safely. Tamara recommends brisket or flank cuts. I use rump roast, and when I can eye of round. For best preservation, trim off all the fat and ‘ooky bits’ you can, especially if you are taking jerky to a hot war. (I know only two people who like the flavour of rancid fat.)
The following marinade treats 3-5# sliced meat:
1-1/2 cup (12 oz) soy sauce — I use low-salt
1-1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 cup water, beer, or rich red wine — I use port
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
2 heaping teaspoons crushed red peppers
For tastiest results, mix the spices into the wine and steep for a week or so before using.
Put the meat in the marinade. Cover, and refrigerate overnight. As the spices may impart a flavour to plastic, watch what container you use. I have a container that is used for nothing else. Using paper towels or very clean cloth towels you don’t mind staining, blot the bejunders out of the meat strips — the dryer it is, the quicker it will dehydrate, and the less mess in your oven or dehydrator. Lay the meat strips out on the racks, in a single layer with no overlaps. Sprinkle with fresh black pepper if desired.
If you use an oven, line the bottom with foil or you will be very sorry. Set the oven to 140 deg F. Turn the jerky over every 2 hours. It will take 8-12 hours total.
If you have a dehydrator, you will be much happier and make better jerky, as well as avoiding heating up the kitchen. Set to 140 deg F and check every two hours. If you have an air-circulating model you will not have to turn the jerky, and it will go much faster.
The jerky is done when it turns very dark, oil beads up (on cheaper cuts), and it has a leathery flexibility that it will lose as it cools. Gently blot the oil beads with a paper towel, and let cool before putting in a sealed bag or jar. Keep out of excessive heat and light; do not refrigerate, as this will cause condensation when you take it out. It should last 6 months but no one has ever managed to keep any around long enough to find that out!
One tip — beware of possible effects on pets and family members of the spices in the air. They can be highly irritating to eyes and lungs if the jerky is spicy. In the worst case scenario, my father once made a horribly spicy shrimp boil that hurt everyone’s eyes, and within 48 hours both our parakeet and my white mouse were dead.
To make Lemonflepper Jerky, substitute 1-1/2 teaspoons of lemon pepper for the 2t crushed red peppers, and use water instead of red wine in the marinade. This is the our non-alcoholic offering, for those who must or want to avoid even the flavour of alcohol, or who just like lemon pepper.
Fighter Biscuits are not only popular with the Falcon Army, they are served as mundane cocktail party appetizers — I think that is where the recipe originally came from. Their main drawback is the fact that due to the sausage in the mix, they should be kept cold. They also require a lot of arm strength to mix. My records show that 40 fighters used 1-1/2 gallon-sized bags of Fighter Biscuits per day at Pennsic XXV.
Fighter Biscuit Recipe
Andreas of Green Village gave the recipe to Sarra, who gave it to my lady mother Baroness Finola O’Clary who fine-tuned it.
1# Velveeta cheese
1# raw sausage
1#(4 dry cups) Bisquick mix
Mix the ingredients. It is much easier if the sausage is thawed, and the cheese has been softened (not cooked) in a microwave. If this is not possible, kibble the cheese fine and have a strong person help you stir.
Heat the oven to 350 deg F. Mold spoonfuls of the mix into balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets. The biscuits will not expand in cooking, be advised. Cook for 15-17 minutes, or until lightly browned. Watch this until you are used to it. Remove and cool.
This recipe is very salt and cholesterol-heavy. Favorable results have been reported by people using low-sodium Bisquick, turkey sausage etc.
Dried fruit should be made of quality fruits, and dried quickly to prevent unappetizing browning. Peels of low-quality apples become like hard plastic, so pay for the good stuff. ‘Royal Gala’ and ‘Braeburn’ apples are the best I have found for dehydrating, being sweet, thin-skinned enough to not need peeling, and resistant to browning. My records tell me that 40-50 fighters will go through 1/2 of a gallon ziplock bag of fruit chippies — more, if they can dig for pineapple rings. Commercially dried and sweetened banana chips do well — the same number of fighters went through a pound a day. Dried pineapple rings are everyone’s favorite and people will pluck them out of a bag of mixed fruit by pawing past everything else. They are, however, expensive.
Make secajabin from concentrate as follows:
Put an 8# bag of ice in a clean drink cooler. Pour in a liter bottle of secajabin syrup. Take a clean ladle or small canoe paddle and plunge it about vigorously while adding 3-5 gallons of tasty water. It may be necessary to use bottled water. On a hot day, 40-50 fighters and proportionate support crew will drain two fills of a 3-gallon cooler of secajabin, and a jug or two of plain tasty water. On a very cold day one 3# cooler and some plain water will do.
To make sekajabin syrup we use the recipe published in Cariadoc of the Bow’s “Miscellany.” One batch will made about one liter of syrup. Soaking fruit in the vinegar before making the syrup results in a delicious and wildly popular drink Raspberry Vanilla is a really big hit.
Ice is Nice
At hot events, it is rather nice to have a spare cooler that holds a bag or two of ice. The fighters may wish to put it in their drinks or down their shorts. Offer it to them by holding it out and telling them what it is and that they are welcome to have some. Tired fighters may have to be told twice, but once they know what it is they will either refuse, or rip the ice out of your hands like maniacs. It is also handy to have ice available for chilling down pickles and the like. If you are really smart, have some zip-lock bags there, so that the fighters can self-treat little owies. The Chirurgeons will like knowing where ice and bags are too, extremely clever and polite persons would tip them off before the battle that the Soup Kitchen has these things.
On the Flavour of Water
Some people are adversely affected by very mineral-rich water if it is not what they are used to. The rest are wussies. Soup masks most mineral flavours. Secajabin does not do so as well, esp. sulfurous tastes.
It is good to have plenty of jugs of bottles/tasty water at hand before and after the fighting. What the fighters drink on the field is the Waterbearer’s problem.
It does not hurt, when going to a new site, to call the autocrat and check on water quality and ease of availability. Water buffaloes are sometimes over-chlorinated, and quickly grow stale in taste, and hot in temperature.
A Tip or Two on Gatorade
Half-strength Gatorade is the customary dilution; there is some debate about this. Personal preferences on flavours vary; lemon-lime “yak piss” is the usual. Everyone agrees that any flavour that is pale or clear and thus could be mistaken for plain water, is evil. Avoid it.
Ekaterina developed a truly brilliant way to dealing with measuring and mixing that I feel must be recorded for posterity: She obtains sandwich-sized ziplock bags and into each one measures the correct amount of Gatorade powder for a half-strength gallon. This is done in camp long before battle day. When the time comes to mix Gatorade a snip of the scissors in the corner of the bag creates a neat pouring spout for getting the powder in the jug, and not all over creation.
I think it was Sarra of Rockcliffe Manor who developed the trick of running the tubing down the handle of the milk jug to the bottom — this never fails to hold it in place and to keep the tubing from disappearing into the jug.
Orange slices really are closer to a Waterbearer problem, but will be discussed here. You will need a sharp knife and a person who can be trusted to use it, a cutting surface, a container for the sliced oranges and bags to put the discarded peels in — the plastic grocery bags the oranges came in are good for that. I like to use turkey roasters for containers, because they can be thrown away after the battles. If you re-use a container, wash it with the same bleach water used on water tubing. Orange wedges are particularly good for hot and dusty wars, the ultimate example being Estrella War where the grit can remain in one’s teeth for days. Fighters dearly love to bite deep into an orange quarter and then grin bright orange rind grins at each other. You will find peels everywhere, afterward. Wash your hands after picking them up.
Pickles are Your Friend
Especially at dusty wars, fighters love dill pickle spears. We find the minimum to be 1 gallon for 50 fighters, more if it is hotter or dustier than usual. Like oranges, this is an item that is particularly nice served on the battlefield. A new and excellent serving idea is to take a basket with a sturdy handle, line it with plastic and some ice, and put the pickles in that. This is much easier to deal with than a glass gallon jar, and presents a picture that is so much more period and attractive that odes have been written to Pickle Bearers.
The ‘Last Day of the War Eat up Everybody’s Stuff’ Picnic
This is exactly what it says. Especially if the soup pot and stove have to be packed before the battles are over, it can be more convenient on the last day of a war to serve PBJ sandwiches, and whatever everybody has left that they don’t want to throw away or take home. You’d be amazed what people will bring over.
Catering to Individuals
It is impossible to work around an entire Army of people’s quirks and medical histories. I try to keep vegetarian broth cubes around just in case. Offering a variety of munchies and stuff covers many quirks and health situations.
It is so obvious as to be easily overlooked — the worst thing a Support Crew can do is to practice poor hygiene. Neglect of cleanliness could not only incapacitate an Army, it could possibly kill — an unlikely scenario, thank Heaven, but one to remember. The fact that wars are camping events, almost all held on hideously primitive sites, makes matters worse.
Pre-War Prep Work
Jerky and other homemade foods should be prepared and stored in a health-conscious manner (I don’t mean salt and fat grams here, but germs. )All foods must not only be kept germ-free, but must be maintained in safe conditions, as cool and dry as possible. Milk jugs, other containers and equipment should be washed in hot soapy water and dried well before packing even if they were put away clean the summer before.At-War Prep
Wash yourself, of course, is the #1 rule. Even if hand washing is easily available I heartily endorse anti-bacterial wipes for everyone. Support personnel with illnesses should limit their contact with food and Army — there’s never enough help picking up trash after battles, if they feel well enough to do so.
Our Soup Kitchen uses virtually no unprocessed foodstuffs for two reasons: mostly convenience, but also safety. Foods that require on-site prep introduce possibilities for contamination in the preparation. Individually wrapped foods like Twinkies satisfy not only health concerns but also a childish delight in the consumer. Bananas are not only nutritious and tasty, but come pre-wrapped by the Maker. Items like PBJ sandwiches and orange slices should be prepared as safely as possible, covered against bugs until eaten, and you should keep an eye on them anyhow. Uneaten food should be disposed of immediately, in a dumpster.
Hats and aprons are not only fun and funny, they keep you and your garb out of the food. Be sensible; don’t dunk cups in the soup, that sort of thing.
The people in charge invariably find themselves alone at this point unless they have wheedled help. DO NOT pour unused soup into the privy. If no one wants to eat it and you do not have an obvious and reasonable dumpsite, once the soup is cool pour it carefully into a double-bagged trash bag the heaviest strength ones you can find. Take this to the dumpster immediately, lest someone accidentally rips the bag and you wind up with soup all over the place. Yuck.Picking up cups, wrappers etc. is tedious but necessary, and may be the only clean up the camp gets from one day to the next. Take your load of soup cups and beer bottles to the dumpster right away to deter bugs. Don’t forget to wash your hands after cleanup.
Soup pots and utensils should be washed with soapy water –use the leftover hot water that was heated for those vegetarian broth cubes no one wanted. The secajabin coolers should at least be rinsed twice with plenty of water run though the tap to eliminate any sweet taste that might attract ants to climb up the spout. A soap wash would be better than just a rinse. The Waterbearers may be washing tubes and things in weak bleach water at the time you are working, your cleanup crew might work with them and share bleach water. (I daresay they might find it easier to swish tubes in your big drink cooler or soup pot than in a little dishpan. )
Give presents to those who stay and clean up.
We have previously operated with borrowed private gear, which saves the kingdom purchase cost, storage problems, and risks of loss or theft. This does create a problem of figuring out who has what equipment that can be used. An official guild has different problems, but it’s probable that you will still have to borrow stuff.
(Almost every camp will have a stove, and very few will be using it during battle times, so they are easy to borrow. )
It is essential to arrange that any equipment arrive well before needed, and that it not be packed up and taken home until after all usage is complete. People taking charge of transport should be aware of this and make their own arrangements to get stuff home if their personal plans change, but the person in charge of the Field Kitchen at that event must be aware that they might have to pick up and transport items themselves, at no notice at all.
Borrowed gear must be sent home clean.
The Giant Eagle in Butler, PA has in the past ordered the soup for us upon receipt of a credit card number with which to guarantee the purchase. This saves rather a bit of room in transport. Advance ordering at a local store is an idea with a lot of potential.
Soup — The foil inner bags should be removed from the bulky boxes, and put into a 2-gallon ziplock bag, which will nicely hold 24-28 foil packets. Always leave one packet in its box to aid in identifying the contents! This bagging not only cuts bulk but also provides extra water resistance and eliminates on-site counting if you have the foresight to write on the ziplock bag how many packets are inside.
Jerky — Traditionally packed in 1-gallon ziplock bags and labeled as to contents and date of manufacture. Freezer bags are sturdier, and I like to double-bag in 2-gallon bags for extra moisture security and protection. If sending jerky to a war I cannot personally attend I write on each bag which day it should be brought out and served, to prevent all the jerky getting et up the first day. Jerky crushes to a certain extent, and should be cushioned a bit.
Fruit Chippies — Traditionally packed in 1-gallon ziplock bags, then double-bagged. This can be a very crushable product and should be transported in a rigid container.
Food of these types, taken to war, do not have to be brought home, of course, meaning a little extra space in your vehicle for the homeward trip. I like to put them in a ratty plastic laundry basket for transport and storage, then throw the basket away at the end of the event.
Stuff You Buy There
Unless it is a rather short drive from your home to the war, it’s a lot more practical and saves transport space if you run to a grocery store near site to obtain certain items. These are:
foam cups (2 per person per day — always have lots and lots, they’re cheap)
drawstring trash bags, heavy-duty
oranges and/or pickles, if the Waterbearers are not handling these
bottled water only if absolutely necessary
other delightfully unhealthy snacks
makings for Bugs on a Log — peanut butter and raisins on carrot or celery sticks
makings for PBJ sandwiches — 1 loaf sandwich-sliced bread, 1 small jar peanut butter and 1 12-oz bottle of jam make 10 sandwiches. People like these; a sandwich per person is not a bad count for hungry fighters.
You will need to have one place to store all your Kitchen’s gear at the event, so that everyone knows where to drop off donations and find gear. Weather being a problem, unless you have a really big personal pavilion you will eventually need a small tent to keep the food and equipment in until use.For the actual cooking and serving, find a spot that is central and handy. The Royal Pavilion is a natural choice, but if your group uses it for Royalty camping or as a formal court/reception area, you may need to come up with some other sort of shelter. A sun fly is minimal, my experiences ranging from the Estrella desert to the Pennsic mountains is that you should try to have some sort of shelter with sides to keep out sun/blowing rain. You may also have to borrow a table to set up on. Wipe before use, clean before returning it with your profuse thanks.
Get out some trash bags; I like to use drawstring SteelSack trash bags because you can use the drawstring to tie the bag to something as well as to tie it shut, and SteelSacks are the sturdiest on the market. It is a good idea to pick up around the sun fly and adjust sidewalls to maximize nice places for a tired Army to sit and drink soup. Bring your own chair. Once everything is set up and the soup is on, sit down and chat.
Managing a Crew
We are volunteers. Never forget that.
Some will help prepare. Many will offer to serve. I have had to pay people to scrub the soup pot, although asking the assembled fighters for a scrub volunteer usually works. Try to point out extra-hard workers to the Crown. It’s nice to have presents and goodies to give people, beads, fans, and rings being popular. Any little goodies will do if given in the right spirit.
Without the soup and jerky, it is possible to run things out of private pockets, as dried apples and fresh oranges are pretty cheap, and I find that people simply love to donate jars of pickles. However, it’s not quite a Soup Kitchen then, is it?
The minute anyone even mentions money to you, run immediately to your Exchequer, particularly if you are operating as a non-official activity as opposed to an official guild. The Soup Kitchen I run, for example, is a private concern. Being an officially run and funded operation has it’s own advantages; for example some groups can afford to cover certain amounts of expenditures without any fund-raising. Even if that becomes necessary, you then have the entire group to help you do it, and somebody else has to keep track of the results in an account ledger.
Why do We do This?
That is a very good question. I don’t exactly know. It’s expensive, tiring, messy, hot work that keeps you from enjoying anything else at the event. I guess some people are just masochists.
It might be the thank-yous. The Crown often mentions the support crew at court, and the fighters are very well-mannered about remembering to say, “Thanks” — that’s the best. Under great stress some dear misguided souls have gone past the praises and marriage proposals usual for Waterbearers, and committed gross blasphemies of deifying certain Support Crew personnel with rather flowery and extravagant remarks that would have gotten someone burned at the stake in period. They’re so sweet when they do that.
‘Colonel’ Jenna of SouthWind, Pelican, Court Baroncy, QED, Doe’s Grace, Purple Fret, Meridian Majesty, is supposedly a Saxon-Norman lady of 1190’s England dwelling at SouthWind Hall, St. Martin-over-the-mice. A former Ollave Calontir, she is a Jill-of-many-trades-Laurel-of-none.
Janice R. Gaulke, 9114 W 100th Terr Overland Park, KS 66212-4117 JennaSW@aol.com is a theologian who makes a living handling billing for doctor’s offices. She lives in the family commune with The Parental Units and her rocket scientist brother, two dachshunds a whippet and two parrots who all help with Jerky Product Testing, and a number of lovely spotted mice who have a statue of St Martin over their cage.