Everything Including the Kitchen Sink

First I want to say that I am sorry that it has been over a year since I posted anything. Life has a funny way of saying “You made plans! You’re so cute. Well let’s see about that.” But I also cannot say that I am entirely upset about it. Because this has been a long year of finding new things not just in the world of reenacting but for myself as well. Sometimes the journey of self-discovery is taken by surprise, or it smacks you in the face, then there are those lucky enough to decide they want to go on that journey. And I can honestly tell you this past year has been an accidental journey, one I hadn’t totally planned on or for, and truthfully didn’t want to take because it can be a very scary trip, but one I am so glad I took and am still taking. That is something I think a lot of people don’t realize either, you don’t just take a quick trip to “discover” yourself, it is a constant work in progress, sometimes you make huge leaps and bounds, then there are times you barely move an inch but it is always a trip. Before I get into any more I do want to take a moment to say thank you to all those who have helped me on this, they all know who they are so I won’t sound like someone who just won an Oscar for best comedic performance in a movie. But still from the bottom of my heart and soul, thank you.

As you all know I love 18th century cooking. The mystery of deciphering a recipe, and what they mean by enough flour to make a paste, size of what kind of egg, and is that even a real ingredient? Then the attempt to recreate it and hoping you are doing it right and as close to how it should be. The mistakes at times can be frustrating, but most times I find myself laughing at how spectacularly they fail, and yes even as I laugh I’m still frustrated. I’ll never get tired of the joy I have when something actually works and seeing the happy faces of those who share it with me, and the family that has created.

This year I was determined to do more than simply rummage through the index pages looking for names of recipes that sounded interesting, flipping through dozens of books. No this year I was actually going to sit down and read the cookbook and chose my recipes that way. And honestly I did and a whole new world opened to me. I didn’t make it out of “The English Art of Cookery” by Richard Briggs, and at first I thought I should be disappointed in that, surely I should have made it out right? No not really. Reading all those pages, combing through the recipes and actually reading them, and sometimes rereading them two, four, or even seven times to actually grasp what they are trying to say is hard almost as hard as actually doing the cooking. I learned why sometimes my recipes don’t actually work, or why my pancake batter is always so lumpy, yeah actually reading the instructions help, like I’m supposed to let it sit at least 2 hours before cooking so those lumps disappear. And guess what? They do and the batter and end product are so much better, so yeah, actually read the whole recipe, note to self.

My first step in discovering myself doing this, planning for 20+ camps (no I didn’t do all of them had to take two off, I was just too exhausted to do it. And yes I’m doing all 20+ next year), was actually reading the cookbook. Yes I know I just repeated myself, hear me out, and put up with it for a minute. By reading the book, I didn’t just figure out why something didn’t work. But, I got a glimpse a better glimpse into what a middle and upper class woman had to go through daily. Because tucked in the recipes and in between them are recipes for medicines, household cleaning solutions, dying tips, how to run a “proper” household. Cooking although a large part of life for a woman in charge of house it was a very small part, saying it during a demo is one thing, but finally actually understanding and seeing it is something completely different.

I wanted to know more about daily life outside the kitchen for women. Knowing what they do, and actually learning it and trying to put it to practice is something completely different and quiet humbling. I found that reading and using the recipes weren’t enough anymore. I needed more; I needed to know more, do more. I wanted to actually follow in those women’s footsteps, do what they did, live like they did, and not just for a weekend, although sometimes that is all I can do. There is more to them than standing over a fire, and feeding children. I knew that, but now I truly know that and it has started me on a new path, it is no longer just cooking for me, but I’ve added housewifery, which for me is everything outside the kitchen. Things that every young girl would learn from her mother, who learned from hers, and so on down the line, and would continue to teach their daughters. Learning things other than ingredients and the process of cooking, well it is a lot slower than waiting on a chicken to roast over an open fire. And not one I can say I accomplished in a year and am portraying completely now. Am I trying? Sure, but there is no way for me to learn what these women learned in a lifetime, because they literally never stopped learning even as they came west they had to adapt to their new life and new things around them.

Adapting is something I always thought I was good at. And that is the key I thought I was. This year not only did I move past the kitchen sink and add to it, but I added to me as well. This was my first year doing camps on my own. Yes you read right, I am setting up a wall tent and a whole kitchen, fire pit and hearth by myself. Then cooking all weekend, and then tearing it down and driving often times 4+ hours home. Sound daunting? Well it was for my first camp and even the second and third. But at my first camp, it rained a lot, and I felt like I had to prove to everyone that I could do it all on my own, I didn’t need help. Because if I ask for help then, 1. No one will believe that I can do it if I ask for help, 2. I have to prove I can, 3. I’m strong enough I don’t need help, 4. As a woman I have to prove I don’t need help because I have to prove I’m strong enough to do it. In truth, yes I proved it, but I didn’t need to and I learned that by the end of that camp. I know I can do it, those around me know I can do it, so why do I have to prove it? If I’m offered help I say yes, hey why work harder? It is one less thing I have to take down, one less thing stacked next to the trailer, on less step I have to take. I no longer have to prove anything to anyone but myself. And I know I can do it, but now I need to prove to myself that I am capable of admitting when I need help, and allowing someone to do it. Not an easy admission but after the first “Yes I could use the help thank you,” the next one was easier, and now I don’t think twice about excepting help from someone.

I will admit my first night by myself was miserable. For one thing I was soaking wet, (which is why you always bring extra modern clothes for tear down and set up if there is even a possibility of rain, I know it means more stuff to pack but you’ll thank me later) and cold because I couldn’t get a fire started because everything was soaked. I cried that first night, and literally contemplated tearing down in the dark and heading home and just plain quitting. But in the midst of my epic misery, I couldn’t help but think about all the women who had come before me. Those women who had lost husbands, other family members, who only had a tent, and their few belongings and maybe children, who had to set up by themselves, in the rain, no fire, children crying cause they were cold and hungry. They didn’t give up, sure they probably cried like I did, curled up in a ball cold, and wished it was different, to have someone there to help them. They didn’t give up so why should I? I didn’t, I changed, managed to get my brazier sorta started and cooked a hotdog on it, then went to bed buried under at least three wool blankets. I decided it wasn’t supposed to rain the next day, I could at least make it overnight and see if things looked better in the morning before I made any decisions. It was now my stubbornness that wasn’t letting me quit, and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I’m glad I did that. Because the next morning was bright and sunny, I managed to get a fire cook breakfast, hang up my modern clothes to dry and finish setting up. Granted other than that the first night when most of my friends weren’t there was a little awkward, and lonely. I’m used to being able to talk to someone, usually dad if we are the only ones setting up early, or at least know a dozen or so people there. I knew no one and had no one. But as people started showing up, my fire was going, I felt better. That weekend was a blast, I met so many people made so many friends, lifelong friends, that I cannot wait to see again and never feel like we left off. I’m glad I pulled on my Irish and stayed, and I hope that I made my grandmothers proud by not giving up, they didn’t so why should I?

By the second camp that I stayed at by myself, the first night when some people are still setting up or haven’t arrived yet, the loneliness was nice. The quiet, the sitting watching the sun go down and the summer night sky appearing. Then as people got done setting up they’d come and visit, it was nice. We sat relaxed, traded stories of what has gone on since last we met. But I have found doing camps by myself not so lonely. The first night if no one is there, I’m good with that; the quiet is nice before the craziness of the weekend ensues with the public. Then when everyone shows up the next day I’m ready to spend it with them, I want to talk, I want to visit, and if no one does I’m good with that too. I’ve become comfortable enough with myself that I’m good being alone, just like I’m great being with everyone. I love seeing friends I haven’t seen since October, catching up, laughing, crying, telling stories or sometimes just sitting next to the fire together without saying a word until we both realize it is way later than we though and we really need to get to bed. Those are my favorite times at camps, the nights when everyone is relaxing and visiting, and the early mornings when only a few of us are up, and those who are, are searching for hot coffee and maybe something to eat. It’s those quiet times I love and cherish the most.

I help with an event in the summer, and always before this year, I’ve always felt timid, I had to ask for approval, stay quiet and timid and hide that I know or can do something. I never wanted to upset anyone, never wanted to step on any ones toes, appear conceded or like I know everything. Something changed this year. I found a piece of me that I thought I had allowed others to kill, my confidence and courage was barely there if at all. This year I took a giant leap of faith and stepped out saying I can, I will, I know how. I did it, I stood on my own two feet, no net to catch me, no back up. On my own. Was I scared, oh hell yes, did I probably over think things, yeah that’s me, I’m getting better at it. But I found that courage, that voice to stand up for myself, that part that is hard to describe that I can, I will, I did, and will continue to. I found my voice, I found it was alright to say no, to stick up for myself, to defend those I care about and love, to tell someone to stop and back off. It isn’t causing trouble, it is about respect, I decided I deserved it and I was going to get it because I have sure as hell earned it. I am capable, I know how to do something why am I afraid to say so? Does it help the group? Can I help someone within the group? Then why am I sitting silently wishing I’d stepped up? I’m 34, and proud of it, that is 34 years of hard work, hard knocks, learning curves, tough choices, tough breaks, disappointments, broken hearts, and wonderful achievements. So why am I allowing it to stop me?

That piece of me I though was gone came roaring back to life, it may have started out at the first camp like a soft meow of a kitten, but that week it came roaring out like a lion. And it still is there. I have learned to temper it, and adding to the whole age thing, I think it is because of that. Yes I may still be “young” to some, but life has a way of making us much more wiser and mature than are actual physical age. I’ve learned how to say something with a smile that encompasses everything without being cruel or rude, but you know where I stand. I’ve learned not to react right away, cool off, think about it, face it head on but with grace and facts not feelings. While gut reactions are great and often we have to follow our gut feelings, sometimes we do need to take a minute and think before reacting. I’ve learned when to do that and when not to. I’ve learned how to defend those I love, when to allow the Irish come out in full force, and say you hurt someone I care for hell hath no fury like what you’re about to feel. I’ve learned it is okay to say I need help; it is okay to have an opinion even if it isn’t popular, to decide to prove someone wrong because I know I am right. To tell someone stop, this is a boundary and you can’t follow it well then we are going to have to reassess our relationship. It’s not being mean, or the other word that rhymes with witch, every person has this right, and we need to be teaching our children, our young woman that it is okay to do this. Do I still struggle with it? Well yeah of course I do. Do I still overthink things? Yes I do ask some of my close friends, I tend to apologize a few too many times because I worry about it. But good friends will help you learn you don’t have to, they’ll tell you if you’ve done something, they’ll forgive and move on. They’ll hold you up when you are struggling. They may tease you about it, but they will also hold you when you cry about it.

Because of that event, I’m no longer afraid to ask questions, ask for help, to stand up for myself. I want to learn something then I’m finding someone who can teach me and I’m gonna do the best I can at it. I haven’t thrown a tomahawk in years, I decided since I’m doing a trek later this year I need to learn I want to learn. It is a skill that frontier women would have had, how to use it in all ways. So I was and am determined to do it, be good at it or at least as good as I can be. Will I win prizes for it? Don’t know, would be fun, but that isn’t my ultimate goal, I just want to learn how to do it. Like my father is teaching me how to shoot a flintlock rifle, no I don’t have my own yet, (that is what paid demo’s are for and yes I’m starting to do those and that is a wonderful feeling), but it is something they would have been really good at. I want to learn things so I know how to do it, not because I have to prove anything, but I can’t always rely on someone being there to help me, and I know that most of this the women would have known. So to be as close to them as possible it is time I start getting into the harder work, the knitty gritty of frontier life. My goal no longer is just the cooking, but what did they have to go through every day outside the kitchen. Will I give up the cooking, not gonna happen I love it too much to do that. But I am working on adding everything else to the cooking, the knowledge these women had would put any 6 degreed doctoral student to shame. Why am I cutting a small section out? Well because that was what interested me first, and now, now I’m expanding like the frontier before them.

To better understand the cooking and how it is and was done, I need to understand the women who had to do it, and the only way to do that is to try and fully understand how they lived, what they knew, what they had to do. But for me to do that, I had to find that missing piece, and over the year to that one event, small little pieces fell into place, small pebbles of a foundation till the corner stone of it all came into place. Now I am building off of that. Will it be big pieces? Who knows maybe, may be smaller stones that continue to build me, then again it could be pieces in all different sizes. Either way, more than a kitchen sink helped me to here. Finding my first connection to my past, food, helped me find more connections, helped me grow closer to those women, and to myself. And by doing that, my relationships have grown stronger, I’m closer to my parents and in a new way, I have stronger friendships than ever before, I’m willing to make new friends and not sit in camp and let people come to me. I’m willing to step out, drag others with me, and say why not it will be fun! I enjoy trying something new, putting myself out there, learning something new, adding to what I already know, taking joy again in the small things. Being proud of my own accomplishments, being even prouder of those around me. Things I thought I needed I don’t anymore, because I’m not trying to fill that space that was missing, because I found it. My perspective on a lot of things have changed, I’m comfortable with me, with where I am and where I want to go. My voice matters just as much as the next person, will it always get heard no, but I’m ok with that, will it cause issues? I’m sure it will, it’s bound to happen. But you know what fine, perhaps I need to learn something.

This past year has taught me, that I’m still growing, my self-discovery journey will never truly be done, but I have found a large portion of me that wasn’t gone. Just buried and hidden because I was too afraid to even think I had the right to let it out. It’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to ask for help. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone but myself. And if I know I can do it why am I punishing myself by forcing myself to always do it. Let someone help. I am my own person, I am strong enough, I am courageous and I have a voice. I can stand on my own two feet, will I always be right, uh no and I don’t want to. But I have the right to say no, I have the right to set boundaries, I have the right to be a strong willed woman, I have the right to a lot of things. My courage has appeared, granted I still have a lot to learn, but. I am more connected to those women I so long to honor and respect, and I hope I am making them proud with what I am learning about myself and pushing myself to do. If I don’t know how to do it, if I can’t well I’m making myself do it. I have learned I am so much more, I am worth so much. I am worth and can do so much more than just a kitchen sink.

Heat, Rain, Humidity, and wait what do you mean my pies won’t fry again?

Hi all. Sorry it has taken so long to write something. But between a string of camps one right after the other and coming down with a serious infection after I’ve been a little bit out of commission so I apologize. First and foremost thank you for sticking with me through this adventure. I am looking forward to going on with it and seeing where it takes all of us. Second I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season.

Now, camps are done and yes we are already beginning to plan which ones we will be returning to and which ones we are going to try for the first time this year. And since we have fixed our car so many times this year we should be able to make all of them without car trouble (fingers crossed prayers said). I will once again post where we are going and when once we have it figured out and have confirmation we have been accepted to them.

I want to take this first official post after camps to discuss the realities of what camping in a year can be like. And I will be the first to admit I put some high expectations not just on the camps but on myself and reality bit and bit hard on me this year. Like we’ve talked about before I make a menu of many items that I want to make over a weekend. And this year was no different and I had quite a long list for every weekend. And not all the items were easy, I wanted to push myself hard this year by making things that were well out of my comfort zone and complicated. All I can say is I was successful there. I pushed myself out and well spectacularly swan dived and belly flopped into the deep end all at the same time.

I had promised a number of people who had tried my fried apple pies before that I would have a trough full of them and they could take all they wanted until they were gone. Well that trough staid relatively empty and not because people were eating them, no that makes me a very happy person when that is done. No it staid empty because of the heat and humidity destroyed my pie dough. I did manage to make some pies for those I had promised their own individual bowls full of, but much past that yeah didn’t happen.

Let me put it into perspective here. By ten in the morning on many camps it was already about 90 degrees or at least felt like it and the air was so humid you could cut it with a knife. Another way to demonstrate it is, in fact when I went to remove my rolled out dough from the cutting board the butter had already melted out of the paste and onto the cutting board leaving a really weird feeling grainy dough in my hands. It didn’t fry it fell to pieces almost like it exploded in the hot oil. So needless to say I took some pleasure in watching the dough slowly burn in my fire. And in the interest of complete honesty there were quite a few tears involved because I couldn’t produce like I had promised. I hate when I cannot keep a promise, everyone at camp was so understanding and fine with it. But I was not and truthfully I went from being in tears to plain angry. I ended up making a good portion of them at night and early and I do mean early in the morning so they would fry. But once the sun came up it was all over. I am hoping now that camp season is over to try a few fixes for heat and humidity and I will most definitely tell all of you about it as soon as I know if it works. But my point is, things happen, and as frustrated as I was (on oh so many things more than just camp), people understand. Take a breathe it will be fine, and I can say that because there were times I had to literally walk away from camp just to collect myself and put myself in a better mood to continue. Like I said 2018 really kicked my butt, this year I am kicking back.

As much as I am glad for gaining a reputation as a good cook especially with my fried pies and donuts. This year I wanted to push myself beyond frying and well beyond my comfort zone. And I can proudly say I did and sadly I didn’t. I tried many new recipes to great success like Lamb and Rice, Autumn Succotash both of which were a huge success along with the spinoff of the Lamb which was Spaetzle in a gravy with chicken. But there were weekends that by Sunday I was so hot and tired I couldn’t do more than throw a chunk of meat onto the spit and sit down. DO NOT feel bad if it comes to that, if someone doesn’t like it they don’t have to eat. Or better yet make them cook in 85+ degree weather and see how long they last.

There was one event we did and I won’t say which because it wasn’t the planners fault, was just plain miserable (ok so there were a couple like all 10 that were like that). That on the last day I walked around in my shift, stays, and petticoat. Truthfully by the end of that event most of the women had stripped down to that and were going barefoot, then again the ground was so hot it hurt to walk barefoot, but you couldn’t wear shoes or moccasins either because it was just plain to hot. I thought that weekend I had been taking care of myself. Drinking plenty of fluids, not just water, but ice tea and lemonade as well to keep hydrated, even had sports drinks hidden in my tent and sometimes we’d pour that into our period correct mugs trying to help. But even with drinking literally gallons on Friday, and more on Saturday, on Sunday I was seriously dehydrated and sick. Food was not an option for me, I wasn’t sweating, I couldn’t cool off. No matter how much I drank it wasn’t enough. So my family pumped me full of lemonade heavy on the ice to try and help. We went out to the food vendors that day. I just could not do it. I made the decision even though I had so much I wanted to accomplish that day and I would have been able to, I physically could not do it, so I didn’t. I took my neckerchief and soaked it in a bucket of clean water and kept it around my neck I was done for the weekend.

I did do a little baking that weekend. With the heat and humidity it was a great to get dough to rise and do it quickly. The cast iron bake kettle stayed hot longer because of the sun and heat which again worked in my favor. But beyond baking I didn’t cook. In fact that weekend we ate the leftovers for dinner and at vendors for lunch. Why am I telling you this? Well it is an important example of no matter where you are, what you are doing, you need to listen to your body and do what it is telling you. You are more important than making sure you are cooking all day, or weaving, or whatever it may be. If you are exhausted stop, take a nap, go to bed early whatever you need. If you are hot like I was, stop find a way to cool down, walk through a creek (more on that in a minute), do what you have to to cool off no one minds, they will be more worried about you than anything else. Do NOT let anyone make you feel bad for needing to take care of yourself. Even if that means not coming to an event because you are sick, going to an event sick only makes it worse (yes I’m speaking from experience), you’ll be miserable and that makes everyone else miserable for you too. And you’ll miss out on the joy of that camp, and instead of  remembering it as an amazing time it will become remembered as the time you were so sick you couldn’t breathe through your nose and sounded like you were coughing up a lung (no not me I had a major sinus ear infection combo not fun but you get the point).

Which leads to another important point. An arguing point so to speak between me and my family is me leaving camp to do things I want to. One I stay at camp because there is so much I want to do and I promise people that I’m making this or that and I want to produce. I am kindly reminded by not just by my family but everyone around me not to kill myself trying to get to much done that I can’t enjoy the event. I’m learning that, if something doesn’t get done it doesn’t get done oh well, there is either the next event or next year either or. I’ve been making sure to walk away from the tent at least once a day during the weekend. Whether that is to shop, and trust me plan well for that because there is so much at a lot of these events like Feast of the Huntersmoon. We didn’t even finish going through vendors at that event actually we only went through a quarter of them. Word of advice if an event has a map of vendors, keep it, use it, mark those you’ve been to, or where you want to go back to look at later on. Or to visit friends I have made during these events and I don’t get to see but once or twice a year. I’ve done that and I will tell you it helps with a lot of things. I don’t feel so pressured to get things done, I enjoy myself better, and I’m taking care of me getting the rest and fun I so crave when I attend these events.

At the Grist Mill in Loudon Ohio I did just that. I wanted to walk the path behind our tent so bad (see my instagram page under the same name as the blog), I finally said goodbye to the family and took off. The only reason I didn’t go very far was once again it was so hot and I hadn’t taken care of myself well enough that weekend to go straight up for most of the mile and a half trail. However, this year will be a different outcome. But that is not the point. I did cross the creek, which was deeper than it looked, slipped and almost fell in much to the enjoyment of some young boys watching my misadventures of finding out what it was like to cross the creek without aid of a bridge. Now I know what it is like to cross with multiple petticoats and how much they can weigh you down, and how easily it could be for a woman to drown if she were not careful. Course it’s me and anyone who knows me knows I am not always the most graceful but that’s not the point. I learned something and had fun, even though I didn’t reach my goal it was still fun. And the creek was nice and cool too took most of the day for my petticoats to dry which helped keep me cool too. Yes it is ok to laugh at me thinking of arms and legs going all kinds of directions as I try not to fall completely under the water which is where I was going. Luckily I had left my cell phone at camp so I didn’t have to worry about it getting wet.

Heat and humidity is a combatant when it comes to camping in the summer it is just something that you have to come to terms with. So is rain, snow, sleet any kind of weather. We’ve this year had more rain than not, and all but two of our ten camps we actually got to attend the heat was over 85 degrees. And only one did not have rain at some time that weekend either. I had a nice tan all summer long, even with trying to remember to put on sunscreen. And I did amend a suggestion on wearing pants when setting up. Wear shorts when it is super hot, just make sure they are shorts that are work shorts that can get covered in all kinds of yuck, or torn when they get caught on something. I know this year there were times I could only wash my hair but it made me feel semi human and clean which helped. So wear shorts if you want or pants but just be smart about how your body will handle the heat and such.

Let me put it this way even the bugs tended to stay away from us as well, partially because we smelled that bad and because of a vinegar concoction I made. I made Violet Vinegar. Look up if you want recipes for violet vinegar it is a great recipe and vinegar recipes go way back. You’ll have to make it in early spring and I suggest if you have a source for a lot of violets make a bunch of the stuff. It helps with sun burn, bug bites, cleaning your hair during events or after (the build up that happens from shampoo), and most importantly to clean off things. I scrubbed down my working table and my bucket bench where I store food and spices. I did this everyday of events and I didn’t have bugs, mostly ants invading my cooking space. I even did the table and flies for the most part stayed away. It sounds like something so easy and a bit silly to some, but for someone like me who hates and is scared of many eight legged creatures, and when it is hot and you’re cranky it is something that gives you a feeling of control and accomplishment to keep them away. And it keeps them out of your food. It is an easy recipe. Take whatever sized jar you want to use, and fill it about ¾ full of nice clean unbruised violet flower heads and pour over cider vinegar, they will quickly shrink in size, put a lid on it. Let sit about twelve hours shake a little and see if you like it. The vinegar will turn an amazing purple after about 12-24 hours. I leave mine in longer you don’t have to. The violets will start to lose their color and that is fine. Drain out the vinegar through a fine sieve into another bowl, and then pour the strained vinegar back into the original jar. I use a plastic reusable lid that you can find at places like Wal-Mart because the vinegar will make the metal lid begin to degrade. Store the vinegar in a dark cool place like a closet. It can be used like I mentioned above or in vinaigrette it is so good. Then take the violet heads and put them in your compost pile. Done. You can also do it with roses, and red buds as well, I’ve also heard of lavender vinegar, or use any herb that you like the smell of. Try them all they are great. After a few months your vinegar will lose any color it had obtained, but it is still good to use. I take mine to camp and leave it in my tent in the original jar and bring it out after hours to do a quick clean up.

If this year has taught me anything it is just to go with the flow. If I wasn’t soaking wet because I was sweating I was soaked because it was raining. Everything we have had a layer of mud on it somewhere at some point in time. I finally gave up trying to get it off the canvas of the tents. It looks lived in now. Even with my tent flooding during a camp, and having to tear down at another only hours after setting up because the creek we were near was rising too fast to be safe I wouldn’t change a thing. I am putting myself through it again this year and I cannot wait. Please do not let one bad camp, experience, day, or year ruin your joy of doing something. There is always the next time, the next camp, trust me when it is all said and done you will look back at the year and get a good laugh at it and say “remember when we survived —?” It may at the time seem like the worst thing on earth, but remember when you are looking back at it, you survived it, you were stronger than you thought, and now you can do anything. Safe travels.

 

Something Old, Something New, Something Blue

Sorry about not writing sooner everyone, with camps starting, and our car deciding not to work, three times, things have been a bit crazy. First I want to say a huge shout out to everyone at Auglaize Village in Defiance Ohio. Their event in May was so wonderful and a great way to start out the year. They also were a great help when our car suddenly decided not to start. They let us stay an extra day to get the car fixed. If you get a chance next year you really need to go to their event as it was wonderful. They even provided free bath water around the tents by ordering two whole days of rain. But even that couldn’t ruin our fun. Another shout out to Ralph Arms and the Wolf Creek Grist Mill for a beautiful event the other weekend, I cannot wait to return next year a beautiful event in beautiful country.

So now that camps have started, I have also started a list of things we need to bring with us each time. Many of them, as you will quickly find, (ok all) are not exactly historically correct but are very, very, necessary. Remember, you don’t have to get the same brand that I have, get what you like or works the best on you.

And before anyone says something, yes, I know I’m taking a break from recipes for this week’s post. I have to sort through pictures of a lot of things I made over the past couple of weeks. Some were at camp and others were at home. I know, I actually took my own advice and tried something at home first before doing it at camp. To me many of these items I am listing are very important. Even if you have already started your camping for the year you can still add these to your necessary items. You may have to hide them in your tent that is fine I do, but I always have them with me.

The most important thing you need no matter what you do at a living history event is a first aid kit. You can easily buy a first aid kit from your local store (i.e. Walmart, Meijer, Kroger, etc.). Or you can make your own. I made my own. If you are prone to accidents like cutting yourself, or setting yourself on fire (like I am), make your own. It can be a bit pricey when you compare a pre-made to buying each individual item by itself. But, when you look at the amount of bandages in a pre-made first aid kit you will find eventually you are going to have to buy more, so just start with the more. Another reason I like the make your own version is I have food allergies. This way I can pack what I need, how I need it. If I come into contact with something I cannot have, my family knows where my meds are right away. Also by doing this, I can decide what I want in my kit. I don’t need finger splints (well maybe I should), but I do need ACE bandages. I have two sizes, big for dad and a smaller one for my mom. I can use either but I at least have choices. It works the same with Band-Aids. I got a lot of knuckle Band-Aids cause of dad’s woodworking. He is always knarking his knuckles. No first aid kit I saw had those in it. I also loaded up on burn cream, hard to believe but yes I do tend to burn myself quiet often! You know how it goes when you cook. And with learning how to start a fire with flint and steel you are bound to cut yourself and burn your fingers a few times. Or in my father’s case your foot. Let me explain. I had made a nice pile of kindling to get my fire going and he unknowingly stuck his foot in it while digging a pit for baking.  I drop my burning birds nest in and nearly burned his foot. Yes I’m still a little upset about that one but at least I got my fire going. Oh, he also singed off his eyebrows while helping me move hot oil over a fire! I over filled the pot (sorry it happens to all of us) and it splashed over. Luckily he wasn’t hurt, other than he was missing half his eyebrows and eyelashes! (shrug) They grew back. Over the counter painkillers ( i.e. Motrin, Tylenol, etc.) usually do not come in the first aid kits, and you cannot guarantee where you are going will have travel packs in a gift shop . You can buy any size you want to put in your first aid kit or carry in a pocket. You might not have a headache at the beginning of camp but those kind of pesky things have a way of suddenly appearing and ruining your time. They are also great for sprains or just the aches and pains of doing things you aren’t used to. If you have allergies bring those meds along too as you never know when may need them. I always like to carry Benadryl because I have a serious food allergy (red dyes and they are in everything from shampoo to cake icing and everything in between) but they can help with just regular allergies. Just don’t take it if you are handling machinery (yes that includes blacksmithing, or large animals). Benadryl knocks me out so I would let someone know you’re taking it first. Just because you’re at a camp don’t assume that whatever triggers an allergy attack, whether it is normal seasonal allergies or a food allergy, will not be there. You are coming into contact with all kinds of people from all over and not everyone can remember what you are allergic too. I know these sounds like common sense, but as someone with an allergy can tell you, you can be lulled into a false sense of security because it is a period correct event. Not always true. Food vendors, even period correct ones, may not be able to procure a certain food item and have to improvise and by improvising you run the chance of coming into contact with the item you shouldn’t. Trust me aphalactic shock is not something you want to experience in the backwoods. It can be scary enough at the local restaurant let alone thirty to forty minutes from the nearest hospital and no doctor on the grounds (my luck that would happen).

This brings up something else. If you take regular prescriptions at regular times, you can buy little pill containers to help organize them. I say this instead of one of those dispensers you can buy that have the week printed on them for a simple reason, safety. Those dispensers are great for at home use, but during travel too much can happen. A lid can be knocked opened easily and next thing you know all your pills are mixed and you have no idea what is what. There are little screw top pill containers that usually have screw on lids. Which makes it difficult to open sometimes even on a good day but they protect your prescriptions better in your first aid kit. I store mine in a zip top bag so they are all together. You may even want to consider packing a list with them of the items and the milligrams of each pill so, heaven forbid something would happen, you have all you need right there. And make sure to let those you are camping with, especially family, know if you are starting a new script just in case you have an allergic reaction. I had a sinus infection last year at a camp, having gone to my doctor before we left I started the script like I was supposed to. Half way through camp I started to get sick and have a reaction. Granted I couldn’t get a hold of my doctor but I knew enough to stop taking my meds, and because I had let someone else know (my parents) they were able to help me keep track of my reaction and get me the help I need (which amounted to a lot of water and a ton of Benadryl). Better safe than sorry. And do NOT be embarrassed to admit you are having a reaction to something, no one minds, and they only care about making sure you are alright. It is not an imposition, a problem, or being over dramatic, it is serious and can be quiet scary. Do not ignore any reaction or feeling off or something doesn’t feel right. This is your life we are talking about, camp or not, reenacting or not, you come first! Never feel bad for leaving, or saying something. If you have to go home, go home. If you can’t come don’t. Your life is worth more than a day out in the sun. You can always come again next year, but YOU come first.

Next bug spray. Get the kind with Deet in it. You will find that at camp you have to get comfortable with bugs being everywhere. However, you do need to protect yourself from things like Ticks. Please do not get me started on how creepy and nasty they are. I’m already shivering remembering the time I had one on me. Yuck! Seriously, get some spray! If you are going to be near a fire, spray it while you are getting dressed AWAY from the open flame. It gives it time to dry before you get to close to any flames. It is flammable and can ignite and burn on your skin if still wet. There are also products out there that you can get for your clothes and tenting. They contain Permethrin. Buy it. We are as soon as I find it; we are dousing all clothing and tents. Before you do douse your tent call the company to make sure it won’t hurt your tent. We have since found out that it will destroy the water proofing so we aren’t doing our tents, but each company is different and if you have a guarantee it may end that guarantee so check first. I didn’t use bug spray one time, and couldn’t wear my stockings for the weekend because I had so many bug bites. I haven’t made that mistake since. Yes the wood smoke helps but not enough. Oh, flies and such, you just have come to terms with the fact they are there and you can’t do anything about it. However, if any of you find a cure for them, that is natural (not traps or tapes), that I could potentially pass of as “historically correct” please share the information. I would be so grateful. The bugs are just annoying, period!

I have been told that if you make lavender vinegar it will help keep away pesky mosquitoes and smells better than the bug spray you buy at the store. I have not tried this so I cannot comment on its ability to work. I did however make violet vinegar (it has many uses) and washed down my tables and anything that was going to come in contact with food, and I didn’t have to worry about ants. I did have to do it each morning, but you know what, I don’t care one less bug I have to bother with and it isn’t harmful to the environment at all and it actually smells nice too!

The next few go hand in hand. Sunscreen, to keep from getting sun burnt. Trust me, setting up, tear down, just the whole weekend, you are out in the sun constantly. Even with a neckerchief around your neck (yes it can be bulky sometimes) to protect you from sun (yes it works I wear one and no it doesn’t make you any hotter), you will still burn elsewhere. I usually forget to wear it, but I make sure others do. Sunburn can easily ruin a weekend. Also buy a chapstick that has SPF in it. Burt’s Bees just came out with one and I love the stuff. Of course any chap stick would work so buy what you like. On that note also get a good lotion, even if you use sunscreen your skin will dry out. Over a fire, in a lot of hot water, you will find your skin will dry out. I use it quiet often throughout the day. I like to use Burt’s Bees Farmers Friend. It comes in a metal tin which is a win win. Once the tin is empty you can burn off the logo and you have a new tin for fire kits or spices whatever you need.

Now this might sound strange especially since most camps are in the summer. Wear jeans for set up and tear down. Yes I know you will be really hot but wear a tank top and put on sunscreen. You do not want to spend the weekend with poison ivy on your legs as it is worse than bug bites. Again trust me on this. You never know when you arrive at an event whether or not there is poison ivy where you will camp. Sometimes you don’t see it if it’s been recently mowed and  many will have it somewhere. Jeans also help protect from bug bites. I would rather be slightly uncomfortable for a short time than miserable all weekend long itching.

Now this is also going to sound like just common sense, WEAR TENNIS SHOES OR WORK BOOTS people! Yes I know roll your eyes. Who wouldn’t do that? Right? Trust me plenty of people wear flip flops, sandals, or they go bare footed. Ok yes that is more comfortable after a five hour drive, and the thirty or so minutes it takes to get signed in and find your camping site. But remember, sharp items (tent stakes and such), heavy objects, so on. To be comfortable go bare foot on your trip to your event and put your shoes on when you get there. I speak from being at an event and having a metal tent steak break and fly across my foot. If I didn’t have my shoes on I could have been hurt. Also I’ve hit my foot with a hammer. Yeah I got a bruise but not as bad as it would have been if I didn’t have shoes on. Yes common sense, but we all know how well common sense is being used out there.

Make sure to take regular toiletries. Yes, soap, towels, washcloths, shampoo, toothbrushes, etc, etc, oh yeah and actual toilet paper. Yes toilet paper! You never know when you will only have access to Port-a-Pots, and not always will they be stocked with toilet paper. I usually take packets of travel tissues as they are easy to hide in your pocket. Hand sanitizer is a must also. Can’t guarantee you’ll get soap but sanitizer you can take with you to the Port-a-Pots. It is easy to buy travel size of just about anything you need. You cannot guarantee every camp has a shower so be prepared to heat up water and wash with that. Course many people don’t even bother with it as by the end of an event we all smell the same so no one cares. But, every once and awhile you go to a camp that you simply just need to be clean, especially if it is one of those really hot humid ones, and you just want to feel slightly less nasty. String a clothesline in your tent to dry your washcloth and towels. You can also buy one of those mesh washing balls if you want those work great too instead of a washcloth. If it rains, which eventually it will at one of your camps, save what rain water if you can. It works great for your hair and it saves water too.

Always pack a change of clothes for tear down, and pajamas at night. Yes I know many people like to wear their outfits at night or at least their shifts. Great, do that if you want. But if it gets colder at night than the weatherman said (not that weather reports are ever wrong mind you) you may find that on your midnight trip to the Port-a-pots you wish you had on a pair of sweats and thick socks (again no I have never done this, wait, is that thunder again? Excuse me while I move just in case lightning hits this spot). Sometimes it is hot and muggy enough that the shirt you wore for set up is still damp with sweat and you really don’t want to put that back on when you tear down. I always bring extra clothes as you never know what it is going to be like. And yes I will go there, bring extra underwear. I know cringe, blush whatever makes you feel better. But, some people swear by going all natural during these events, I find no thanks, it’s hot and nasty and well I wear them we’ll just leave it at that. However, ladies, bras, leave them at home or for tear down and set up, other than that be free for the weekend you’ll be happy you did (sorry guys). Camps are the best place for those old ratty clothes that are splattered with paint. Ok maybe not that bad, but don’t wear something that is really good, or means a lot to you. Mistakes happen accidents happen and you may find your favorite concert t-shirt now has a hole in it.

Rope works great as a clothesline for inside your tent. You can use hemp roping but no it doesn’t have to be accurate as it is inside your tent after all. But it is great to hang damp clothing up, let your stays air out (yes ladies you need them but that is a post for later), if it rains to let your socks somewhat dry out (have multiple pairs of those too), and so on. I would suggest to invest in the natural rope though, dig around on line you can buy large rolls of it, the reason behind that is, you will find uses for the rope quickly around camp and if it is all natural you can get away with using it better than you can the nylon stuff.

Extra blankets are a good idea as well as your own pillows too. I have finally gotten my first wool blanket. Yes they can be expensive but if you dig around online or in antique shops many times you can find nice ones for not too much. Sometimes even at events and camps people are trying to sell their old blankets and you can grab one for a steal. If you don’t like the color remember it can easily be changed. I also bring along a few older quilts as they cover things up if necessary but they also work as light weight blankets for the hotter months.  Surprisingly wool isn’t too bad either. Also think about keeping old blankets as just camp blankets so it gives them a second life and secondly you don’t have to worry that your good quilt or blanket got a stain or a tear in it. The old blankets can be pieced together and used until they no longer work. I have a whole box full of them that I keep for that reason. Also invest in a regular pull up sheet, it can and has gotten hot enough I haven’t wanted anything to cover me. But being freaked out by bugs and thinking of them in my tent a sheet was a great way to stay cool but keep the bugs off.

The type of bed is up to you. I have an air mattress which I love. I’ve seen other people with a pile of blankets  and hides or actual mattresses. It is up to what you want. Don’t worry about trying a few different kinds. Start with the blankets first, then move to the air mattress. They are cheaper and easier to pack than a regular mattress. You could also do a straw filled ticking like they did in the 18th century. It’s all up to you and your backs comfort. Remember they are long days and shorter nights so you want to sleep well. Also consider how much room you have to pack. If you go with a foam mattress I would suggest looking for a rather large plastic bag to store it in. Again eventually you’ll have rain at an event, you don’t want your foam mattress getting wet on the way to or from that event they take forever to dry if they do at all. And don’t think you have to have a rope bed or some sort of frame. You can if you like (yes they are comfortable but they take up room in your packing). My father made his and mom’s to come apart and pack flat which takes up less room, but it is a pain to set up. I prefer sleeping on my mattress flat on the ground. Give me a couple of years I probably will change my mind.  Of course it hasn’t really been that cold either.

Flashlights and a lot of them are handy! You do not want to try and make it in the dark from your tent to the nearest bathroom. Too many things to trip over, get hurt on, and Port-a-pots are not fun in the dark. I’m lucky if by the time I get there my eyes are all the way open, or at least half open by the time I get back. You can get some usually for free with a purchase from your local Harbor Freight. We have two different kinds. My favorite is a large light that has a hook you can put on something and usually in a Port-a-pot there is a place to hook them too. They are great also if you have to set up camp in the dark like our last camp of the year. In the fall it gets darker a lot quicker than you think. You can still see to set up your camp or do what you need to. We also have what you think of as regular flashlights.  They work just as good as the others. I have had to carry those in my teeth before doing something around camp and they are great. But whichever or if you buy some other kind get multiples. At least one per person in your camp, trust me more is better when it comes to these, you will eventually lose them in your stuff and then find them later on when you don’t need them and then promptly lose them again.

Now for those of us who wear contacts or glasses. You can get period correct glasses. Like normal glasses the frames are a bit expensive but it is the lens that cost the most. Unless it is just a reader. Ask your eye doctor if he can put your prescription into your frames. Some can some cannot just look around. You may have to go in to ask but don’t give up. Now I use contacts, if you do not want to change them every night, there are contacts out there that you can wear for several days without removing them, just remember eye drops to help keep them comfortable first thing in the morning. I always make sure to go without the contacts a few days before and after events per instructions from my doctor and the contact company themselves. They are just easier for me that way. But I do carry a spare pare in my first aid kit along with a small travel bottle of solution and a case, and an old pair of glasses.

You should also really think about portable cell phone chargers. You may not be using them during an event but the battery will still slowly drain. Some events will allow you to use them for a camera but check with those in charge first. Sometimes they would like you to change into your civilian clothes first then they are fine with it, others don’t care, just check first. I tend to be a bit of a shutter bug, so I drain my battery quick. I have two chargers that carry two charges each, buy them early enough that you can test how fast it charges and how much power it takes to charge your phone, not always will the charger do what it claims (I know shock right). I usually charge once my phone gets to about half power. You can also charge while you are heading to an event with your car charger. You can buy the chargers at your local store, buy the one that fits your needs for camps and after, remember power tends to go out at home so buy what suits your needs for both. Just make sure to charge the chargers before you arrive at a camp, it would suck if you didn’t and had no power.

Storage containers and trash bags are another good thing to take along. If you cook, you will have leftovers, and you will need to have something to put them in. So I carry plastic containers, and zip top bags. Leftovers make a great quick heat when you get home and don’t really want to cook, or for lunch at work when you have to go back. As a side note, if you do cook, make sure to carry certain things in those handy zip top bags. Like butter, no the water will not hurt the butter other than make the outer paper soggy and the butter a little slippery. But remember to remove the paper when you get home, the paper will mold eventually and get all over the butter ruining it. Also if you take cheese with you store it in the bag, it will keep it from getting soggy as well. If you take yeast, or flavorings that need stored in ice the zip top bags will keep any water from getting in as the ice melts. Trash bags or plastic grocery bags may sound a bit odd but you’ll need them. Not always will there be ready to use trash containers near you at a camp and some camps have restrictions on what they want you to put in there. I burn a lot of my trash, like food scraps, but some camps ask you not to do that. Usually at an end of an event they have trash collection simply ask if you can toss yours in with everyone else. They usually do not have a problem; it makes your life easier and theirs. Just make sure to tie your bag shut during the day. It keeps the smell, bugs and critter investigations down, and when it is a hot camp you will want that. The plastic grocery bags are great for dirty laundry, that way you can keep it separate from your clean clothes and helps with the unpacking when you get home too.

Now on the subject of food I figured something out that caused me to do a face palm at the end of last year’s camping season. Towards the end of the camps I was carrying easily two to three gallons of milk which left me very little room in coolers to carry anything else. Then I realized there is a nifty invention called dry milk. Yes people the packs of dried milk, I know easy huh. You can buy a box of that and make what you need and the great thing is once you open the box it doesn’t need refrigeration. So you can use as much as you need and use the rest some time later. Just keep it hidden in your tent, but you aren’t taking up space with a jug. I know a simple solution to a rather large problem.

On food, you will need coolers if you are carrying any kind of food. We have two, a blue and a red. The blue is for none meat, items which includes already cooked leftovers. The red is for raw meats.

I have a few things I would like to suggest if you are going to be handling raw meats before we go on. First, cooking or not, keep a pot of hot water near your fire with soap in it. I keep a large brass kettle hanging near the fire filled with water and a large amount of soap. No you will not see many suds until you start using it but that is fine the soap is still there. By keeping it near the fire it will stay hot enough to clean with, and I do mean hot so be careful, but not so hot that you have to wait for it to cool to touch it then get behind. Remember, heat is good, you will get accustom to it but do not burn yourself either, you need it hot to clean the germs away but not so hot that you scald yourself it can happen so be careful but also be smart. Second, plan ahead, know when you need to prepare your raw meat and do not have anything else sitting around it. There are meat juices, blood and other stuff that will roll off your cutting surface or you will touch something without thinking. Have a nice sized area that is clear of other objects to work with your raw meat, it will make cleaning easier. Always clean that area, anything you have used right away after messing with the raw meat. Camping is not necessarily a clean process, but we can keep some things very clean and this is one of them, and lessens the chance of accidental food poisoning or contamination. Third freeze your meat completely or at least close to it before your trip. I can hear the confusion already but it’s simple. If your meat is frozen and you put ice over it in the cooler, it won’t go through as much ice. Less melting means when you get ice you will probably only need it for your none raw meat cooler. But by keeping your meat frozen you may have to grab the roast you wanted to use early in the morning and set it out for an hour like you would at home, to thaw but usually once it has started to thaw you can slice it better when it is still a little frozen, and you can start cooking it right away even if it is frozen (still clean like crazy though). Just make sure after a little while to pop it back into your cooler so those nasty microbes don’t get a hold of your meat and ruin a fun weekend (just make sure it is your raw meat cooler if the meat is still uncooked). Also ask the person in charge of the camp if they provide ice. Sometimes an event will provide one bag of ice to each participant and ask when you have to collect it. You may not need it Saturday but you do Sunday, make sure they have some for that day as well, and isn’t only provided Saturday or you may be making a trip to the local gas station in your outfit (you’ll get used to the strange looks I promise. It is fun to see the looks). You can also buy dry ice which last longer too. Either way ask about ice, and do not to put cooked food in with your raw meats.

Your own water. You cannot guarantee where you will be camping has drinkable water. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t or it changes. It is always better to come prepared then be left with nothing to drink or spending most of your money on drinks. Also look around sometimes events will have a stand where you buy a mug, then each drink after that is at a discount price which is great, the Fair at New Boston does that, and they have some of the best lemonade around and the mugs were pretty cool too. Some places will let you reuse the mug year to year as well. Although that is great and a nice change from water, you still need water to drink, lemonade, and pop are not going to get you through a very hot weekend.

Some sort of note pad and/or business cards. Whether it is to pass a book title, or website to interested public, or to write down an upcoming event or someone’s contact info you will need something. There have been plenty of events where talking to other reenactors we have found out about more events and been invited to a few. Without the paper we would have lost the info (and sometimes thankfully they carried it with them). If you are helping put together an event remember to ask first if you can pass information out about yours, sometimes it will be a no, and sometimes it is allowed only to other reenactors but make sure to ask first you never want to offend anyone at an event you are participating at. Even if you cannot pass that information out you still can talk about it. I have also numerous times suggested reading for younger kids (the old librarian dies hard in me), or a book or website I have found that someone is interested in and passed it on. I carry a notebook for a lot of reasons, one to write down ideas for a book I am working on (I know shock that I like to write), or places we want to stop at some other time like a museum or antique shop. But also because I want to pass out the information, it is a great way to start an address book of other reenactors and their information as well. Then when I get home I put it on my computer so it isn’t lost (well that’s the idea anyway). Seriously take a pad of paper and a pen or pencil you will find all kinds of uses for it. And if you are a genealogist like my mom and I are, you will find that you scribble all kinds of things down, cemetery names, names in the cemetery and so on. As a history buff, notes about things you may not have known, or historical markers you see as you zip by to and from your camp (another good reason to have a camera are for those things too, but if your battery is almost dead paper is a great fill in. Yes it happens to me at every camp just sayin’). A lot of events also will hold seminars about different things throughout the weekend, there is another great use for a notebook. Try to find one without any crazy designs a generic looking leather one is great, or one like I am working on for my next post would be great as well.

Remember to be flexible with everything. From where you are camping to what you are cooking. Things change; you get tired and don’t feel like working so hard. Don’t feel bad for that, remember it is you doing the work not the other person. Remember the menu: eat it or starve, better yet fix it yourself. But really, things change, remember these events are fluid, people suddenly show up or cancel, weather changes and affects things. If it is being held at a park or historical museum the group that is lending the property may have changed the conditions for some reason, like a new historical dig. Also remember weather and lack of rain can change what you can or cannot do with fires, and that can change on a daily basis. Try not to get angry, easier said than done I know, but everyone is hot, a bit cranky, and frustrated even the people changing the rules, they might not like that they have to do it but they don’t have a choice. Don’t panic, figure out what to do next, I would suggest for the campfire problem buy a brassier, dig around on line and find one, you can still cook but follow all fire codes as well. We finally got one and our first camp it rained so hard my fire (that I worked hard to start mind you) got put out, to say I wasn’t happy was an understatement, course I was soaking wet too and had been for two days. But because I had the brassier I was still able to cook and quiet well too. Remember everyone at the camp is in the same position you are, trying to figure things out as they go. Try not to take your frustrations out on them, do it to your tent stakes they’ll go in easier. Remember just because you plan a menu doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. Mine is constantly changing by how I feel that day or what I’m going to have time for; remember a beef roast or chicken can be turned into a good many things no one cares go easy on yourself you’re tired, and hot too take a break.

Most importantly remember to have fun. This is about getting away from the real world and technology for two to three days. Getting to see people you might not see for a year or have to wait another month and a half to see. Remember for those couple of days you don’t have to be yourself; you are someone else, from a different time with different issues than what is going on at home. Enjoy the vacation from life. Allow yourself to relax, and recharge. Yes it is a hard working weekend, but I always feel better after it, ready to take on whatever the real world has to offer. And I also find that things that were important like news, or my phone, really don’t matter and aren’t important. It is amazing that two days without any real technological connection you find it is harder to reconnect than it is to stay unconnected. I enjoy those days those weekends and look so forward to them I feel like a kid on Christmas morning the day we are pulling away from home and headed for a camp. Take time for yourself at these events, if that is simply walking among the vendors, or taking a trail through the woods, or sitting through a seminar someone else is hosting, enjoy it.

You don’t have to do everything that is suggested. It is up to you what you do. I would suggest at least the first aid kit, accidents happen, be prepared. Do what fits your camping, your needs at a camp. Remember it’s about you having fun, make it fun. A little prep goes a long way, and don’t leave it for the day before. Start the week before or month before depending on what you do at camps. With cooking I plan weeks in advance, I watch for sales on things I’m going to need. I also start planning what needs to be taken along and going through what I used the last time (side note, I keep a running tab of how much I use during all of our camps. At the end I total it and know what I need to start planning for the next year, I don’t buy it all at once, but if it goes on sale I come close it depends on your storage. Like already I’ve gone through about 25lbs of flour, I know I’m going to need more but at least I know I’ll need that much by this time next year unless we add more camps not that we do that). Make lists of the food you need to take, equipment, clothing, etc. anything that might need packed put it on the list and once it is in the car mark it off (you’ll still forget things but you’ll be less likely too or at least forget fewer things like bacon). You may even want a list for packing up after an event at least until you get used to it, and always do a quick walk through of your camp site after everything is supposed to be packed, I have found all kinds of things on the ground that were missed, tent stakes, spoons, etc. it also helps the event coordinators so they don’t have to try and chase you down, or the guy who mows hits something he really shouldn’t.

I also make sure nothing needs repaired before the next event something usually does need fixed so don’t get surprised by it. Pack snacks for both trips to and from, it’ll help and keep them handy not buried in the back but it does give you a good laugh when it happens. Planning in advance makes the actual event and trip a lot more fun. The trip to and from is a part of the fun, you get to see places you normally don’t. Or eat things you wouldn’t get a chance to and probably won’t again for at least another year. Enjoy it. The trip is half the journey and a fun part too. So let’s get started; have fun!

Gathering at Garst

Hi everyone. Sorry for not having written sooner, but the crazy season has begun. I hope to start posting from events as well.

Just a reminder, The Gathering at Garst is this weekend in Greenville Ohio. If you can come visit it is going to be a beautiful weekend. It’s loaded with all kinds of fun don’t miss it. Look for the Grumpy Irishman, that is where I’ll be. Hope to see you!

Puff the Hard Working French Paste

Puff pastry is one of the many culinary foods that has a hundred steps, takes too long and is so complicated that it’s no wonder the French love it, at least it doesn’t have extra letters in its name, right? Well sort of. It doesn’t have extra letters, but it can be a bit daunting if you have never given it a try before, or if you look to more modern recipes as your guide. The 18th century puff paste (pastry) has fewer repetitive steps, few ingredients, and a ton of flavor, and makes a great statement.

I will be honest; I have yet to make this at a camp. I have only made it at home and taken it with me. I’ve used it as an alternative to pie crust in some recipes, say like Apple Pasties (turnovers). It works well and tastes really good. But I did have a lot of issues making the pasties with it. It didn’t want to stick together, and kept blowing apart when I fried them. I haven’t gotten a chance to try it again, I do know that those issues were operator error, i.e. I was tired, hot, and grumpy and gave up without trying to fix it. It was one of those days. John Townsend has a video for both the puff paste and for the pasties. His works, so I know mine should as well, I just haven’t had the chance to try again. I will try it again sometime this year at a camp.

I have however made the puff paste since for at home uses. I cannot go and buy the same thing from the freezer when I know I can make it better at home. The great thing is you can make it ahead of time and freeze it, so make multiple batches. Just wrap with either parchment or wax paper, then put it in a resealable plastic bag or wrapped in tinfoil depending on how long you plan on leaving it in the freezer. I would use the resealable bag if it is going to be in there awhile. It’s better if you get it out the night before and it has time to slowly defrost. Make sure to unwrap it or the excess moisture can ruin it. Cover lightly with a dry clean dish towel to keep it from drying out. Then roll out and use like normal. If necessary you can sit it on the counter for a few hours to defrost, just unwrap from the freezer and cover with a cloth to keep from drying out.

I have used it as a pie crust, or as little pieces to put on top of pot pie instead of a whole crust. I have also made bread sticks out of it and they all come out great. I saw on a cooking show that you should make empanadas or calzone’s with this dough too. I tried it just recently and well, they disappeared before I could take pictures, and the puff paste held up better than regular pizza or empanada dough has for me in the past. I put an egg wash on it sprinkled with pepper and baked at 400 for about 40 minutes,  and they were great, no leaks or tears. I have made a number of different fillings for these. Just don’t let them get too wet or they ruin the dough no matter the type. I have used potatoes, onions, chorizo, a chicken pot pie filling (light on milk or cream so it isn’t runny), pizza fillings, sausage and potatoes, and the list goes on. Now I know it isn’t historically accurate, but who says that you can only use these things if you are cooking 18th century?

I follow the recipe that John Townsend gives on his website and YouTube series to a tee. I have not tried putting herbs, cinnamon or anything like that in the dough, like you can do to dough for breads. But that is on my list of things to try here soon, along with making it at a camp. I’m not exactly sure how adding things to the dough is historical so if you want to give that a try do it at home.

Unlike my other posts where I separate out my recipe from the original I will give you John Townsend’s recipe along with pictures of when I made it recently so that you can see each step. You will find that when you get into 18th century cookbooks you will usually find a section discussing pastes or pastry dough’s and they have a puff paste in that grouping. Each has different ingredients and how to mix them. They can get rather confusing quickly (to the point I stopped reading them and moved on). They can get a tad confusing also when discussing measurements (a Scottish pound of butter is different than an English pound{3/4:1 ratio} I know fun isn’t it). Some include eggs and others do not. So if you have an allergy do not give up and pass on trying out the recipe just take a look at some of the other cook books and pick one that fits you. I have not tried any recipe with gluten free flour so I do not know how it will work with those but I do know for sure there are a number of recipes without eggs. Anyway, since there are so many versions I’ll let you chose which cook book you want to source, and I’ll stick to John Townsend for now.

Puff Paste

Take 3 1/2c. or 1lb cake flour add a pinch of salt. Mix 1c. egg whites into flour.

(The pictures show two ways to separate eggs, one with the egg shells, the other you crack the egg into your hand. The second method tends to keep the yolks from cracking on you. If your yolk cracks and any ends up in your whites, you have to start over again, so separate out whites from yolks into separate bowls, that way if one yolk does end up in your white it won’t ruin your whole batch. I’m speaking from experience with this recipe and others.)

If the dough is too sticky add more flour. Once made into a dough bring out onto a lightly floured surface and knead. Cover.

Take 1lb cool butter and sit one stick beside the other forming a blank. Cover with a clean cloth and roll and mold with a rolling pin into a pad. It needs to stay square in shape and be about 1/2in thick.

Roll dough into a square about 1/4in thick leaving the middle thicker. Dough will fight you, just be patient and keep going, it will stretch. 20180124_122803Put butter in the middle and fold dough over the top wrapping tightly for no air bubbles. Careful not to tear dough. Gently press down with rolling pin then roll out a little bit but keeping the rectangle shape.

Fold into 3rds turn 90 degrees and roll again. Fold into 3rds again wrap in a cloth and put in a cool place for 30 minutes. Do this fold and turn process three more times for a total of four times. Roll out to a 1/4in thick and use.

Ok so a few notes on the recipe above. I usually start with the butter first, once I get it into the shape I need I will put it in the fridge to harden back up, if you are doing it at camp stick it someplace cool, like a cooler. The recipe calls for cake flour, I have used that or all purpose flour. Now with the all purpose flour you need just a touch more patience as it will take a bit longer to roll out but you really don’t notice any difference in taste. It is up to you what to use, or use what you have on hand (no I never forget anything at camps like bacon, nope not me! Excuse me while I move, I think I hear thunder!!). Moving on…. when you make the dough you may need to add more flour if too wet and sticky. If it is too dry, add another egg white, then a teaspoon or two of water if the egg white is not enough. I have added up to three extra whites to the dough before getting the right consistency. If your dough looks lumpy add a little more flour and it usually smooths out pretty quickly.

I roll out the dough, knowing it will take time and don’t rush it. I try to keep it in a relatively square like shape. You will need to take out your plank of butter every so often and see if you have rolled out your dough large enough to match the plank’s size. Remember your dough has to be larger than the plank of butter. Just make sure not to roll the dough to thin, if you do the butter will leak out and make it more difficult to work with later on. You can always leave your butter a bit thicker when you roll out your plank. Patience is key here for rolling out both the butter and dough, (word of advice, it is a great way to take out any frustrations you may have, just don’t try to kill the dough or butter). I keep the cloth that I wrapped the butter in to roll out and store that cloth in the fridge to wrap the dough in as it sits to rest. It doesn’t stick and the butter that is stuck to the cloth also helps keep the dough from drying out if you are letting it sit for a while in the fridge.

I also like to let the paste rest after all four turns for at least a half hour before I use it. I’m kind of treating it like pie dough, but you don’t have to if you don’t have the time. It has worked so far to do either one. Once you have it made you can do so much with it.

Now that I think I have “mastered” it at home I am going to give it a go at a camp sometime. Just remember, as much as I love making it and it is superior to the store stuff, don’t feel like you have to make it. Give it a go once, if you find you don’t like it, well the store stuff works great too and no one has to know but you. Just take it out of the packaging before you use it. Now that you know how it should be made, you can talk about it but you don’t have to actually make it. And remember everything over a fire takes patience to do and it may take multiple tries to figure out how to get it to work over a fire or to fry it. I would not suggest doing it on a day that your frustrations have been worn thin, or it will burn nice and bright in your fire (yes I have done that and it felt good, oh so good). Do NOT let anyone ever make you feel guilty for it; it’s you who are doing the cooking. If they don’t like it, make them cook! My menu consists of eat or starve, doesn’t matter to me.]

Give it a go at home first. It’ll give you a chance to test it where you can easily call in a pizza if it fails spectacularly!  It can fail and you will find that eventually you will find a recipe that does. We all have done it or in my case continue to when I try new recipes for the first time without reading them all the way through first. I think you’ll find that you’ll like this recipe rather quickly. Once you’ve made it becomes easier to do and you know what it is supposed to look like. Again watch John Townsend’s video on this, it helps. Watch it a couple of times or while you are making it. Jump in feet first and try this wonderful dough. Enjoy!