Those candied plums I made last year turned out to be one of the most incredible foods that has ever come forth from my hands. They took on a mystical life of their own, each day growing more delicious and more scarce. I hoarded them. I dreamed about them. When I ran out (in, I think, February or so), I obsessed over them.
So when a vendor at my farmers market had Italian prunes, I may have gone overboard. This year, I took photos of the whole process, which I’m sharing in the hopes that they will help you make your own candied plums:
Plums split in half, put in a pot, and covered in sugar, before cooking.
Plums split apart in a (different) pot.
Sugar has gone over the first layer of plums and a second layer added.
The second layer fully covered as well.
Cook, covered, on very low heat. The sugar will eventually all dissolve.
Keep cooking… Once the sugar is fully dissolved, remove the lid.
Cook the plums until they look like this:
Ready for the next part.
Carefully fish each plum out.
Place on rack in dehydrator.
Tongs also work. The plums will be hot and sticky.
This picture is before drying, I think. I don’t seem to have an after drying picture, but they get darker and stickier.
Roll the dried plums in sugar.
Pack in sugar and store. Be patient: they seem to just get better and better with age.
Yes, those are half gallons. I made a lot. They’re all packed up and safely moved to storage (so I won’t just eat these in a single, gloriously regrettable sitting). I have an unholy quantity of plum syrup.
Funny story, I went out to a bunch of fruit farms yesterday…
…and bought like 4 more pounds of plums.
This time, I’m following the period recipe a little more closely. I look forward to comparing the different results!
Aleit went on an adventure in Europe, and came across some butter churns. Because we live in the future, she posted about it on Facebook, and I cried out my desperate need for a butter churn.
So now I have one:
In case it’s not coming through in text, I want to say I am INCOHERENTLY EXCITED about the fact that I have a butter churn, a handmade one with beautiful wood hoops no less. OMG THIS BUTTER CHURN! Much churn. Very butter. So excite. Wow.
Once I got my new friend home, I soaked it in water until it swelled enough to seal itself. Then the fun of making butter began.
I’ve made butter before and I have some tips:
Use great ingredients. The best butter comes from the best cream. I like Organic Valley personally as I can reliably get it and their cows are pastured. Cows that live on pastures are probably happier, in as much as cows can be said to be happy, and they produce much higher quality dairy. Cows that eat a lot of grass also make prettier, more deeply colored cream. Local and fresh from the farm would be ideal, but that is harder to manage.
You need heavy cream. Look at the label of whatever you buy — a lot of whipping cream has mono- and diglycerides added. These aren’t bad, but they are added to help cream turn into whipped cream, not butter, so they can work at cross-purposes to your end goal.
Culture the cream before churning. This makes the finished butter taste amazing, it’s more historical, and it makes the butter churning go faster. It’s also dead easy: buy cultured buttermilk and add some to the cream, then let it sit. I usually add a half pint of buttermilk to a quart of cream because those sizes are both easy to obtain and I’m lazy. The half pint of buttermilk could probably culture up to a gallon of cream. I put both in a pitcher or large jar or a jug and drape a cloth over the top or losely seal with waxed linen, then let it sit out on the counter overnight. I have done this at events, too.
By the way, quick rant about culturing dairy here: historically, this just happened. Leave the cream out overnight, have nicely soured cream the next day. Leave milk out overnight, have clabber the next day. Dairy is naturally full of lots of bacteria, some great and some definitely not. The tradeoff of pasteurization is you can’t just set your milk or cream out to clabber it like they did in the old days, but you also are much less likely to die from a horrifying pathogen from drinking raw milk. Tradeoffs! If you’re playing around with homemade fresh cheese, the kind that you add lemon juice or vinegar to to curdle it, do an experiment: add a half pint or even a pint of buttermilk to a gallon of whole milk, let it sit overnight, and the next day you can make it curdle by just bringing it to a boil. Pretty neat!
Don’t overfill your churn. I usually gleefully ignore this. But the churn should be less than halfway full for minimal splatter.
Add lots of salt because salt is delicious🙂
With my churn soaked and my cream soured, it was quick work (less than 15 minutes) to make butter:
My “helper” “cleaning” the cream up
A little bit of leakage. A towel helps. (Are you feeling dirty yet? Butter churning was made for innuendo.)
Butter! That was fast!
Transfer to a bowl and bring the butter together in one blob (I’m using my butter paddles), then (not pictured) drain off the buttermilk, set it aside, and wash the butter by kneading it in ice cold water.
Buttermilk is great in a lot of recipes, especially baking. My dog loves if. I’ve fed it to my chickens. Medieval people probably just drank it. I once tried watering some down, like oxymel or any of the other vinegar water variants from period. I was not a fan.
I like to sprinkle on flakes of salt but you can also just salt your butter. Premodern butter probably had up to 10% salt as a preservative — this was washed out prior to using the butter — but you can add as much or as little as you like.
Butter doesn’t really store well. I mean, it does, but the best tasting butter is fresh.
If you’re in An Tir, I plan to bring my churn to September Crown and churn butter while I hang out in the Publike House so you can see it in action.
Compare “The Dream” to “Mundane” — when we talk about the SCA, we often use language that emphasizes transcending reality. SCAdians set aside our everyday lives and come together to build a shared fantasy. It’s make-believe, really. We dress up and play make-believe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually not saying that as an insult — I think that make-believe and story-telling are two of the most important facets of being human. But I certainly have heard people critique the SCA as nothing but escapism, and I myself often talk about it as being not really real. When I start to get too bogged down in SCA politics, I remind myself that “it’s all just pretend anyway, we’re a bunch of dweebs in a field.”
Here’s the thing: that’s wrong, and I know it, and you know it. The truth is, the SCA is real.
Let me tell a story. A few weekends ago, during Royal Court, I listened to the speakers during Peerage elevations. I was deeply moved by their words — stories about the candidates, deep philosophical truths, calls to action, appeals to honor and accounts of glory. While I was listening, I was struck by the realization that this kind of public speaking is a dying art. While some of the speakers read from notes, a surprising number did not. How many people do you know who can confidently speak to an audience? I work with teenagers — getting them to even buy into the concept that speaking in front of a crowd is a valuable skill is an uphill battle. Yet in the SCA, this is something that we treasure and cultivate and regularly employ.
This got me thinking about all the skills I’ve learned in the SCA. Did you know I was painfully uncomfortable with the idea of teaching when I first joined the SCA? But a wonderful peer and mentor guided me into teaching a few classes. Now I teach for a living. My fealty relationships have taught me about mentorship, and about building up another person, and I’ve applied those lessons to working with my students and with student teachers. Having a blog, writing mostly for myself but also for my audience, has given me an outlet and the motivation to keep writing. Doing research and writing documentation has taught me academic skills that I think most people don’t get outside of a university setting. Learning to make garb helped me learn to shop for clothes, and gave me a unique personal style. Volunteering at events, especially in “management” positions, has helped me develop my own leadership style (and continues to challenge me by showing me my weaknesses). Sitting in the Laurels’ Council has taught me when to speak and when to keep silent.
Last weekend I took my first student. As is the custom among my household, I asked that we seal our bond with a Toast, a Boast, and and Oath. My toast was to this crazy game — I remarked that really we were all just at a historical dress cocktail party in a cow pasture. And yet think of the amazing acts of valor and honor you commit and witness at SCA events, the genuine bonds of friendship that are forged, and the inexhaustible pursuit of becoming our better selves. We make those cow pastures into palaces, war fields, and artists’ workshops. Now as I embark on the work of helping another person build themselves up, I am struck anew: the SCA is real, and it is incredible. I love my chosen family. Huzzah!
At July Coronation, I organized a “Laurel Petting Zoo.” Here’s the description I put out in advance:
Have you ever wondered why someone would be an apprentice, or what it takes to become an apprentice? Would you like to ask a Laurel a question about a project you’re working on or about how the Laurels’ council works? Are you a Laurel interested in meeting new people? Are you brand new to the SCA and interested in finding out what the heck a Laurel is? Would you like to find out if Laurels really do bite?
Come to the Laurels Petting Zoo* at July Coronation! Join us in the A&S pavilion at 5pm on Saturday. (Feel free to trickle in a little early to catch the Dirty Half Dozen largesse competition!) The idea behind the Laurels Petting Zoo is to allow Laurels and the general populace to mingle in a non intimidating, relaxed atmosphere. All are welcome, regardless or rank or affiliation or absence of either.
Bring a drink for yourself definitely, consider bringing a “lap project” to work on or a homemade snack to share (especially if its historical!)
Looking forward to seeing you (yes, YOU!) there,
*Please obtain consent prior to initiating petting.
This event was a smashing success (if I say so myself!) — lots of Laurels and non-Laurels came, there were snacks, there was mingling, and some musicians showed up toward the end for a live performance, which led to dancing! I felt like I got to use my superpower (being a golden retriever of love) for good. I am definitely going to put on more of these!
One of the things I did in advance of the event was prepare some conversation starters:
These were a series of questions designed to get people talking to each other. (Can you tell I’m a teacher? I think it’s the color coding that gives it away!) Sometimes I think it’s really hard to approach a stranger and just start talking to them, which is the problem something like a Laurel Petting Zoo is intended to alleviate, so I figured that having a few slips of paper with questions that ranged from silly (“Explain fealty in pig Latin”) to serious (“What’s the most important real lesson you’ve learned from the SCA?”) would help break the ice. They were a hit! I’ve put up a copy of the questions I wrote in the files section, feel free to use them yourself.
To help you organize an event like this yourself, here’s a quick checklist and some tips:
Pick an event
Contact the event steward; be prepared to have them hand you off to a member of their team, especially if someone is coordinating A&S activities
Ask for space for mingling next to the main List Field — we used our Kingdom MoAS pavilion
Decide on a good time; immediately after the Laurels’ meeting is a good one, or immediately after A&S classes finish. Opposite Court is not a good idea🙂
Publicize your event using Facebook, email lists, etc. If possible, try to get listed in the site copy
Contact a few “ringers” — people who are always the life of the party — to make sure they’ll be there
If you’re using them, print conversation starters
Make some tasty period snacks to share
Consider posting fliers in the privies, making an announcement during Court, or hiring a herald to spread the word
Set out snacks and conversations starters
Stand outside of the actual area where the mingle is happening and invite people in. I follow the Svava in Litla school of hospitality, which involves a lot of yelling at people to come eat snacks. You’d be surprised how well this works.
Work the room! Scoop up non-Laurels and engage them in conversation by asking them what they’re interested in; if you know someone who specializes in an area they want to learn more about, or who lives near them, make an introduction! Pick up snacks and wander around. Smile a lot. Make sure to watch for Laurels clumping together and inspiring peer fear. If there’s just a group of a dozen Laurels sitting around talking to each other, no one will want to break into that, so keep an eye out. Have fun. Mingle. Be petted, if you’re into that.
I love pickled foods. Fermented, briny, tart — I think I like pickled vegetables more than fresh in many cases. Between garden produce and the Farmers’ Market, I had a lot that I wanted to pickle this week. Here are the end results:
All except the small jar on the far right (containing in-process spicy kimchi made from globe turnips that I grew) are at least plausibly pre 1600. The greens are another attempt at plausible historical kimchi: turnip greens, salt, fish sauce, and lots of garlic. I’m pretty excited about that one. The rest of the jars are variations on pickled onions — whole small “spring” onions and sliced sweet onions two ways. Here are some recipes if you want to make your own.
Whole Pickled Onions
3 bunches small onions (roughly a dozen per bunch, walnut sized or smaller)
2, 12 oz bottles malt vinegar
1/2 oz salt (this is about a quarter of the amount the recipe I was working from called for, so feel free to adjust this further yourself)
Spices (feel free to experiment!) — one nutmeg broken up, 2 bay leaves, 5 cloves, 1 – 2 tsp pepper corns
Remove roots and tops of onions and peel.
Bring remaining ingredients just to a boil, then let cool.
Put all ingredients into a large glass jar or crock.
Keep in a cool, dark place (refrigerator) for at least 10 days. I shake them periodically to make sure all the onions are under the brine.
These are supposedly the best accompaniment to pork pies.
Pickled Onion Rings
2 large sweet onions (where I live, Walla Wallas)
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
6 T sugar or 1/4 c honey
1/2 tsp salt
Spices: 2 bay leaves, 6 cardamom pods, 3-4 cloves, 1 long pepper pod, 1 blade mace (I didn’t have any this time), some peppercorns, some juniper berries, whatever else looks good to you (I like a “Viking” variant with caraway and juniper)
Peel the onions and slice into rings 1/4″ thick or smaller.
Bring brine ingredients to a boil.
Add onions to brine and simmer about 30 seconds.
Pack into a quart mason jar or a stoneware crock.
Store somewhere cool and dark (the refrigerator again) and eat whenever.
I don’t know how long these keep because they have never lasted longer than a weekend. I like them with smoked chicken.
For one of the jars of sliced onions, I used honey, fresh sage, lovage seeds, and juniper berries for the seasoning. I call those the “farmhouse” variant because they don’t use imported spices.
One year ago today I was put on vigil. It was and still is a big deal to me, and honestly I am trying to make sense of what it all means because I want it to mean something. Here are some of the more formed thoughts that have come from that. Welcome to… Musings from a Baby Laurel! Mostly experiences, a little philosophy, and just a sprinkling of advice. This is sure to be laughable to experienced Laurels and not particularly helpful to brand new or would-be Laurels. Let’s dive in.
One: From this side of it, this is a different game than the one I was playing.
My relationship to the SCA is different. Kingdom events now come with obligations, like meetings and keeping an eye out for certain candidates, that even someone very, very active won’t experience. Similarly, now it’s my default setting to go to Kingdom events; while I have been pretty active on a Kingdom level for a while, I have been struck by how different it feels to be thinking about Kingdom events in those terms. It’s not a negative thing to feel obligated, but it is different.
I’m also already starting to see that my time at events is largely more committed and scheduled than before. This has really opened my eyes to how we structure our Society and our events; I suspect in the long term I’m going to have some deep thoughts about this, because I actually think it’s a gigantic problem. But I haven’t completely figured out what I want to say quite yet.
Relatedly, I am starting to finally grasp just how much work Peers do. At the last feast I ran, another Laurel (who is also a Knight) said to a relatively new person who was helping out “Look around this kitchen. How many Peers are in here? How many peerages are represented?” It really stuck with me. In general, active Peers are very heavily invested in this game, and passionate about making it better. If I had advice for would-be Peers, that would be it: look around you, and really see what Peers are doing. Invest yourself in doing the work, not just when it’s fun or glamorous, and give your time and talents to making this game better than you found it.
Two: How people view me and treat me has absolutely changed, but not (I think) how people expect.
OH MY GODS the Peerage fishbowl is totally real. I knew that intellectually and people talked to me about it a lot but I don’t think there is a way to really prepare for it. Some great advice that I got at my vigil was along the lines of “You are already sort of ‘SCA famous’ but prepare for that to be much more noticeable.” It’s true; people come up and say hi to me all the time and I don’t always recognize them, and that kills me because then I feel like a huge jerk and the worst kind of snob. But it’s more than that — when you go to events as a Peer, you have to be “on” and your best self. PLQs are real (mine are… still bad, let’s not talk about that) because people look to you to be the example.
This also has helped me really understand why it sometimes seems like Peers can be cliquish; I’ve come to treasure time that I spend with the people closest to me (many of whom are also Peers, honestly, because of that time commitment thing) when I can let my hair down (literally and figuratively in this case) and be myself without having to worry so much about if me eating s’mores will undermine all the hard work I’ve done to spread the gospel of historical food.
Although it’s true that the Laurel thing can carry a little weight, it’s not as much as I think some people expect. People who respected what I had to say before still do, people who didn’t pretty much still don’t, and both of those are okay. I put my pants on one leg at a time, and sometimes I get stuck and fall over. No one gave me the key to all the world’s knowledge.
Three: How I think of myself has changed, and that’s okay.
I really am excited about all the stuff I think of as my “job” as a Laurel — encouraging people locally and in the Kingdom (and out of the Kingdom), teaching people, making my voice heard in Council (okay, not yet actually — not until July!), connecting people to each other for the greater good, and more. The concept of the fishbowl has been good for me, because I haven’t found myself thinking “This is great, everyone will do what I say now!” but instead “This is awful, people are actually going to listen to me so I kind of have to not be a tool.”
Being a Laurel didn’t magically change how much I knew, that work has to go before. I do like that my feeling of being an expert in something I care about has been validated. I spend less time qualifying everything I say, and often dive confidently right into leading with “My research says this” in conversation. That said, I realized a few months ago that there’s actually a TON that I still want to learn about medieval and renaissance pies, and that made me so stupidly excited. The learning actually never stops — I learned this much in 15 years in the Society, and I like to think about how much more I’ll know in another 15 years, and honestly that’s so awesome I can’t even handle it. New Laurels, I really hope you don’t think you’re done learning; I’m sure you don’t. People who want to be Laurels, don’t think of being Laureled as a culmination but a start. It’s a cliché because it’s true!
Four: Planning an elevation is kind of insane, but in a good way.
I have never experienced the level of love and excitement that everyone brought to planning my vigil and elevation. That was a magical evening and a magical day and everything was splendid. People compare it to a wedding, which is sort of accurate, but I found elevation planning to be much less stressful. I don’t think I was a vigil-zilla (I hope I wasn’t), because I just felt pretty “chill” about everything. I had great planners and wranglers and even if it all went sideways I would still be a Peer when it was done. The planning part is a little weird, because there are a LOT of details that actually go into it.
In the planning process, I made it my policy to “just say yes.” You want to play music at my vigil? Yes, thank you! You want to walk into Court with me? Yes, thank you! For me, the vigil and elevation were about those warm fuzzy feelings from the people around me, and accepting every offer of help contributed to that. Oh, and it really helps to have an extremely organized spouse, and to be okay with doing some of your own party planning if you want it to go a certain way. But mostly, I encourage the “just say yes” approach, it was super fun.
Serious advice, I was really glad I did the “sequestered vigil” thing with a sign up list and a time keeper. It really helped keep things moving along. Make sure you have scheduled potty breaks and a very comfy chair.
And make sure there’s plenty of beer.
Five: THE POST-ELEVATION SLUMP IS TOTALLY REAL AND YOU ARE OKAY AND GOOD ANYWAY
I put that in all caps because it’s so important. I hit the wall after my elevation. I had been in a period of stepping back and regrouping after going so hard for Kingdom Arts and Sciences, and was still feeling crabby and out of sorts when I was gearing up to go to May Crown two months later. Then I ended up going to Court at May Crown, and “SO THAT HAPPENED” as I reported on Facebook later that evening, and then I cried harder than I have ever cried in public in my entire life (and I am a grade A public crier) because I really, really was that surprised. I hadn’t really had time to sort through the post KASC slump, you see, but now I was in full on vigil and elevation planning mode!
After six weeks of sewing and planning and buzzing excitement, when my elevation was over I was just tired. I needed a little bit of rest, and I had earned it. So I kind of coasted.
Yeah, so it turns out my personality and “coasting” don’t go well together.
It’s time for this post to “get a little real.” I had a really rough winter this year. I was trying to figure out what being a Laurel meant to me. I was adjusting to some changes at work that required a lot of intellectual investment on my part. Some stuff went down in my home branch that wasn’t fun and that left me with some really bruised feelings. And I was tired! So tired! I liked going to events during that time and getting to still ride on some of the congratulations and get to start going to Laurel meetings, but I also felt tremendous pressure to be “up” when I wasn’t feeling it. Some of that pressure I put on myself — I kept wondering what I was going to do next, and I felt like I needed a project — and some of it I do think came from other people; when you’re known for being happy, it’s hard to be publicly subdued. I was open about how I was feeling with people close to me, but I wish I had been better able to articulate what was going on and what I needed. I also really wish I had given myself more permission to just take a break.
Many, many people feel this way. I am so thankful to everyone who warned me about it. I wish I could tell my past self that it didn’t really last that long and it was fine. It seems like anywhere from 6 months to a couple of years is totally normal. If you’ve just been elevated, it’s okay to take a step back and regroup. We’ll all still be here when you’re ready to dive back in.
I feel like I’m through my slump now. Some of that was working with a wonderful mental health care provider who has been remarkably open-minded about all of this. As an aside, I think everyone should do talk therapy because I think talk therapy is awesome. I also wish that I had talked about the SCA in talk therapy a long time ago. Having to explain what was going on in a way that someone outside the situation could understand it often was enough to help me see what the actual root of the issue was — once I phrased things for therapy, I managed to parse what the actual social / emotional challenge was, and usually had a much improved way of looking at it.
Oddly, though, the thing that really snapped me out of my slump was getting ready for Culinary Symposium and realizing how much more I want to learn about pie. Many people never want to touch the thing they were elevated for again. That’s also fine. But for me, being able to still find a spark of enthusiasm for pie was invigorating. That was when I realized that I didn’t have to change that much, I could still keep right on indulging myself by spending time with my research main squeeze. (I’ve hinted at this on Facebook, but I’m honestly thinking of writing a book about pie history. I have no idea if that will ever come to fruition or not, as writing a book seems like a phenomenal amount of work, but the fact that I’m even interested in that at all is a far cry from where I was a year ago.)
The point is, whatever well replenishes you, drink extra draughts from it after being elevated. For some people it’s completely no big deal, but if you struggle, you are not alone and you’re not bad.
More coming eventually?
I’m sure I’ll have more of these thoughts as time goes on. I suspect some more will have turned into some kind of mostly-congealed form by the time the anniversary of my actual elevation rolls around, so stay tuned, I suppose.