‘Twas Brillig, and the Slithy Toves, Were All Getting Ready for Festival.


Rowany Festival is the key event of the medievalist year — a week of period revelry, a chance to catch up with lots of old friends.

Traditionally, most of the work of getting ready for Festival happens in the last two weeks — and I think they should call this period Brillig.  (For non-English speaking readers, it’s from a nonsense poem by the author of Alice in Wonderland.)

Allison, I have to say, doesn’t understand about Brillig and prefers to be organised well in advance.  Myself, I like to do it with a headwind of adrenaline.

Even so, many things resolve down to Brillig anyway.  For instance, I cooked up some Shrewsbury Cakes (cross between shortbread and a cake) and some Comadores (pastry-wrapped fingers of fig and apple and pear mixture in red wine) and you can’t do them until the end.  We’ll keep these for guests to the campsite.

Sorting out things to take can’t be done too far in advance either — in the barely disguised chaos of Cockatrice Farm, somebody is bound to move them somewhere else.

Our new feasting tent was finally erected this morning.  With a couple of teething problems, it is all fine.  Wish somebody had taken a photo — this will have to wait till after Festival.

Our wwoofer Vincent has made some timber candle brackets for the feasting tent.  Minor details keep being added to our camping bed.

Very likely, the next post will be after Festival, hopefully with some photos.

Can you cook horse over a campfire?

We had a scratch medieval campfire dinner on Saturday — I wanted to try out a new cooking technique.

We started with a beef stew cooked in the big potjie (cauldron).  It was just gravy beef, onions and various root vegetables in white wine and herbs.  This worked really well, very tasty indeed.

Then to the tricky bit.  I was trying to cook pies over the fire, using camp ovens.

First there was an onion and cheese tart.  Came out well, looked the part, but could have done with more spice to balance the handmade pastry.

Then we had a medieval baked cheesecake, based on a recipe in “Forme of Cury” (1300s) as interpreted by my friend Jane.  Again, it cooked beautifully, but for modern tastes I think it needs to be a little sweeter — will add some honey next time.  Both of these dishes could be made during the day then served cold — handy at Festival where time and cooking implements are scarce.

None of these pots were ever on the fire, or even on coals.  They were placed next to the fire, and turned from time to time.  They all behaved themselves really well.

We did go astray with a loaf of bread that Allison put on.  These can be a bit pale on top, so I put some hot coals into the lid of the camp oven.  Unfortunately this turned out to be far too hot, and charred the outside of the loaf.  The bottom and the interior were really good, so it’s just a matter of calibration.

We were using the firepit in our main field, and we were about halfway through dinner when Doc, one of Jan’s horses, decided to come over for a good look.  He snuffled down our necks and then nuzzled everything on the table looking for something tasty.

We of course asked politely for him to go away.  Then rather less politely.  He would not be dissuaded, not by finger-waggling near his eyes (usually works) or wild arm-waving, or rib-poking, or me singing “Ilkla Moor” loudly in his direction.

My horse Paulie was also a bit too friendly, though he responded better to reasonable requests.  Chad, the senior horse, is usually the first to come up to people, but he wasn’t too bad — except when he wandered off with a tent rope in his mouth!  Old Bonnie was the only horse always well behaved.

Allison dug out the water-squirting bottle she uses on naughty cats, and this had some effect.  Then we had lots of wild galloping around in the dark, but I think the horses were just having fun.

Once the horses were sorted, we sat around the fire singing songs and swapping stories.  Karen the wwoofer brought out the guitar, and played us some Irish folk music.  It was very pleasant.

We decided to pack up the tent and move what we could in the darkness.  But some things were left there, and when I went out in the morning there was a scene of wild destruction.  The horses had turned every remaining item over repeatedly: chairs and plastic bottles and some kitchen implements, and the ash from the fire mixed through everything.  Just as well we put the tent away.

The long and the short of it

Gawaine, my young gelding, came back from his initial training and was sharing a paddock with Tangles, one of Jan’s horses.  Then Tangles left, and we wanted to rest the field.

So Gawaine went in with the older horses.  This may arguably have been good for his horse social skills, but he was very much at the bottom of the pecking order, approximately equivalent to slime mold.

So the poor fellow was miserable.  He kept away from the other horses, as close as possible to his old paddock in case Tangles came back.

Allison decided to try him with Jasmine, the miniature horse.  They fell in love immediately, and still are great with each other.  Jasmine is older, and is definitely the boss, but Gawaine (being mostly Clydesdale) towers above her so she couldn’t discipline him even if she wanted to.  But they are really good friends.

Our Irish wwoofers, John and Karen, have been taking Jasmine for walks — we still have too much grass, so she is in danger of foundering if she doesn’t get regular exercise.  Sometimes they take Gawaine too, and mostly he’s good though they tell me he’s been playing up a little lately.  I think he’s bored, and would prefer to do some more training.  Hopefully after Easter.

Anyway, here’s some photos of them all:

Kevin, our Korean wwoofer, heads off tomorrow.  We still have Vincent from France, who keeps busy in the workshop with various projects — I’ll post some soon.  He, Karen and John are coming to the Rowany Festival over Easter and will head off after that.