What history books failed to mention…

October 27, 2008

Connie and I recently attended the Maryland Renaissance Festival, and if you have never been, I highly suggest it; we had a most excellent adventure (“Bill & Ted” shout out). I’ve always been interested in this period, but probably for all the wrong reasons. As a kid, I always associated the renaissance period with knights and swords, guillotines, the Black Plague, damsels in distress and chivalrous heroics. My adolescent perception of the period was questionable, so prior to heading to the festival I did a bit of research. I felt it important to be able to intelligently discuss the substantive topics of the period. After all, I didn’t want to look like an idiot (there is more irony in that statement than I can begin to explain).

So I pulled up the period on my computer and went directly to Wikipedia (all knowing internet deity) and submerged myself in renaissance knowledge. Here is an excerpt of what I found:

Renaissance- “As a cultural movement, it encompassed a revival of learning based on classical sources, the development of linear perspective in painting, and gradual but widespread educational reform. Traditionally, this intellectual transformation has resulted in the Renaissance being viewed as a bridge between the Middle Ages and the Modern era. Although the Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who inspired the term “Renaissance men”.”(Wikipedia)

That’s about as far as I got; my thirst for knowledge had been satisfied (what can I say I’m a bit shallow). I would fill in the missing pieces by interfacing with all of the Renaissance regulars, the guys who make dungeons and dragons a reality.  Besides, how difficult could it possibly be? Even I could figure out that the Renaissance was all about reading, painting and sculpting stuff. Sounded a bit boring to me, hopefully there would be at least one guillotine (fingers crossed).

Boring?  Ha, not a chance, the festival proved to be a target-rich blog environment- so much so that I’ll probably have to write about it in several installments. After all, I have much to teach you about what really went down during the Renaissance.  So sit back, fill your “Holy Grail” with the honorable Mr. Rossi and enjoy. I only hope to do this brave band of Renaissance warriors justice with my simple narrative.

Connie and I were in such a rush to get away from the boys for an afternoon that we neglected to eat prior to leaving the house.  In fact, we were in such a rush to escape that Connie neglected to come to a complete stop when we pushed the kids and babysitter from our minivan. “Tuck and roll kids! Love you! Be good.”  Needless to say, by the time we got there we were famished (that’s a fancy word for hungry- it’s how Renaissance people talk) so off we went to find some authentic era cuisine.  The Renaissance took place largely in France and when you think of France two things should come to mind, rude people and fine dining. Our hopes were high that we would enjoy an extraordinary dining experience. We were not disappointed.
From what I observed at the festival, evidence suggests that people of the 16th Century subsisted largely on food that could be placed on a stick and dunked into a vat of boiling hot vegetable oil. Apparently nothing in the King’s vending machine was exempt from this preparation method (e.g. Snickers, Twinkies, Oreos); you name it, they deep fried it. Connie and I learned a lot about the unusual dining habits of the period from an extremely helpful gentlemen who appeared to know all there is to know about morphing unhealthy food into artery clogging morsels of death. As we spoke with him, I was awestruck by his ability to toss back fried Oreos like a 6-year old boy mowing down Flintstone chewables. On top of that, he was an encyclopedia of fried food information. He knew the correct temperature of a properly prepared fried Snickers, he could list every Little Debbie snack ever made (in alphabetical order), and he was personally responsible for the advent of the fried “Slim Jim”; the guy was ahead of his time. We learned much from our new friend such as the Renaissance was the birthplace of the Pork Rind (see photo) which, come to find out, is the forefather of the modern day Funion.  I like France a whole lot more now that I know they gave the world the gift of Funions. I wonder if they invented Cheetos as well?
The only thing I found more endearing than the shameless act of deep frying an Oreo was the amount of effort and intelligence it must have taken to fasten cheesecake to a stick. 
But alas, that was not the only nontraditional skewered food item.  While Michelangelo may have created “David”, his fellow artisans busied themselves with designing such Renaissance marvels as “Macaroni and Cheese on a stick”, “Steak on a Stake”, “Chicken on a Lance” and “Beef Stew on a skewer”.  Obviously forks were a post-renaissance luxury which probably made their first appearance during the industrial revolution. As my pictures suggest, Connie and I did follow the “while in Rome” approach to our Renaissance experience. I did in fact eat a fried Oreo and am happy to report the ensuing cardiac arrest that I experienced was mild and the damage I incurred is reversible with the help of a pace maker. Furthermore, doctors believe the 11 pounds I gained in 6 seconds can be worked off if I employ a personal trainer and do no less than 3 hours of strict cardio per day. Well worth the pain if you ask me.
As if all this fried goodness wasn’t enough, they had adult refreshment stands as far as the eye could see. Renaissance folks did not drink fine French wine, oh no, they washed down their daily bread (or daily breaded, deep fried food item) with frosty mugs of ale. The novice Renaissance goers drank from plastic keg cups, but if you were a sword carrying, chain mail sporting regular you most likely owned your very own beer chalice. This was an extremely classy touch (it’s all in attention to detail). I must admit I was a tad bit jealous of the 50 year old dude in drag who came to the party with his own custom cup, righteous. The best part of the whole thing was the beer was cheaper than the bottled water. Go figure, how authentic is that? Connie and I were able to rationalize our amount of beer consumption on that premise alone, but that is a story for another evening….



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