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Last Minute Preparations for Pennsic War

Get ready! It’s almost time to go!

Pack Your Car—If you can, start packing a day or two ahead of your departure date, so you can make sure everything fits. Give some thought to packing the items you will need first, such as your tent, on top so that they are easily accessible. Make sure to double-check roof racks, hitches, bungee cords, etc. to make sure everything is secure. If in doubt, take the vehicle for a spin on a nearby highway before you leave.

Make Others Aware of Your Plans—If you are doing land grab, make sure someone else (a friend in another group, or the representative from another group in your block) knows when you plan to arrive. If you are arriving any time thereafter, make sure your camp coordinator knows when to expect you; or, if you are not registered with a group, if possible make sure someone on site is aware of when you plan to arrive.

Do A Last-Minute Check—While there are many items that can be purchased locally if you happen to forget something, if you forget your photo ID, you are out of luck. If you forgot your proof of membership, you won't get the member discount at the gate. And, if any minors who are with you are not your children and you do not have the appropriate proof of guardianship, they will not allowed in.

Make Arrangements for Mail, Newspapers, and Electronic Media—If you have not made arrangements with a friend or neighbor to pick up your mail and newspapers while you are away, make sure to stop by the Post Office to fill out the requisite form for the mail and to notify your newspaper carrier that you will be out of town. If you subscribe to any e-mail mailing lists, look into nomail options or temporarily unsubscribing if you do not wish to deal with a flood of mail upon your return.

Finalize Housesitting Instructions—Make up a to-do list (water plants, turn on lights, etc.) for your housesitter. Prepare any keys needed and make sure your housesitter has them. If pets are involved, make sure there is a supply of food, medications, litter, etc. available for the complete duration of your trip. If someone will be walking your dog for you, make sure the leashes are out and in good condition.

Leave Contact Information With Your Emergency Contact—Your emergency contact is the person you list on your Pennsic registration form as your off-site contact. Make sure he/she knows where you will be and how to contact you at Pennsic. Also, make sure he/she knows details of any medications you take and any other pertinent info.

Withdraw Cash for Pennsic—While you're at home with easy access to your own bank is the best time to withdraw money, since there's no guarantee that you will find a local branch of your bank near Pennsic, and most banks add fees for withdrawing funds from other banks' ATMs. Alternately, you should secure travelers' checks if that is your preferred method for carrying money.

Check Road Conditions—Elsewhere on this site, you will find a list of known construction areas along many of the routes drivers take to Pennsic. If you are a member of AAA or a similar organization, you might want to check your route with them and find out what information they might know. Similarly, it's useful to check the weather conditions along your route before you leave.

Arriving by Plane or Bus?—Remember that security is an important concern at airports and bus terminals. Pack accordingly, and make sure you allow enough lead time to make it through security checks. If flying, check the weather along your itinerary for possible delays. Finally, make sure the arrangements you have made for getting to the site from the airport or bus station are in place.

Customs and Immigrations Info—Coming in from another country? Relax, SCA members have been crossing borders for many years. Just make sure you have your passport or other needed ID ready. When asked, tell the nice Customs and Immigration folks that you are traveling to New Castle, Pennsylvania to participate in a historical reenactment event. Your rattan weapons, fencing swords, and bows are athletic equipment. Make sure you declare any alcohol accurately. Most importantly, be honest. There is nothing in the least bit illegal about our hobby, so there's no reason to make up other reasons for entering the US. No terrorist jokes, either. Be serious and business-like, and you'll do fine.

A Pennsic Packing List

You may not need everything on this list...but then again, you may see some things you hadn't considered, or had completely forgotten.

Must-haves

Clothing

Camping Gear

Cooking utensils

Toiletries

War Gear

....Things to consider

Pennsic Sanitation for the Compleat Idiot

By Jaji
(mka George Page)

You're at Pennsic! The smells of campfires and wonderfully period food fill the air. Wooden plates, iron pots, and all those things which make period food you want to cook at Pennsic taste better; ya gotta have ‘em! And you've got that cooler for your beer, so why not just throw the bag of chicken for the stew in there too, along with the cheese for a snack. The ice will keep everything cold.

Hold on there, Kimo Sabe! Pennsic is not like the day-long events you are used to. We're there for a week or more in pretty cramped quarters, considering we are outdoors, and a lot of things are different from anything else you may have experienced with food or anything else. For a day event, you can get away with a lot that could be terminally bad for you at the War.

The topics for discussion are the following:

-The care and feeding of coolers at Pennsic

-The set-up of a sanitary camp kitchen

-The scullery

-How to be a period cook or at least look like one

-Sanitary serving, or how not to poison your friends

Without further ado, then, we forge ahead!

The care and feeding of coolers at Pennsic

OK, I exaggerated a bit with the raw chicken example, but you'd be surprised at how many people really don't have that much of a clue. Pennsic comes, and the brain shuts off. "It was in the shade all day, so this egg salad with mayonnaise should be fine" forgetting that it was 90 degrees in the shade that day. Common sense really is the only guide.

Cross contamination can occur if you do not separate the coolers. While we can't run a completely kosher kitchen (easily, anyway), if the meat is kept separate from the dairy (ALL dairy: milk, eggs, butter, cheese, etc) and the vegetables, then there should be no problems. I am referring here to raw foods only. Once foods are cooked, the leftovers can usually be bagged, labeled and put into a separate cooler, with precautions taken with the ice (see below).

Sometimes you must worry about allergies and cross-contamination. It is imperative at that time to ascertain the exact allergies and circumstances under which those allergies are suffered. It makes a BIG difference if someone simply cannot eat something, as opposed to not being able to be in the room with something. Coolers can be allotted for such usage if necessary. Note I didn't say "preferences". Pennsic cooking can be hard enough on the cooks without "fussy eaters"!

At the least, then, 4 coolers are needed for a medium-large camp (i.e. 20-40 or so). I would recommend using the 100-150 qt. size coolers, as they hold a lot and can accommodate several days of food. This prevents multiple trips to the store, except to buy ice. On that subject, unless you are putting ice into drinks (NOTE: DO NOT use ice cubes from a meat cooler in anything other than that cooler!), it is best to use block ice. It will stay colder much longer and you will need to buy fewer blocks of ice. The ice will also last longer if the coolers are kept out of direct sunlight and out of nylon tents. A light-colored fabric cover is great, since it also keeps the cooler out of sight and helps keep the period look of a camp without sacrificing safety or convenience.
To store food in a cooler, it is advisable to use sealable waterproof plastic containers or zip-top bags. In my camp at Pennsic, we have cold cuts available for lunch, and the last thing you want is to pull soggy bags of ham and salami out of the cooler water. Another very useful item is the plastic egg carriers designed for backpacking. Most sporting goods stores (and even Wal-Mart!) carry these for about $2. Buy milk and juices in plastic containers as well.

The coolers should be drained as often as needed. Even though the water feels cold, it actually is warmer than the ice and can melt the ice faster, which can create a potentially unsafe situation. Most of us don't keep thermometers in camp to measure the cooler temperatures and it's not really necessary. Check your ice often, and drain the water often. That's really it. If the ice seems to be melting quickly, then replace it more quickly. If it is your own cooler, that's easy. If it is a camp cooler, assign someone to check the ice and be responsible for it.
When draining the coolers, be certain that you are as far away from camping areas as possible. Often times the coolers can become contaminated with meat juices or food scraps, which should be removed if at all possible (the scraps, anyway). It is advisable to make a bleach solution (1/4 cup bleach per gallon of water) and sprinkle it over the area where you dump the cooler water. Also, take care since sometimes the coolers are not completely empty, so using the drain hole is advisable over just dumping the cooler over.

Setting up a Sanitary Camp Kitchen

Your coolers are ready, but the rest of the kitchen still needs tending to. You wouldn't cook on the floor and put all of your pots and pans there, so why do it at Pennsic? A small wooden trunk with short legs is great to store utensils in, and you might even want to go so far as to build a cook box to contain everything you might need when not in use, provided everything is accessible when needed. It is downright dangerous to keep knives rattling around in a box with other things folks might need. Depending on where and what the cook tent is, a rack to hold pots and pans can be improvised to keep pots off the ground and always at hand.

Having a prep table at a proper work height is imperative, since to be done right, food needs to be prepped. If Spaghetti-O's from a can is what you like for food at Pennsic, put down this paper and walk away. Far away.
Before you begin to prep or cook, wash your hands. I know it sounds trite and your mother always said to, but it really is important. Also wash your hands in between prepping food types. Simply wiping your hands on a towel will not do. Having a supply of non-latex or plastic food-service gloves on hand is also a good idea.
Be certain you have the following ready: A supply of paper towels or kitchen towels, enough cutting boards to not have to re-use them for different food types, sharp knives, and a clean place to put the prepped food before it is cooked (right into the stewpot is good). And start heating your wash water now, before the dishes get dirty. (see "The Scullery" section)

The same "rules of separation" used for coolers apply to the prep table. Meats, dairy, and vegetables (even ones to be cooked) must be done separately on different cutting boards. The knife you cut the carrots with can be wiped off with a cloth and used to cut the meat, but not the other way around. It is good to prep the veggies first, then the meat. This makes for more efficient clean up. Any dairy can be done at the same time as vegetables
Make certain to clean up spills IMMEDIATELY, and if using a kitchen towel, DO NOT re-use that towel for anything other than another spill if needed. Paper towels are fine, and if the roll is kept out of sight and used ones discarded promptly, the period nature of camp will be unhurt.

A boon in recent years has been Clorox Clean-up wipes. After you are finished with the meat, make certain all blood/meat juices are wiped up, then wipe the table (NOT THE CUTTING BOARDS) with the wipes, which contain bleach. Even if the wash water isn't ready, you can still prevent any bacteria from growing in this way. As with paper towels, discard quickly and no one's the wiser.

After prep is done, make sure all prep utensils make it to:

The Scullery

Here is where the mess the cooks just made is cleaned up. In some camps, the cooks wash the pots, etc., and everyone else washes their own feast gear. In some larger camps, disposable feast gear (ie paper and plasticware) is used instead, and the pots & pans are washed by others than the cooks. However your camp decides to organize, the principle is the same.

Wash, rinse, sterilize. That's it. Three containers: one for each of the activities. You can use three large plastic tubs (the rectangular "Rubbermaid-types fit neatly on a table) and heat your water on a stove, or you can put your water in a heavy tin bucket near the fire and pour it into tin washbasins. If you have any tin canning basins, they are perfect since they hold about 7 gallons, and have handles so that the dishwashing basins themselves can be put near the fire to heat. Though it may look cool, I do not recommend using wooden basins or tubs since they may absorb bacteria from the dirty wash water and defeat the entire purpose of this exercise.
The wash water should be warm, the rinse water MUST be hot, and the bleach water can be cold, warm, or hot. It is best to use bio-degradable soap; Ivory dish soap is about the best and nowhere near as expensive as the soaps found in all the natural food stores. To the bleach/sanitize container, add 1/4 cup of bleach per gallon of water. Use only normal bleach, no scents, softeners, etc. Dunk the items to be bleached into the bleach water, swish around a bit, remove and air-dry.

Air-drying is of paramount importance. The amount of bacteria that can grow on a dishtowel is staggering. Even if the towel is used for nothing but dishes, it may not properly dry, leaving moisture to grow mold and other nasty things. Get a wooden dish rack, which can be found in almost any store now for under $10, and set it up where the breeze can get to it. The breeze will prevent insects from settling and will help the dishes to dry faster. If you are not cooking in a period camp, find yourself a stainless steel dish rack instead.

Discarding the dishwater should be given the same precaution as discarding the cooler water, and dump the bleach water last to prevent any bacteria problems.

How to be a Period Cook, or Just Look Like One

OK, not really about cooking, but important nonetheless. As mentioned in the beginning, wooden feast gear and iron cookware are great for adding to the period feel of our game, and it looks awesome in camp to see iron pots boiling over a fire. Care must be taken lest the first clean up destroy beautiful (and sometimes expensive) gear.
In our busy lives at home we can sometimes put off chores like dishwashing until later, or when we get to it. That can happen at Pennsic also. While it may be tempting to let things soak until later, please avoid that temptation and don’t do it!

Woodenware is often either laminated or otherwise made from many different pieces of wood joined together. Leave a cutting board or wooden bowl in a washbasin for a day or two and it will separate and literally come apart at the seams. The handles on wooden tankards are often glued on and will come off, sometime much later when you have a drink in them. If left to soak in hot water, woodenware will discolor and while it will still be safe to use, it will look horrible. Since wood is porous, it will also soak up any soap that is in the water and you'll know it the next time you want some soup. French Onion a la Ivory Soap? Yuck! This same precaution applies to wooden spoons and any utensils made from natural horn.

Cast iron is an animal unto itself. Many do not realize that it too is porous and will absorb odors and flavors, such as soap. The best way to keep cast iron clean is to not let food sit in it for a long time and get stuck.When cleaning cast iron, it is best to use no soap at all, but simply remove all food particles and gently scrub clean with steel wool (NOT A BRILLO PAD) and hot water. To remove food particles, fill the pot about halfway and bring to a boil. Remove from the fire, then scrape the food particles off the bottom using a wooden spoon to move the steel wool. Pour out the water and dry either over slow heat or with a paper towel then add a few drops of oil to the pan/pot while the pan is still warm. Rub the oil into the pan with a paper towel. So long as this paper towel only has the oil and not water on it, you can also save it to help start your next fire. Be certain you also treat the lid in the same manner. Don’t leave iron pots out in the rain or dew, and definitely don’t assume that since the lid was on, the inside of a pot is dry. Many a dinner had to be delayed so that the inside of a “sealed” pot could be de-rusted.

A stainless steel dish rack was mentioned earlier, if you are not interested in the period look. Even if you are, don’t discount stainless entirely. Visit your local dollar store and see what they have for stainless steel cups, bowls, plates, and trays. I have several cups which are virtually indistinguishable from the period tin ones. The plates are excellent as well. This feast gear gives me everything I want: a mostly period look, durability (I’m rough on my gear) and the bacteria resistance of stainless. While food left on these plates may grow mold and bacteria, it takes a lot to stick and it can’t penetrate the metal. Wash, rinse, sterilize, and the nastiest stainless steel plate is safe to use.

Sanitary Serving, or how not to poison your friends

In some larger camps, a breakfast or lunch board is part of the experience. Fruit, bread and spreads, cold cooked meats and hard-boiled eggs are perfect for breakfast, and the addition of some savory spreads and cold cuts made a decent lunch. The key is to keep it all cold.

One way to do this is to obtain either foil or stainless steel chafing pans. Foil can be found in any discount store, and check the bargain newspapers for old restaurant supplies to get the stainless ones. The deepest pan is filled with ice and a shallower one is laid in that. Place the food to be kept chilled into this shallow pan and cover with foil or plastic. A clean cloth towel can be laid over the top if you wish to keep it covered, and it will also stay cold longer. A full pan of ice set up this way should last for the duration of the meal time. (Hint: on those REALLY hot Pennsic days, instead of discarding this melted ice water, pour it into a tub of some kind and soak your feet in it.) Alternately, you can set bowls of food directly into the ice and keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t tip and spill into the ice as it melts.

Whole fresh fruit can safely sit out on the table, but cut fruits including loose grapes and hulled strawberries should be kept chilled. Same goes for veggies: keep all cut veggies as cool as you can and in the cooler between meals.

Cooked meats, lunch meats and cheeses must be kept cold, and so should spreads like mayonnaise and butter. Hardboiled eggs can safely be served unpeeled in a bowl and left out. If you have the room, keep jams and jellies at breakfast cold as well. It’s not imperative to chill them while serving, but they will keep longer and you won’t waste food or make anyone sick.

In our camp, leftovers from dinners happen, and are often served for lunches. If the food will not be reheated, keep it cold. Chances are the leftovers sat out a bit during dinner. We all know that coolers are imperfect beasties, so err on the side of caution. And mark leftovers like you would at home. If they are more than 2 days old, throw them away. Pennsic offers enough opportunities for Plague without adding botulism to the mix.
Lastly, whenever food is out as part of a Pennsic board, keep it covered. A clean towel (white will do; leave the rubber ducky one at home), some damp muslin (evaporation will aid in the chilling process), or even some of those mesh “domes” you see for picnics all work to keep direct sunlight and bugs at bay.

That, as they say, is that. Happy and safe camp cooking and eating!

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Permission is granted by the author for usage of this article in it’s entirety for SCA classes, personal edification, and any other non-commercial educational uses.

Foot Care at Pennsic

By Michael the Lost

If you are not a fighter your feet will probably be the most painful part of your Pennsic experience. I have heard rumors of people getting jungle rot at Pennsic. I find that hard to believe but I would believe that a lot of people get infected foot wounds. I am always surprised at how many people don't know about simple things such as moleskin. Here are some things I do to take care of my feet when I'm at Pennsic:

Change socks twice a day. I wear two pairs of socks at a time so this is easier.

Wear shoes that breathe. Most period boots that I've seen don't breathe very well. Sandals are good if they have a decent sole and I think sneakers are appropriate because of the abuse you are going to put your feet through.(let me put it this way: sneakers that glow in the dark are a bit too obviously OOP but if you get a pair of brown or black sneakers they will still be out of period but they won't be that noticeable and your feet will thank you)

Keep your feet clean. Aside from daily showers this year I'm planning on bring up some epson salts to soak my feet in. I've heard that a pinch of Cayenne works, as well as Pau d'Arco (find it in health supply stores). I have also heard that baby wipes are good for disinfecting and softening your feet.

Keep your feet dry. If your feet get wet change to a dry pair of socks as soon as you can get around to it.

Moleskin: Know it, Live it, Love it. Pack a lot of it. You'll use it. It's like a band aid except it's thicker, fuzzy on one side and all of the other side is sticky. It comes in sheets and you have to cut it to the right size to cover your blister. When you cut it make sure that all corners are rounded off. Moleskin will stay on for a long time but if there are corners it will be pushed out of place or come off a lot quicker. Some people make one layer of moleskin with a hole in it that surrounds a blister and put one over that first layer and the blister so the blister is covered better. It's hard to explain without diagrams, but there should be instructions on the package of moleskin when you buy it. Look for it in Rite Aid or Wall Mart. I don't know why but the Cooper Store did not sell it last year or at Pennsic 28. I ran out of my personal stock in a few days and had to mooch off the chiurgeons tent after that.

Dr. Shoals shoe inserts. I use two pairs of double thick inserts at a time.

Foot Powder.

Blisters: to pop or not to pop? Sorry, I know this is gross, but there are different sides to this argument and I am always hearing that I do it wrong even though I'm a fairly experienced hiker (and an Eagle Scout). Some people say that popping them invites infection. The way I look at I'm going to be walking on this blister so it's probably going to pop anyway and I might as well pop it in a sterile environment. I pop them carefully near the base of the blister with a needle I clean with flame from a lighter or match and squeeze them out. I make sure the skin area is clean and apply moleskin. I change the moleskin with my socks, twice a day, and clean them with an alcohol swab when I do. Another method is to get a clean needle and thread and stitch the thread through one side of the blister and out the other. The idea is that the fluid getting wicked into the thread protects against infection and the wound you create when you make the hole is covered by the thread, which keeps the wound clean.

Use a walking stick. You'd be surprised how much weight a walking stick takes off your feet.

(© 2002 Michael Daniel)

Going Off Site at Pennsic

Getting Started

Take Currie Road back out to the stop sign at Route 422. A right turn will take you west toward New Castle. A left turn will take you east toward Interstate 79, Moraine State Park, and Lyndora/Butler (in that order).

[If you would rather not make a left turn onto 422, you can turn right off Currie before you reach the fenced school bus lot. Follow that small road up to a T intersection, turn left, and almost immediately you will encounter signs for entrances onto 422 in both directions. This is also a handy way off Currie when the traffic backs up.]

Be sure everyone leaving the site has his/her Pennsic medallion with him. Even small children need to be wearing their wristbands. You cannot get back into the War without your medallion. Take the parking hang tag off your inside mirror when you are on public roads. Leave it in the car, though, since you will need to re-hang it in order to bring your car back on site.

Most businesses in the area are used to the SCA by now. There might be a fancy restaurant or two where it wouldn't be appropriate to be dressed in garb. Leave the live steel (knives, daggers, etc.) in the car when you go into a business.

(b>PA liquor sales in brief: You must be 21 or over. If you are under 30, expect to be carded, so have photo I.D. along. You cannot buy any alcoholic beverages in a supermarket in PA. You can buy beer, ale, and other malt beverages at a beer distributor or from a bar/tavern that has "package" service. To buy kegs, cases, etc., you go to a beer distributor. To buy wine or hard liquor, you must go to a state-run store called a Wine & Spirits Shoppe. Neither these stores nor the beer distributors are open on Sundays. You can buy six packs or bottles from a bar/tavern that is open on Sundays.

PA tobacco sales: You must be 18 to buy cigarettes, etc. If you are under 30, expect to be carded, so have photo I.D. along. 

PA lottery tickets are available at Sheetz and other convenience stores, as well as many beverage distributors and some supermarkets. You can now buy Powerball tickets in PA.

Shenango Beverage is 8.0 miles or 13 minutes from Cooper’s Lake.
Beer 4 Less in New Castle is 12.4 miles or 22 minutes away, and
CASES is 9.9 miles, but only 14 minutes away. East, toward Butler.

There are at least three or four Wine & Spirit Shoppes in New Castle. The easiest one to find is on Ellwood Road. As you approach New Castle on Route 422, take the bypass (signs for Youngstown, OH), and then leave the bypass at the first exit (Route 65, Ellwood Road). Turn left at the top of the ramp and go about half a mile to a shopping center on the right hand side. 

If you prefer to go to Butler on 422 East, take the Lyndora/Rte. 356 exit, go right at the top of the exit ramp, and then follow the road a very short distance to the Moraine Pointe Plaza, easily visible on your right. There is another Wine & Spirits Shoppe there.

Check with Pennsic veterans in your own camp or nearby who may recommend other beverage distributors.