Tuesday, March 29, 2011

De-farbing Your Campsite

As the Civilian Coordinator of the 21st Michigan Civil War reenacting unit, I call period dress meetings every spring and fall. Besides learning quite a bit about reenacting and social history, it's a great excuse to get into our period clothing after the long, cold winter.
This year is no different.
Earlier in March we had our spring gathering, although instead of having it at my home as we normally do, we had it at a nearby local historical structure - an 1872 schoolhouse. The meetings are popular and are growing larger, it seems, every year, and have outgrown my house. This year we had 30 members show - not too bad, eh?
As I have recounted in previous postings, we discuss our presentations as well as our authenticity standards. We also work on accuracy in clothing and accessories. And this year was no different. In fact, if you read a posting from earlier this year (More On Reenacting - Taking It Seriously) you will have a very good idea what I spoke on during my portion of the meeting.
Also at this year's meeting, for the first time, we had a guest speaker, Mrs. Sandy Root. Sandy reenacts with a different unit (the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society, of which I am also a part), and is a living historian extraordinaire. Do to her extensive knowledge of all things mid-19th century, I look to her as my mentor, and because of what I have learned from her over the years my impression has improved immensely.
So, to me it was a no-brainer to ask her to speak at our meeting. The presentation she gave centered around the defarbitization of your campsite and what to bring and what not to bring to a reenactment.
It was an excellent speech - one where even the most senior member of a reenacting unit could learn from. And, since most of the farby items brought to reenactments usually pertain to food items, this is what Mrs. Root concentrated on.
Although another blogger has already posted much of what I will have here (the young blogger is also in our unit), I, too, would like to present, for those who practice living history, Mrs. Root's notes (with additions and comments by yours truly). It is by no means complete - that could take a book - but it's filled with wonderful ideas:

Mrs. Root speaks to the membership of the 21st Michigan

How To Improve Your Campsite

A. Challenge yourself by trying to bring as few modern items as possible. Can you do without your laptop for a weekend? If you have a pocket watch, do you even need to bring your wristwatch?
B. Find ways to cover up or store your modern items in a period way
C. Take it a step at a time - pick one thing to improve on each year

Food and Kitchen Items
1. Storing what you need:

a) Wooden boxes - make sure that the boxes are easy to handle when full (easy and light enough for one person to carry)
b) Baskets - Make liners of cloth to help keep things from falling through
c) Tins - What you purchase from your local store can work: cookie, coffee, and other tins. They can be painted black and/or stenciled for storing breads and other baked goods
d) Cloth bags - make them in sizes that work: to cover your bread, for instance
e) Brown paper or freezer paper tied with string
f) Glass jars - no modern mason jars...they came later. By the way, to seal your glass jar you can dip fabric in beeswax which should become waterproof. Wooden tops and corks are fine, but cover them with the beeswax cloth and tie with a string.

2. Food Items

a) Make your food ahead of time and freeze it. This can include soups, stews, cooked chicken, roast, ham, and baked goods. Hard-boiled eggs are good to have prepared ahead of time for breakfast.
b) Bring simple food - things you can eat hot or cold, for instance, chicken. And, unless you like to cook a hot breakfast, fruit and muffins
c) Pre-wash potatoes, carrots, and other items to save time and for convenience

3. Plan Ahead - Make a Menu

a) Think about how many meals will you purchase at an event. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (or breakfast, dinner, and supper, to be period correct!). Seriously - in many cases there are food vendors at reenactments. Do you by food from these vendors? I know at the Greenfield Village event we always eat at least one meal at the Eagle Tavern.

4. Drinks ---- No soda or pop

1) Problems:
a) They do not quench your thirst
b) They attract ants
c) You have to dispose of the empty cans or bottles

2) Solutions:
a) Lemonade
b) Ice Tea or Sassafras Tea
c) Powdered Gatorade
d) Cider
e) water

(I have to admit, here, that I do enjoy drinking root beer (pseudo-sarsaparilla!) in between my drinking water. I do make sure my glass is washed out well before putting it away)

Problem We Can Run Into
1. Ziploc bags - They can leak but can be used for some foodstuffs. They can also be used inside of cotton bags.
2. Tupperware - They take up a lot of space in the cooler but are good for storing eggs with lots of paper towel packing.
3. Food getting wet in the cooler - Store items such as butter in period glass with rubber rings. vacuum sealers work wonderful for pre-made meals. Also, limit how much raw meat you bring.
4. "We pack heavy so we don't run out of food!" - In all honesty, how many times have you starved at a reenactment? For children, bring two of their favorite snacks and pack them period correct. Kids are usually too busy playing to eat anyway!

No farb here!

Day Trips to an Event
Pack a picnic basket with snacks that do not need refrigeration. Dried apples, raisins, peanuts, jars of pickles/jams/jellies, biscuits and/or bread, cheese, and even ham or sausage.

I hope this has helped any of you that enjoy doing living history and reenacting. Nothing can destroy that "moment" for you and for others than to have farby items all about.
And - for Pete's sake! - please stay in your period clothing the entire time you are at an event, unless you are seeting up or tearing down. Nothing is worse for other reenactors than to see the 9 to 5 crowd slip into their sweat pants and shirts just because the public has gone. Go back to your motel room - or to your home - if you want to get modern. The rest of us feel that once the public leaves, the real reenacting begins! Don't ruin it for everyone else!
Okay, I'm off my soap box now. Have a wonderful time-travel/mind-travel season!!

Many, many thanks to Mrs. Sandy Root for so much of the above information, and for her guidance in making our excursions to the past a truly authentic experience!.



Unknown said...

Another great beverage option is switchel (or shrub), particularly if you tend toward dehydration in the heat.

I had a lot more success with our set-up when I stopped trying to figure out how to hide modern stuff, and started trying to figure out what period stuff I ought to have. Working from the past forward was a huge change in my mindset, and really simplified what we needed to have along (even with kids!)

Here's to a great season--sounds like the gathering was a good success!

Historical Ken said...

Switchel was on the list I had but I, for some reason, over-looked it.
Your idea of working from the past forward is an excellent idea!
I will pass that along to our membership as well.

Jennifer J. said...

Thank you for sharing Mrs. Root's wisdom. I'm always looking for ideas for transporting/storing food to events. I hadn't thought about painting tins. Now that I have a toddler, anything to de-farb the entourage is of interest!