The Renaissance Festival has been entertaining Maryland residents for 14 years, providing a peek at the England of King Henry VIII.
It started in Columbia and relocated several years ago to Crownsville, off Route 178.
This was my first experience as a festival-goer. Every year I hear rave reviews about the festival, but naturally, I had one question: How's the food?
I would not have been surprised at outrageous prices, small portions or inferior quality.
But it was not so.
My daughter Ronee and I liked everything we tried. I had the fish and chips and received a huge piece of breaded fish on a bun. Later I sampled fried bread with butter and garlic, which turned out to be my festival favorite.
Ronee tried steak on a stake, fried cheese and, before leaving, fried ice cream. The fried cheese ($1.75) topped her list of favorites.
Yes, dear eaters, the festival does sell food that isn't fried. And no, we didn't try the turkey legs, which seem to be the symbol of typical Renaissance dining. The food sold at the festival is not strictly Renaissance fare. Pizza and spaghetti and other modern foods abound.
The fried bread comes with different toppings, mostly sweet and sugary. When I stated a preference for the garlic and butter, I gained the admiration of the bread vendor. "Garlic and butter -- a real woman," he muttered. At least I think it was admiration.
Our only regrets: We didn't have the time or the appetite to try everything. Just before we left, we happened upon a little pushcart filled with edible delights we could take home.
Appropriately called the Edible Festival, the cart contained goodies that could have been found in the Renaissance kitchens of Northern Europe. The friendly merchant dressed in Scottish plaid plied his wares, offering free samples of his Brawny Scot Beer Bread. The beer bread, a novel and tasty mix, is sold on the cart for $3 a package.
Gregg Reight, Renaissance merchant and creator of the beer bread mix, recommended the Hardy Herb and Rye Beer Bread as an accompaniment to chili during halftime. Did they have football during the Renaissance?
Gregg, a teetotaler and vegetarian, likes the yeasty flavor of beer breads. He found most commercial mixes overpriced and created his own mix.
How much experimentation did it require? He said laughing, "Only about 400 pounds worth of ingredients."
While perfecting the mix, he was constantly dashing over to his friends and neighbors with the latest version, demanding constructive criticism.
He finally perfected two mixes and is introducing two more for next year's product line. I'm waiting for his latest creation: a bread made using apple cider instead of beer. Also in store for next year are scone mix, soda bread mix, shortbread and some specialty cookie mixes -- all in keeping with the Renaissance theme.
The beer bread mix is a version of one of the original "quick" breads. All the buyer has to do is add one can of beer, preferably light beer, stir, pop in a pan and bake. Forty-five minutes later you have an aromatic and flavorful bread.
The basic ingredients of the herb and rye bread mix are simple: unbleached, self-rising flour, light rye flour, sugar, dill week, dried green onion and parsley. Gregg says parsley freshens the palate and adds bulk to the bread. The bulk helps the bread retain moisture.
The Brawny Scot Beer Bread doesn't have herbs, and in place of the rye it contains oatmeal. Hear that, cholesterol watchers?
Gregg says at Christmas-time he adds ground clove, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg -- "It's like eating Christmas."
Gregg and his partner, Dave Wolf, owner of Tradewind Spice in Odenton, met when Gregg was looking for a source of fresh cider mull, those flavorful spices used to make mulled wine at Christmas. From that encounter, the Edible Festival was born.
Gregg, a longtime festival participant, had been looking for an inexpensive product in keeping with the Renaissance theme that festival-goers could take home.
Together, Gregg and Dave created items using materials that would have been available to Renaissance cooks. They removed a seasoned salt from their product line because it contained MSG.
Dave and Gregg mix and package the beer and bread mix themselves in batches of about 100 pounds at a time to ensure freshness. All other products -- except for herbal Worcestershire sauce and herbal honey -- are prepared by Tradewind Spice or are packaged for the company.
Also available at the Edible Festival are Rainbow peppercorns, $3 for one-quarter pound and packaged fresh each week. Gregg says the peppercorns are worth the festival admission price. The multicolored pepper is beautiful and would look lovely in a clear crystal or Lucite pepper grinder.
The Royale Petard Bean Soup is a blend of dried beans that were commonly found in Renaissance Europe. Greg, the vegetarian, recommends cooking beans with smoked meat and the Renaissance spices of "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme." This is another pretty food and makes a nice hostess or Christmas food gift.