By Sara of Nihilitia: Jousting, elaborate costumes, artisans, minstrels, – there are many reasons to go to the Maryland Renaissance Festival. . . but there is no better reason than stuffing your f***ing face.
The Renaissance Festival, or Renfest, is essentially a theatrical version of a county fair. Most states have a Renfest or two every year – even Alaska! Maryland’s Renfest takes place in a permanent village set in a lush forest, which does a fabulous job of setting the mood for chivalry and merriment. Instead of typical midway carnival games, there is axe throwing, archery, jacob’s ladder, and, “dunk-a-wench.” Lining the edges of the Renfest are little shops selling all kinds of curiosities, like bronze sculpture, gossamer scarves, Gandalf-esque robes, and wooden swords. Of course, the people watching opportunities are ubiquitous. Half of the people in costume work there, and the other half are weekend warriors who live for that time each autumn, when they can finally slap on their chainmail, lace up their corsets, and hang out in public without getting beaten up. I find it both dorky and precious.
All of that is secondary to the main objective: GLUT. In the Renfest guide, a directory of “fine feasts and spirits” is listed on the same page as the map, because obviously it is the most important. The Renfest offers traditional 16th and 17th century gastronomic fare as pork pockets, shrimp dippers, croissant sundaes, and cream puffs on a stick. Most of the Renfest offerings are either fried, or are served in stick form. This is no place for calorie counters.
For one glorious day out of the year, I ditched my diet rules and entered into a contest with myself to see how many things-on-a-stick I could consume. Along for the shameless epicurean adventure were my boyfriend Tom, my bandmates, Brad and Chris, and my friends, Nic, Dan, and Adam.
Tom, Chris, and Nic were all Renfest virgins – they were about to be touched for the very first time.
After arriving, Tom and I split up with Brad and Chris, who went off in search of crab cakes. Pre-gaming on the drive out had made me a hungry, hungry hippo, and I was ready to glut myself silly. We met up with the rest of my friends, who had driven separately. Nic admitted to already indulging in “Steak on a Stake” (and loving it). He was now focusing his attention on drinking mead, a type of honey wine, which is very much worth the price of admission itself. Dan had been waiting for Tom to arrive so they could eat an inaugural turkey leg together. The turkey leg is really the essential Renfest food. It takes a lot of commitment to tear through the outer sinewy layer to get to the delicious, tender meat inside. There is really no graceful way to eat one. We all took turns attacking the legs and started looking for our next target.
Not even halfway through his turkey leg, Tom ran off to get fried macaroni and cheese on a stick. Try to wrap your puny mind around this impressive feat of human achievement: super rich mac ‘n cheese, deep fried, in triangular shapes, and then stacked on a skewer. Embarrassingly soon after we killed those turkey legs and the fried mac ‘n cheese, we picked up fried pickles and fried stuffed jalapeno peppers. Both of these won high marks from the group. Bragging rights come with how many kinds of things you eat, so everything got passed around like a j at an outdoor concert. Tom and I had fried pickle slices once before in Memphis, but agreed that they were far superior served in spear form. Around the same time, I got a call from Brad who was completely dejected that the crabcake stand had sold its last crabcake before he and Chris got there. Tom couldn’t help himself and picked up fried cheese, which turned out to be just weirdly shaped mozzarella sticks.
We needed to satisfy our sweet tooth. Dan picked up “peasant bread”, which resembled puri, a type of fried Bengali bread that my mom always makes when we have guests. It was highly delicious when topped with grape jelly. Tom disappeared and returned with fried ice cream and a huge grin. I thought his eyes were going to pop out of his head because he was just so excited about what he was going to eat next.
We sat down for a breather (and some more mead) at a tavern and Tom ran off to get a chocolate-covered frozen banana. It was Bluth-tastic. Somehow we met up with Brad and Chris around the games. Tom and Dan tried their hand at axe throwing. Next it was onto “Dunk-a-Wench.” Inside the dunking booth was a maiden yelling some pretty suggestive taunts, such as “Come on, give it to me harder!” and “Don’t you want to see me all wet?” I found her language inappropriate because there were kids all around and also because she wasn’t even hot. Tom, Chris, and Brad all tried to dunk her, but she was simply un-dunkable. . .until Brad slipped the guy running the game five bucks.
Brad and Chris wandered off again and the rest of us checked out the “Unnatural Museum of History” (a rip-off unless you’re six years old, by the way). Soon after, I saw a sign for “Sir Much-A-Lots” advertising fried Snickers, funnel cakes, and corn dogs, and decided that we simply HAD to eat there. This particular food stand offered probably the grossest and most positively indulgent thing we ate – the fried Twinkie. Shame on a stick! (*sigh* I wish I was eating one right now.) Circling around the festival, we wound up at the strong man game and Tom gave it a shot. I got a cheap thrill out of watching him swing that gigantic mallet, and I don’t think I was the only one.
By now, things were getting kind of woozy. We were high on trans fats and low on energy. At this point, there was about an hour until the whole place shut down, and Tom was getting a panicky look in his eye, because there were still things left that he wanted to eat. The crowd was starting to clear out, so we grabbed an empty bench under a tree. Once again, Tom disappeared and came back, this time with ribbon fries – which resembled a gauche version of potatoes anna. The verdict? Vitamin D-licious!
Just as Tom and I said goodbye to my friends, Brad and Chris stumbled out of nowhere. Their extreme staggering and giggling were telltale signs that they had consumed mass amounts of alcohol and sugar since I had seen them last. They both started rambling about the things they had consumed in my absence: crab dip and crackers, oyster shooters, mega-loaded Belgian waffles. They had also experienced the magic of fried pickles and fried mac ‘n cheese on a stick, the latter of which was voted Nihilitia favorite. The four of us scurried around the festival looking for food and drink as everything was closing down all around us. Brad and Chris both got sundaes, which I don’t think they even remember eating, followed by spinach pies served with fake nacho cheese sauce. A true champ, Brad grabbed two jumbo dill pickles and a veggie wrap on the way out of the festival.
Some last words on the Renfest:
-It was a lot more crowded than I expected, and we didn’t even get there until 3 p.m. I hate crowds, but luckily I was buzzed when we showed up, so it didn’t bother me too much. Plan accordingly.
-Your shoes WILL get dirty. Flip flops are not recommended.
–Sadly, the only hotties at the Renfest are 13-15 years old.
-Taking pictures of actual Renfest workers is encouraged. Taking pictures of other folks in costumes without asking is rude. However, I really couldn’t help myself and had to take a picture of this dude. He rules. I might have to write a song about him.
Go forth and GLUT!