Where can you find trinkets, jousting, turkey legs, and men in tights all in the same place? A Renaissance Faire.
The Northern California Renaissance Faire opened this weekend at Casa de Fruta, just outside Gilroy, Calif. and I, Janice Rabe, reporting Renaissance Faire and food fanatic, attended, along with thousands of other excited attendees. This was the tenth year for the fair so I was expecting participants, merchants, and food stalls to pull out all of the stops.
Dressed to the nines in my medieval garb — crushed blue velvet peasant dress, hair reaching by mid back, with a beer stein and a stuffed dragon in hand — I fought through the crowded lines and entered the fair with only one thing on my mind: turkey legs.
Walking along the hay-strewn paths, I was surrounded by people in costumes: women in bar maid outfits that displayed their “assets,” their hair in exquisite braids and their necks adorned with pearls; others were dressed in heavy garments, complete with hoop skirts fit for a queen. There were men wearing tights and billowy pants that had buckles and ruffles every place you can imagine, and large feathered hats topping their heads.
All around me I heard cries of “Good morrow,” “Good day!” and “How now!” The path wound around little shops selling incense, chain mail, fox tails, fine jewelry and small toys of dragons, fairies, and great knights.
It was nearing noon, and I headed to the food court, where 14 stands offered up their very best in delicious fare. Options included turkey legs, heritage meat pies, sausage, bread, and cheese. The more unusual stands were Trattoria di Stromoli — sellers of Italian pizzas and strombolis — and Acropolis, making gyros, falafel, and all foods Greek.
Wanting to be as authentically medieval as I could (and saving the turkey leg for dinner), I found myself at The Quail Inn. On their menu: spinach-stuffed chicken, cheese and peach fritters, roasted duck, and soup in bread bowls. But what caught my eye was the whole steamed artichokes and whole roasted quail.
I have only attempted to eat a whole artichoke once before. This one came out steaming, buttered, and accompanied by a large amount of Hollandaise sauce for dipping — but it seems I still have trouble eating artichokes. There was barely any “meat” to the individual leaves, and the prickly spines on the heart were left intact, cutting my mouth when I tried to eat them.
I was left using a leaf to scoop up the remaining Hollandaise, careful not to drip any on my gown. I wasn’t going to leave that golden gloriousness no matter how mauled the rest of the artichoke was.
Feeling defeated, I turned to the whole roasted quail. Small — barely the size of my hand — but with a large price tag of $8, I should have been suspicious. Though the barbecue sauce slathered onto the bird was sticky-sweet and delicious, it didn’t mask the dry texture of the tiny quail. Of course such a small bird would be hard to cook properly over the large-scale grills that The Quail Inn had in use, but I expected them to ensure that their namesake was particularly extraordinary.
Suddenly horns were blared and an announcement proclaimed: “Make way for the Queen’s Champions!”
The joust was about to begin.
Climbing out of my food melancholy I brushed myself off and started for the tournament grounds, pausing to purchase a “Fruit Ice.” These sorbets were organically made and came in flavors like strawberry, lemon, coconut, and pineapple. I selected strawberry sorbet, which came in a hollowed-out orange half. The luscious sherbet was brightly flavored and was not overly sweet.
With sorbet in hand, I found my way to the Tournament of Horses. Swords clashed, chain-mail rattled, women gasped, and lances were broken. The crowed swelled with “boos” and “huzzahs” as their champion danced through the opponent’s maneuvers. As the last drop of sweetness from my strawberry treat fell to the dusty ground, the tournament ended and the green knight was named victor.
The sun was now hanging low in the sky and it was dinner time, or in the magical world of the Renaissance Faire: turkey leg time.
Threading through the crowds that poured into the food court, I raced up to the counter at Turkey Legs, huffing and puffing. I was greeted by a cheery young woman who asked, “ What will ye ‘ave?” I order a turkey leg and “The Royale,” a baked potato.
The turkey leg came out dripping in grease; it needed many napkins wrapped tightly around the bone to keep it from seeping down my wrist. The turkey leg was perfect: the meat hot, juicy, and smoked. I ravenously devoured the giant steaming leg, abandoning the potato on the ground where I was sitting. I felt more like a savage lioness than a woman dressed in girly velvet. Looking around, I noticed a number of fair-goers doing the very same thing with their turkey legs — women forgetting their manners; men attacking their food with ferocity (despite wearing tights); boyfriends holding legs out to their girlfriends to tear apart; and one little girl in a purple satin gown grinning widely as she gobbled her food.
As I finished, the grease stuck to my fingers, but on this occasion I had no problem licking my fingers in public.
After practically inhaling the turkey leg I moved on to the royale potato, which was drenched in butter, slathered with cheese sauce, beef and mushrooms, and topped with a walloping dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives. I dived in with my fork (aware of the dangers this posed for my costume) and tried to get all of the toppings onto each bite. It was a delectable combination. The cheese especially seeped into each crevice of the potato, melding with the beef and mushroom sauce and creating a creamy consistency that was magically delicious. I didn’t spill a bite.
Feeling stuffed, but in desperate need of something to quell my sweet tooth, I headed to Artisan Candies’ sweetshop for strawberries and crème-filled cake on a stick, covered in chocolate sauce. At first I thought that the cake was simply a sponge variety, but found that it was in fact a fluffy cake filled with crème, more like a Boston crème pie.
A parade of jesters passed by and it was announced that the day is coming to a close. The sun was setting as I headed out the gate. I felt as though I needed a few more days to completely take in all the Renaissance Faire has to offer; eating around grown adults dressed in costumes while using zero utensils and having a jolly old time really is my idea of fun. Luckily the fair runs every weekend from mid September through the end of October.
As I left, a polished knight in green asked if I would be back again this season, to which I replied, “Of course I will, but I’ll stick to the potatoes and meat pies.”