The melancholy and ancient songs of the Highlands drifted over the concrete swimming pool. Meanwhile, across Buchanan Park, bored cops leaned on their black and white Camaro patrol cars and tried not to look too interested in the giggling young maidens whose sunburned breasts spilled out of their custom-made, Folsom Street Fair leather bodices. A hundred yards away, near the portable toilets, four young men who resembled Braveheart extras drank four-dollar beer … uh … mead from plastic cups and jousted with five-hundred-dollar handcrafted swords emblazoned with wise mustachioed wizards or fire-spewing dragons.
Welcome and huzzah! It is the year of our Lorde, 1562, and all the Fairegoers, actors, custom purveyors of chain mail and Celtic clothing for wee poppets and adultes, and tarot card readers, and henna tattoo artists, are suspending disbelief with collective fervor, even if their surnames happen to be Greenberg or Patel or Sanchez. Held on 14 and 15 August, and now celebrating its ninth year, the Pittsburg Scottish Renaissance Festival bills itself as “the only festival of its kind in Contra Costa County.”
Vendors clad in the garb of the day, give or take a Payless shoe, sat under billowing canopies and fanned themselves in the heat of the afternoon. Visitors lucky enough to have the surname Campbell or Macgregor were able to see a sample of what their family tartan looks like, if they so desired. People wearing Star Trek: The Next Generation T-shirts hungrily browsed through the books with the tartan samples and then beamed happily when they found their patterns. One could purchase custom-made kilts that ranged in price from two hundred dollars up to a steep eight hundred bucks. Or budget-minded ladies could buy a T-shirt bearing the words “Official Kilt Inspector.”
Vendors who work Ren Faires are required to wear period clothing (boob-revealing wench-wear for the ladies, Dungeon and Dragons costumes for the men). But the Pittsburg organizers appeared to have said “fucke it” when it came to the authenticity of the food.
Who could blame them? If food from the British Isles is lousy in the 21st century, imagine what it must have been like six hundred years ago … in Scotland. Think blood pudding … unrefrigerated blood pudding. Or imagine “Helmeted Cock,” a bizarre Frankenstein combination made by sewing a pig and a fowl together. The mind doth reel and the stomach doth barf.
It is nonetheless disconcerting to see someone walking around in full-on Ren Faire regalia eating modern American craaap. Some faires, such as the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire up in Novato, at least try to offer some 16th-century-like vittles.
Purists will argue that they won’t be able to find a “sucketh of lettuce” available for purchase, but big tendony turkey legs have been perennial favorites of drama geeks looking to get their King Henry VIII on. Where were the giant turkey legs in Pittsburg? And the Pittsburg Faire easily could have had corn on the cob, a food staple of the Renaissance (and afterward thou couldst wipe thine arse with the cob). They also could have sold traditional British meat pies.
There were a few nods to the British Isles at the Pittsburg Faire, but, whoops, wrong decade, mate. An Austin-Powers-ish red double-decker bus was pretty much it, although the vendors were selling bangers out of the windows, alongside stale-looking corn dogs.
But what was up with the Mexican booth selling pork nachos, quesadillas, and other Mexican staples? Another vendor sold pan-fried noodles and egg rolls. Someone else was selling smoothies. Dudes, not to be harsh or anything, but bubblegum-flavored Hawaiian shave ice is so not a Scottish Renaissance staple.
The Wurst Sausage Company from Modesto sold “handcrafted” sausages, the one kind of food that might be considered authentic. One available variety was the “Irish sausage,” which included sage, eggs, rosemary, milk, and thyme — all of which would have been easy to procure in the days of the Renaissance. Unfortunately, they also sold lemonade that looked and tasted suspiciously like Country Time.
Asked what other kind of food from the British Isles was available, Isaiah, a young Modesto lad who was manning the Wurst Sausages booth, looked blank and also slightly nauseated. “Don’t they have that weird stomach thing?” he asked in an authentic San Joaquin Valley accent. He meant the infamous haggis, a mind-bending combination of oatmeal and onion cooked in the stomach of a sheep. This being a Scottish function, the “H” word was bound to come up eventually. But aside from the “weird stomach thing” and the Irish sausage (which was very good), Isaiah couldn’t think of anything else that qualified as British food.
Standing around eating nachos were Jim, 22, and his bare-chested and kilt-wearing buddy Emerson, 23, both of Modesto. They were working the faire as actors and also trying to get some. Even thought it was only three in the afternoon, it was obvious they had been practicing being Scottish for hours. “Like, would ye like a sip of scotch?” asked a slightly swaying Emerson, his accent wavering from Valley Boy to Scottish Bloke. “It’s Glenlivet,” he slurred, taking a long pull from a silver flask. “And it’s really good.”
In the spirit of research Food Fetish decided to have a snort. It was nice to finally meet someone at the Faire who knew what being authentic is all about.