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Women integral to re-enactment

May 06, 2002|BY KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Grabbing a metal poker, Lottie Gruzs pulled off the lid of one of three cast-iron pots resting on top of a trench laden with white-hot coals.

Inside, beef brisket was cooking with onions and looked a little dry. Gruzs called to Veronica Giglio to add some burgundy wine to the pot whose contents, in a few hours, would provide dinner for about 30 17th-century English re-enactors at the Spring Muster at Fort Frederick State Park on Saturday.

Planning and preparing meals with rudimentary ingredients over hot coals is a lost art, said Gruzs, of Baltimore.

"The fact that they ate anything that wasn't burnt showed their true talent," she said.

Gruzs, Giglio and Jeanne Robin were portraying camp followers - wives or family members of soldiers who accompanied troops heading to battles.

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The women prepared meals, sewed clothing and treated the sick at nearby camps.

In the 17th century, women's choices were few and many chose to follow their men, Giglio said.

Sponsored by the English Civil War Society of America, the Spring Muster continues today with tours, camp life demonstrations and tactical demonstrations of how 17th-century forces fought in England and in the American colonies.

"It was just as hard for the women as it was for the men," said Giglio, of Ellicott City, Md.

Cooking for the camp over a fire was an all-day process, she said. It was hard to gauge how hot the coals were, so the women had to continually check on the meals to make sure they didn't burn or dry out.

People typically ate three meals a day with dishes like oatmeal, meats, fish, cheese, bread, grapes and wine, Giglio said.

Dessert was often breaded and studded with fruit or pastries. Chocolate wasn't available to them, she said.

For lunch Saturday, Giglio prepared salmon with pecans, honey and butter and mashed potatoes with cheese, garlic, basil and cream.

Supplies were purchased by the captain, whose tastes would dictate the menu, she said.

"We used easy recipes because it's so hard to cook over a fire," Giglio said.

Meats were seasoned on the sweet side, and cinnamon, cloves and all-spice were commonly used, said Robin, who operated a "vittles tent" at the encampment. Signified by the wreath hung outside the tent as a place where meals and drinks were sold, the "vittles" - or, victuals - tent offered supplements to the soldiers' rations, she said.

After the food was prepared the officers were first to eat, followed by the soldiers and lastly, the women, Robin said.

Robin, who is 71/2 months pregnant, said women who were expecting still accompanied the camp, worked and delivered their children wherever they happened to be. Many died in labor or afterward from complications, she said.

"They didn't tolerate slackers, but I'm sure the others helped out as people help (pregnant women) today," Robin said.

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