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Frequently Asked Questions on Food

Is the water drinkable? (answer #1)
This is a topic subject to incessant debate. The general answer is "yes" especially after Cooper's Lake made a significant upgrade to their water system several years ago. That doesn't mean that you'd WANT to drink the water; it is very high in iron and other minerals. It's not likely to be harmful to your system, but it isn't the best tasting for drinking or cooking. Bear in mind that some people are sensitive to certain minerals and you may have an upset stomach simply because your body isn't used to that particular mix.

Most people opt for bottled water. Cooper's store sells a gallon for about $1, and in town you can find 1 and 2.5 gallon containers as low as 50 cents a gallon. Remember to drink lots of water -- it's summertime after all!

Is the water safe to drink? (answer #2)
Cooper's Lake Campground uses well water which has been tested and approved for public consumption, however it is very thick with iron and other minerals. Some people have a hard time digesting water with high mineral content and choose instead to live on bottled water. Pennsic water is safe to bathe and brush your teeth in, but it is so hard that you will not get a good lather. The iron stains plastic containers and any cloth that gets a lot of exposure to it. If you drink Pennsic water you're assured to get your daily requirement of iron!

If you have a delicate stomach, use only bottled water for drinking and cooking. At the grocery stores a 2-1/2 gallon container runs about $2. The Cooper's store sells 1 gallon bottles for about $1. Factor about 1 gallon per person per day. Some people say to drink water left from melted ice in your cooler. Don't do this - it is a serious sanitary risk. You can use that water to fill your solar shower bag, but never drink it.

Can you provide any feasting/cooking tips?
This advice has to do with sanitation:
  • For feast gear, ceramic pottery and metal are better than wood. Wood is very difficult to clean thoroughly and in fact is prohibited in restaurants for this reason.
  • Clean all feastware immediately after use. The less time food has to rot in the Pennsic sun in your feastware, the less risk. Some people have the nasty habit of cleaning their dishes by leaving them out in the rain. Blech. This has been the cause of many Pennsic Plagues in years past.
  • Use a two or three tub washing system: the first tub is hot soapy water, the second is clean rinse. A third tub would be for a sanitizing dip. Dip all your cooking utensils and feastware in this tub both before eating and after each washing. For the sanitizing dip, a capful of liquid bleach is enough to treat a gallon of water. You may also be able to get "steramine" which are used in the restaurant industry. This is more expensive but a more professional approach.
  • Treat all meats, particularly chicken, like a hazardous material. Don't let the raw meat or its packaging get in contact with any other foods or food prep utensils. Dispose of scraps and packaging immediately, and wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap after handling.
  • Don't Leave Food Out. If you're offered food from unprotected containers such as cut fruit or cheese, ASK how long it has been out. If the answer is "longer than 30 minutes" you should kindly refuse the offer. Your bowels will thank you.

We like camping out, but how do we keep food fresh in the heat?
The camp store, centrally located in the campground, stocks ice in plenty. Cost is reasonable, about $1.50-2.00 for a 7 lb bag. When I say "centrally" I mean that it may still be quite a walk to get supplies back to your camp. It's not uncommon to see little red wagons loaded with ice making daily trips for large camps. And for a small fee, some of the kids will make deliveries right to your tent.

How can I avoid hangovers?
Don't drink. Seriously though, I'll offer these tried-n-true tidbits that I learned years ago from the FFA (why them, I can't explain), and drinking in Irish pubs:

  • Before drinking, pad your stomach with starchy foods. Bread is the best. This may work because the starch slows the metabolism of alcohol or maybe bread is rich in Vitamin B's which offset the effect of alcohol.
  • For every pint of beer you consume, also consume 1-2 pints of water either during or after your binge. It is especially important to drink water before going to sleep. The headache part of a hangover is caused by dehydration of the body.
  • Don't mix alcohols in the same binge. If you start with beer, stay with beer. If you drink cordials, stick with those for the evening. Avoid drinking beer and hard cider on the same night - this makes for a rough wake-up the next day.

Is food hard to come by while camping at Pennsic War?
Good heavens, no! If you starve while at the War, it's your own damn fault. Even if you don't have transportation to the local towns (Butler and New Castle, each about 12 miles away), the Cooper's Campground store is always well stocked with fresh edibles, and several of the merchant area taverns are now open for business breakfast 'til dinner. A few may even be open 24 hours!!

Another interesting comment about Cooper's Store... I keep hearing that the chocolate milk they sell is heavenly, and I've heard year after year that it has become an integral part of Pennsic War. I've never heard a food product so highly touted before as this, and certainly never by so many people. Check it out -- there must be something to it!

Medium and large sized camping groups almost always have an organized meal plan, and I've found these to be the best option for cost and convenience. If you're considering this option, be sure to check out what's involved:

  • Will there be multiple entrees for each meal (especially if you're a vegetarian, and the majority of the camp is not)?

  • Does being on the group's meal plan involve servitude? (cooking, cleaning, or other possibly unpleasant tasks)

  • Does the group divide cost based on how many meals you eat? This is good if you only plan to eat only a few meals

  • For late arrivers: do you only pay for the meals you expect to eat, or do you have to pay the full fee even if you arrive at the War after the plan starts?

  • Will they accommodate any food restrictions or allergies you may have?

One of the more interesting and fun ways to get food is to be a travelling entertainer. As a wandering musician, this is how I get about half my food each year. Groups of all sizes love to have minstrels, poets, jugglers, and puppeteers drop by for an hour or two in exchange for a free dinner or a beer. It's a fantastic way to meet new people and see more of Pennsic War. As a musician, there are opportunities to play at campfires, weddings, drum circles, bardic competitions, royal courts, marches, or even a street corner in the merchant area.

Where can we get bulk supplies?
  • In Pittsburgh: "The Strip" is a well known produce market. (Directions, anyone?)
  • In New Castle (10 miles east): Kennedy's is a commercial meat supplier for bulk wholesale.
    Beer-4-Less is a bulk beverage supplier that has both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks at great prices.
  • In Union Township (west New Castle): Walmart Supercenter
  • In Butler: Target, Walmart Supercenter, Home Depot, Giant Eagle. Look for Cases Beer on the way to Butler for great prices on beer.
  • In Cranberry (20 miles south): Costco, Sam's Club and numerous discount stores
  • Rose Point Campground (3 miles west): Bulk propane cylinder refill. In 2011 a 20 pound tank refill cost $15.

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