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Eating at the Renaissance Fest

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We were happy to be in the audience at the Texas Renaissance Festival for the turkey leg-eating contest, with not one of the 10 contestants kneeling in the dirt picking sinew out of their teeth (see video). Winner "Albert Zero One" of Austin inhaled his in about three-and-a-half minutes, then walked around saying, "I'd shake your hand but mine's got turkey all over it." The contest was refereed by Lady Beatrice Lucy Ann Busybody, Mistress of the Rebels -- also known as Melissa McClung, of Houston.

Our own turkey leg, plucked from King Henry's Table near the fair entrance, didn't go as quickly. It started off well enough, smoky, with a salty, tangy surface rub. The skin was rubbery and hard to bite through, but once we ripped past that we found at least 10 bites of good meat inside. The top section was the best, a bit drier, smokier, easier to eat and a nice companion to our can of Boddington's Ale. The meat got stringy quickly, however, and having to tear strips of skin and detach rows of tendons to access another layer of meat almost made us envision this bird having a name, a family and hobbies. The tom turkey was worth buying, worth eating, and certainly filling, but we were happy to end on the Boddington's. We couldn't help wondering about the other seven turkey legs on offer at the festival.

Trying to justify our samplings with a (half-assed) period-appropriate, Anglo-centric theme, we next ventured to the Captain's Galley for fried pickles, on the justification that many things had to be preserved in vinegar five centuries ago just to be safe to eat. We expected a whole pickle, breaded and fried, and were a bit miffed when it came out in slices. The breading was spicy in that fake, Wendy's-spicy-chicken-sandwich way, but the texture was surprisingly awesome. The breading, which hung loosely on the dill slices like an adult sweater on a child, was crumbly, not soggy, not oily. Biting through that to the pickle unleashed a salty, spicy juice with hints of dill and vinegar. The pickles themselves were firm, with some crunch.

Because we had a blast at the festival overall, we'll mention the bangers and mash from the Queen's Pantry only to say we tried it but were thoroughly let down. The boiled (boiled!) sausages were undeniably store-bought. The mashed potatoes, peas and gravy had roughly the same texture and no flavor. Fail.

The real highlight of the food wasn't period-appropriate at all (to our knowledge). Before we praise it, though, let's get one thing clear: It might seem hard to butcher a funnel cake, but it's sadly common. Overcooked (too crispy and dry), and you're covered in powdered sugar, then wind up looking like a "Twilight" goon trying to rub it off. Undercooked (doughy and oily), and you feel like you've bathed in Crisco, not to mention it's impossible to rip off individual bites, so your need to gorge makes you burn your fingers digging through the hot, oily mess.

Not so for "Queen Anne's lace" (though, they could have called it "King Charles' severed head" and we'd still have gone for it). The vanilla-scented goodness from Sherwood's Sumptuous Spread was so absent of oil, we were vaguely suspicious. It was even poured well, with clear divisions along which to tear off bites. Crisp on the edges, light and fluffy on the protected layer underneath, it was just doughy enough to let the powdered sugar cling to its surface. Jolly good.

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