Southwest Ohio park under new ownership in its 26th year
By Beverly Drapalik
HARVEYBSURG — Stepping through the castle gates of the Renaissance Festival means stepping back in time to 1592.
The festival, in Harveysburg, has been a local tradition for 25 years. Now, under new ownership, the folks in charge have plans to offer the traditional fare to attendees and expand and improve the fun.
David Ashcraft owned a technology company; Chuck Biehn works in sales manufacturing; Tony Taylor works in commercial real estate. These new owners want to provide new entertainment, better technology and new artists.
They are mindful, however, that many people come to the park expecting to re-live special moments — even special memories belonging to their children.
With new ownership, employees wanted to continue working at the festival. Collectively, the employees have more than 100 years of experience, and they have enjoyed sharing expertise and stories with their new “bosses.”
“We are like family here,” said Cheryl Bucholz, the festival’s vice president and marketing director. “Every day is fun.”
The Renaissance Festival opened Labor Day weekend and has only 17 days of operation from that weekend until the end of October. Some of those days could be ruined by rain, but overwhelmingly, employees think rain creates even more fun. Actors resort to even more improvisation — especially in the Muditorium.
More than 100 shows are performed each day on 11 stages. Patrons can sit and watch performances, or, if they wish, become part of a show in the streets. Listening to music becomes a pleasure in the Aleing Knight Pub.
The festival property covers 130 acres. There are another 147 acres available for possible use.
“We are currently trying to decide how to offer more to the community, “Ashcraft said. “We have so much theater seating, we could offer a variety of events.”
For years, families and school-age children have attended the festival. Ashcraft remembers when his own children went to the festival. They are now 28 and 30 and have fond memories of their time on the grounds.
If festival goers arrive when the gate opens, they will hear announcements for the day: when the queen is arriving, when the parade is beginning and when special acts are performing. For the most part, booths have items and games from that time period. Each booth is different and there is something for everyone. Artisans show an experience, from blacksmithing to glassblowing to candle making.
Each weekend has a theme, so if someone is not into pirates, he or she might choose the romance or the OctoBEERfest weekend. Notable is the first weekend: Family & Friends Weekend. Adults are two for the price of one and all kids 12 and under get in free.
David Smith, entertainment director, said he is always looking for new entertainment. He has trouble pointing to a favorite act, but said the Muditorium (the only one in Ohio) and Swordsmen are among his favorites.
Smith works with staff for months, honing performances. He also said many actors just like to have a great time. One guy autographs mustard packets and hands them out to people in the streets. Most actors are available and enjoy talking to patrons after performances.
If patrons wear period dress, they have a special name at the Renaissance Festival: playtrons.
Period dress is not a requirement, but it is if a couple decides to have their wedding at the festival. St. Peter’s Chapel fills the air with music for 16th Century weddings; champagne and dessert receptions are held in a private picnic area.
Bucholz has some, now funny, memories from past weddings.
“I remember the groom, crying, standing there in his kilt, and thinking his bride had jilted him. She was actually stuck in traffic,” Bucholz said. “Also, one groom lost the wedding ring, so employees were on hands and knees, looking through acres and acres of a grass parking lot. Another time, a wedding cake melted, creating a scene.”
The festival has five kitchens. All food is prepared on site, and patrons will find at least 10 food locations. This year, look for wine tasting and cider tasting as well as food specifically from the Renaissance. Dishes such as Bangers and Mash and Shepherds Pie are favorites.
The Renaissance Festival is a special place where patrons can become lost in a “simpler time.” With Ashcraft and team busy thinking about more events for “untapped” property of the festival, the possibilities are endless.
RECIPES COURTESY OF THE RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL
Bangers and Mash
Bangers and Mash is the familiar term for Sausage and Mash, a favorite British and Irish dish. The name “bangers” is believed to have come from the habit sausages bursting in the pan with a “bang” if cooked too quickly.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 thick sausages (beef, pork, or flavored as you wish)
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons milk
1 stick butter, cubed
Onion Gravy Ingredients:
2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1-1/4 pint beef stock
4 teaspoon corn starch/corn flour
4 teaspoon cold water
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Turn the heat to medium and add the sausages. Fry until the sausages are golden brown and firm, turning them from time to time, about 20 minutes. Once cooked, place in an ovenproof dish and keep warm until the mash and gravy are ready.
Meanwhile, start the mashed potato by boiling the potatoes in lightly salted water until soft. Drain, and keep warm until ready to mash.
While the potatoes are cooking, make the gravy. Melt the oil and butter in a large saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the onion and cover with a lid. Cook slowly for approximately 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent.
Add the sugar and balsamic vinegar to the onions and stir well. Cover with lid and continue to cook for a further 5 minutes.
Add the stock and boil gently uncovered for 5 minutes.
In a heat-proof jug or bowl, mix the corn starch/flour with the cold water to a thin paste. Pour a little of the hot gravy into the starch mixture and mix thoroughly. Pour the starch mixture back into the gravy, raise the heat to high and boil for 10 minutes or until the gravy is slightly thickened. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Finish the mash by placing the milk and butter in the pan used to boil the potatoes, return to the heat and warm gently until the butter has melted. Serves 4.
Although this dish is called a “pie,” there isn’t any pastry involved. It is a mix of ground turkey and vegetables in a sauce topped with mashed potatoes. The dish is browned in the oven for a delicious example of English comfort food.
3-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inches pieces
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1-1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 pounds ground turkey
1 cup thawed frozen peas
3/4 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Make the potato topping: In a large saucepan, combine the potatoes with enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes well in a colander.
In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, milk, butter, salt and pepper to taste. Using an electric mixer, beat on high speed until smooth. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a small saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes to blanch. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 15 seconds. Stir in the ground turkey, breaking up the large pieces with a fork, and cook until browned. Add the blanched carrots, peas, corn, tomatoes and tomato paste. Mix well. Cook, stirring often, until the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Season with black pepper to taste.
Spray a 3-quart gratin dish or shallow casserole with vegetable oil spray. Spoon the vegetable-turkey mixture into the prepared dish. Top with dollops of mashed potatoes. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until heated through. Serve hot.
Beverly lives in Wilmington with her husband, Jeff. They also live with a dog, a cat, a parrot, chickens and bees.