How to make prop food (medieval setting)
January 10, 2017 1:07 PM   Subscribe

So, my daughter's theater group is putting up a Robin Hood play. I've made carriage wheels and wooden swords, but now I'm being asked to whip up some prop food. This is slightly outside my comfort zone.

What I've got so far is using salt dough to bake "bread" and "meat pies". I scored a few fish props really cheaply off eBay. The wish list includes a wheel of cheese, a large ham and a suckling pig on a skewer. I'm imagining a string of sausages would look nice as well. But I'm slightly at a loss and would appreciate some input. The budget is quite limited, btw, otherwise we'd just purchase from some of the apparently excellent suppliers in the field.
posted by Harald74 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For general meats, I suggest cheap dog toys!

For a cheese wheel, I just learned that styrofoam cake dummies are a thing. I'd start with that and use a basic carving set to round the edges, cut out a big slice, and spray paint yellow/orange to look like cheese.
posted by Drosera at 1:15 PM on January 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Fake vegetables from Micheal's to add to the "look" or, better yet, conceal the less than perfect other foods? Ham = chicken wire frame and flour pasted on to it newspaper then paint? Pig = on your own.
posted by Freedomboy at 1:17 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Wheel of cheese - seems like you could do that with a large-ish styrofoam sphere, slice off ends so it's flat on top and bottom, cut out a slice, and spraypaint it the appropriate color. (On preview, Drosera beat me to the general idea, but I think a sphere could be had quite easily at a craft store)
posted by dismas at 1:17 PM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Paper mache that pig! This pig's head looks pretty good too. I would imagine the process would be pretty similar in making a paper mache ham.
posted by defreckled at 1:33 PM on January 10, 2017

(Just in case you don't know: certain kinds of spray paint will melt the styrofoam. You may want to read more on what kinds of spray paint are styrofoam-applicable.)
posted by suedehead at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Get a foam (Nerf-like) football. Cut it in half. Stick half a large dog bone in the pointy end. Paint it all meaty. Enjoy your Ham on the Bone.

(Yes – a fake pigskin to make a fake cut of pig!)
posted by Kabanos at 1:50 PM on January 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

You can cover your styrofoam objects with glue-dipped fabric (like lightweight muslin) strips to make the surface take paint better and protect it from getting chunked out. White school glue works for that, and you can cut it with water to make it easier to work with. Pull some threads out of the edges of your fabric strips to make hiding the edges easier.

As suedehead said, the solvents in most spray paints will attack styrofoam and give results you would not enjoy.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:53 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can cover your styrofoam objects with glue-dipped fabric (like lightweight muslin) strips...

Along that same line of technique, here are some step-by-step photos of using styrofoam in pillowcases to make "18th Century Fake Smoked Hams & Bacon".
posted by Kabanos at 2:01 PM on January 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

A wheel of cheese could be done with a round piece of foam sponge (like this for smaller wedges, or something like a stool cushion for a larger one) with a wedge cut out. If you want, make a rind of slightly darker yellow using papier mache.

Sausages, maybe check how much are actual opaque casings/skins and stuff them with papier-mache cylinders. If the skins are transparent, apply some dark red dye or paint the cylinders, then, drag them a bit (A BIT) of flour for texture. You can also make a big sausage giggity with some small-size cheap pantyhose stuffed in the same way cut to as long as it sounds reasonable, and tied with some twine on both ends, or even trussed.

Turkey legs, maybe find a tree branch that may look a bit like a stump, and papier-mache layers over it until it's shaped like an actual turkey leg, and then paint it. If they're meant to be roasted, you can add some varnish for that glossy look on the "juices".

This reminds me: google for food photography tricks - if they're good for a menu or advert, they should be good enough for a school play, and even if some are not exactly durable, it should give you an idea of the process.
posted by lmfsilva at 2:03 PM on January 10, 2017

For a string of sausages, stuff and put elastics between the 'sausages' in brown childrens tights legs. They don't have to look good up close, and the setting will provide much of the illusion to the eye.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 2:20 PM on January 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Don't forget a bowl of plastic fruit!

I mean, fruit is good for you, right?
posted by BlueHorse at 4:27 PM on January 10, 2017

For the cheese, do you have a fat toy tire, from an old bigwheel or part of a toy truck? Use it as a base for your shape. Trace the top and bottom onto posterboard and cut out the circles. Then make a shape out of chicken wire or wire mesh around one half of the tire (from the outside to the center, like you'd slice a pie, not like a bagel). Repeat that step so you have two halves in wire and no tire inside. Slide your posterboard circles inside and tie the two halves together using craft wire (depending on your materials and the size of things, you could use a stapler to help you attach the posterboard to the wire, or you could use hot glue.) I think it would read as cheese wheels if you had more than one of different sizes, so you could do smaller ones but more of them if you can find different sized tires.

Then paper mache around your form. Do one "face" at a time, down the sides, and then when that's dry flip it over and do the bottom, smoothing the edge into the sides as you go. Do one thin layer at a time and let it fully dry.

Once you have a few base layers on there, you can use plaster of paris. Slather that on there and let it set up. It will be messy! But it's fun and I suggest recruiting theater kids to help. Once there's a good layer of plaster all over your wheels, you can use sand paper to smooth it out and shape everything so it looks properly cheesewheelish. It should be a nice opaque white that will not show any underlying newsprint. If you want to get crazy you can tint your plaster a golden yellow with acrylic stain before you apply it, but that's kind of a crap shoot and doesn't always work well depending on your materials.

To paint it, use thinned acrylic paint and sea sponges. Get some basic yellow and split into different batches, tinting them different tones with smaller high density pigments in browns and reds and even a little green if you're adventurous. Build up thin layers with your sponges. It will soak into the plaster and look kind of dusty (like cheese!) as it dries. This could be a great project for an erstwhile art kid who has taken up with the theater crowd (ask me how i know!) who can have fun building up layers of different tones, but if you're doing it all by yourself I suggest doing one base layer of simple yellow, then doing some too-colorful texture, and then toning it all down with more yellow on top. This will give you lots of control.

You can then preserve your work by coating it all with a matte varnish. It might look more authentic if you use the kind that's brushed on instead of sprayed. Do the top and sides first and then flip to get the bottom.

This sounds like a lot, I know, and has lots of steps and is kind of intense. But it's really mostly waiting for stuff to dry and having a spot where you can make a mess. And if you're doing more than just the cheese in paper mache you can do a lot of it simultaneously. I'm thinking the large ham could be done similarly, as well as wedges of cheese and if you're being semi-authentic some "trenchers" too, since they would look different from your supposedly more edible "bread". And if you varnish it well, it can be used over and over again.
posted by Mizu at 9:05 PM on January 10, 2017

Good suggestions so far, guys. I'll probably try some of them during the weekend and report back.
posted by Harald74 at 9:10 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

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