Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s A Long-Expected Party.
- Potato and cream soup
- Roast pork with apples, root vegetables, and ginger gravy
- Roasted asparagus
- Stuffed pears
- Red wine
As Elves love song and Dwarves love the gems of the earth, so Hobbits love their food. We know more about Hobbit food than about the cuisine of any other culture on Middle Earth, so it is a surprise to find that in the description of the festivities for Bilbo Baggins’s 111th birthday, we learn nothing about what was actually on the table. (Though clearly there was plenty of it, whatever it was.) That means that for our very first Middle Earth dinner, we have to use a little imagination. Fortunately, there’s a lot to go on.
Since this is a party of special magnificence (with supplies brought in all the way from Dale), I’ve tried to make a combination of typical Hobbit fare with a few special or exotic twists.
Potato and cream soup relies on two Hobbit-ish standbys. Sam Gamgee loves his potatoes. (4.4) Milk, cream, butter, and other products of the dairy are favorites of Hobbits. (1.1, 5.4, 6.9) Potato and cream make a simple but rich soup.
Roast pork works well as a main course for a feast. Though pork as such is not mentioned in the text, bacon is, so Hobbits must have pork as well. (1.4) Apples are attested, as are potatoes, carrots, onions, and turnips for the root vegetables. (1.3, 1.4, 2.1, 4.4) Ginger is not mentioned in the text, but it seems like a luxury that might have been imported to the Shire, much as it was imported to Europe in antiquity and the middle ages.
Asparagus is not in the text, but it is a classic delicacy. In Europe, asparagus is mostly an early summer vegetable, so having asparagus in September (when Bilbo’s party was held) would be an out-of-season treat appropriate for the gentlehobbit of Bag End.
Pears are not mentioned in the text either, but where apples grow pears usually do well, too, so they seem a natural fit. The spices used in the filling may also have been exotic imports to the Shire, but honey they certainly had. (1.3)
Given Bilbo’s fondness for his Old Winyards, red wine seemed like the right drink to go with this meal. (1.1)
Potato and cream soup
This is a thick, rich soup. You can make this well enough just working by hand with a good potato masher and whisk, but to get a nice smooth consistency I recommend a food processor or immersion blender.
- 5 large potatoes
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1/2 cup cream
- Peel and boil the potatoes in enough water to just cover.
- When the potatoes are boiled and soft, drain them and mash them fine. (You can reserve the starchy potato water for bread-making, if you like.)
- Stir in the vegetable stock and bring the soup just to a boil.
- Take off the heat and whisk in the cream until well mixed.
Roast pork with apples and root vegetables
In this recipe, the pork is roasted on top of the diced vegetables so the flavors mingle.
- 1 onion
- 1 potato
- 1 carrot
- 1 turnip
- pork roast (2-3 pounds / 1-1.5 kg)
- 1 large firm-fleshed apple
- Preheat oven to 325 F / 160 C.
- Peel and finely dice the root vegetables. Lay them in the bottom of a deep roasting pan.
- Wash, dry, and trim the pork. Brown the roast on all sides in a skillet.
- Lay the roast on top of the root vegetables.
- Peel and core the apple and slice into rings. Cover the roast with these rings, securing them in place with toothpicks if needed.
- Roast in the oven until the meat reaches a temperature of 160 F / 70 C (about 2 hours). Check the bottom of the pan occasionally to make sure the vegetables are browning well and not burning. If the vegetables cook too quickly add just a little water to the bottom of the pan, but avoid adding to much or the vegetables will turn mushy instead of roasting.
This is a fairly simple pan sauce for meat, but the addition of the ginger gives it a twist.
- 2 tablespoons pan drippings or butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 teaspoon of powdered ginger
- About 1 cup / 2 dl water or beef stock
- Warm up the pan drippings or melt the butter in a skillet over low heat.
- Whisk the flour into the fat and sprinkle in the ginger.
- Add the stock or water a little at a time, whisking constantly to keep the gravy smooth.
This is a simple way of cooking asparagus that brings out the best of the vegetable’s flavor.
- 2 large bunches of asparagus
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 325 F / 160 C.
- Wash and trim the asparagus. You can keep the spears intact or cut them into halves or bite-sized pieces as you prefer.
- Lay the asparagus in a shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle with olive oil or butter, salt, and pepper and toss to coat.
- Roast in the oven for about 10 minutes. The finished asparagus should be slightly withered at the tips, but not burnt.
Baked stuffed pears
These baked pears are good on their own, or can be topped with ice cream or whipped cream.
- 4 large firm pears
- 1 small soft-fleshed apple
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl oatmeal
- 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl honey
- Pinch of ginger
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of cloves
- Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.
- Core, peel, and halve the pears vertically.
- Core, peel, and dice the apple fine. Mix it with the oatmeal, honey, and spices.
- Lay the pear halves cut side up in a buttered shallow baking dish and stuff with the oatmeal mix.
- Bake for 45 minutes or until the pears are thoroughly cooked but still firm.
Like their food, we know a fair bit of the Hobbits’ material lives. At the time of Bilbo’s 111th birthday, they were a prosperous and merry folk, with a wide variety of trades that allow for very comfortable lives.
Erik mentioned above that the text of The Lord of the Rings actually tells us practically nothing about what Bilbo served his guests. Likewise, there’s very little on the pragmatics of the party.
We hear of tents, pavilions, and the open-air kitchen that were erected on the field, and of lanterns hung on the party tree. Flags were also unfurled in the morning before the gathering. We hear a lot about Gandalf’s fireworks and the party crackers with wondrous toys and musical instruments inside, but none of that helps figuring out how the food was served. I drew from The Hobbit to complement our knowledge of Bilbo’s kitchenware, but most of the details are extrapolated and/or guesswork.
It’s clear that the Hobbits enjoyed their food plentiful and with plenty of repeats. I therefore imagined a table that had already been visited (and resupplied) a few times, hence the off-kilter placemats. I also decided to keep our table less fussy than is implied by Bilbo’s invitation cards for the family-dinner, which were “magnificent” and “written in golden ink” (1.1); perhaps this could be one of the regular tables, outside the splendor of the family-dinner.
We know that Bilbo placed an inordinate number of orders prior to the party, and just about every supplier for miles was tapped, and presumably not just for food. Due to the huge number of guests – the family-dinner alone had 144 people attending – I thought it likely that there would be a variety of styles on the table; basically anything that was available that could be used for eating.
Our table setting has glass and green glazed crockery complementing basic redware pottery, with wood and metal utensils, including a silver fork and soup spoon with a flower ornament on the handle. (Silver spoons are attested in 1.1 and H19, and glasses in 1.1 as well as H1.) The dessert bowl has leaf imprints on the inside surface, which fits the Hobbits’ love of green growing things.
Tolkien doesn’t say what the Hobbit lanterns used for fuel, so I went with candles. Extrapolating on Hobbit trades, I thought that the pear-shaped beeswax candle and the green wooden candlestick painted with leaves and flowers would fit. Since Hobbits have honey (1.3), they surely also have beeswax, and the pear shape sounds appropriately Hobbit-ish. Furthermore, having cartwrights (1.1) suggests also having lathes and turned wood items.
I did cheat and invented one feature: the multicolored, tasseled felt glass cozy is completely unsupported by the text. I chose it to add a little more color to the setting and to hide the undeniably modern glass underneath.
The colors green and yellow were pulled from the general description of Hobbits’ preferences. That goes for the potted plant as well; I placed it on a wooden plate and added a green ribbon around the bottom. Sadly, the plant lost its bloom at a bad time – only one little runty flower remained on the day of our photoshoot. Ohwell. 🙂
If I were to do this dinner setup again, I think I’d keep most of it, but add a tablecloth underneath the placemats and a banner or flag (or two) in the background.
Check out the introduction for more!
Images by Eppu and Erik Jensen
Geeks eat, too! Second Breakfast is an occasional feature in which we talk about food with geeky connections and maybe make some of our own. Yum!