Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s Farewell Feast in Bag End.
- Fish and chips
- Boiled cabbage wedges with rosemary mint sauce
- Blueberry soup
As with last month’s party, we have very little to go on in the text for an actual menu. Once again, this requires some imagination, but this time I’m trying to imagine a small, intimate dinner for friends, not a grand party.
So, I started with fish and chips. It’s perhaps the second most famous dish in Sam Gamgee’s cooking repertoire (after stewed rabbit) and it’s just the sort of good, humble home food that a Hobbit leaving his ancestral hole for the last time might well want. (4.4)
Boiled cabbage is also simple, homely food, and Hobbits are no strangers to it. (Gaffer Gamgee scolds Sam for daydreaming about Elves and dragons instead of thinking of cabbages and potatoes.) (1.1) The addition of a sauce dresses it up just a bit for a gentlehobbit’s table. Mint and rosemary are a classic pairing of herbs and though neither is mentioned in the text, they are both widely used in European cookery, much like the sage, thyme, and bay leaves Sam gets for his rabbit stew. (4.4)
Berry soup is also not something attested in the text, although Hobbits are fond of berries and fruits, but it is an unpretentious dessert to go with a simple home-cooked meal. (6.9) This recipe is an old one from Scandinavia where fruit soups are still a favorite treat.
The Bagginses are fond of their wine (1.1), which was probably a minor luxury compared with the beer that seems to be the usual drink for Hobbits. (H1, 1.4) As we know that Frodo saved his wine from the grasp of the Sackville-Bagginses, we had a little white wine to go with the fish.
Fish and chips
This is a simple recipe that shallow-fries the fish instead of deep-frying. The potatoes are actually roasted, not fried, but they have an excellent texture.
Dogfish (also called sand shark or cape shark) is the best fish for this recipe, if you can get it, but it’s a little uncommon in most fish markets. Any firm whitefish, like cod or haddock, will do, but flaky fish, like hake or sole, don’t stand up well to this kind of cooking.
Coating and frying the fish is a bit of an operation. I recommend having the flour, egg, and bread crumb bowls lined up next to the skillet and a plate covered in paper towels ready to receive the cooked fish.
- 4 large potatoes
- 2-4 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter
- salt and black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 450 F / 230 C
- Peel the potatoes and slice them into long wedges.
- Lay the wedges on a sheet of paper towel and press another sheet over them to remove as much moisture as possible.
- Toss the wedges with the oil, salt and pepper to coat.
- Roast for 45 minutes, turning the wedges occasionally in the pan, or until the wedges are brown and crisp at the edges.
- About a pound of fish filet, deboned
- About 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl flour
- 1 egg
- About 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl bread crumbs
- 2-3 tablespoons butter
- Wash and dry the fish.
- Spread out the flour in a broad, shallow dish. Do the same with the bread crumbs in another dish. Lightly beat the egg in a third dish.
- Melt the butter in the bottom of a heavy skillet, making sure the butter covers the bottom of the pan.
- Cut the fish into palm-sized pieces. Dredge each piece first in flour, then in egg, then in bread crumbs, and lay them in the hot pan.
- Turn the fish pieces with a spatula or tongs to cook both sides. If the bottom of the pan dries up, melt a little more butter in the center and tilt the pan to spread it out.
- When the fish is firm and has a golden crust, remove the pieces to a plate covered with a piece of paper towel.
Boiled cabbage wedges
A little boiling softens up cabbage and makes a nice side vegetable. The wedges tend to soak up a lot of water as they boil, so drain them well after cooking. They also have a tendency to fall apart, but it’s not hard to reassemble the layers to look nice on the plate.
- 1 quarter of a head of green cabbage
- Slice the cabbage into four equal wedges. Carefully lay the wedges in a large pot. Add water to not quite cover.
- Bring the water to a boil and simmer the cabbage for about ten minutes. Do not overcook or the cabbage will lose its crispness. The outer leaves should still be a fresh green, but the thicker inner leaves should yield easily to a blunt knife.
- Set a drying rack over a shallow pan. Carefully remove the cabbage wedges onto the rack and let them drain before serving.
Rosemary mint sauce
This is a simple but versatile sauce that goes as well on meat as it does on vegetables. If you don’t have fresh herbs, dried will also do.
- Two tablespoons butter
- Two tablespoons flour
- 1 generous tablespoon roughly chopped fresh rosemary leaves
- 1 generous tablespoon roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
- Pinch of salt
- About 1 cup / 2 dl water or vegetable stock
- Melt the butter in a pan. Whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste.
- Add the herbs and salt and blend well.
- Add the water or stock a little at at time and continue to cook on low heat, whisking well after each addition, until you reach a consistency that pleases you.
Serve this soup plain or with a little whipped cream. If you don’t have blueberries, the recipe takes substitutions of other berries or fruit well.
- 2 cups / 5 dl water
- 2 cups / 5 dl blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons corn starch or potato starch
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- Bring the water to a boil.
- Add the blueberries and sugar and cook for about ten minutes.
- Blend the starch and cold water into a smooth paste.
- Slowly stir the starch mixture into the berry water and cook until clear and thick.
- Chill and serve. As the soup cools it will get a tough skim on the surface, but this can be stirred back into the liquid.
Tolkien tells us that Frodo’s dining room was “bare except for a table and chairs” but leaves the rest of the details open. Considering that the following day they packed and sent off to Crickhollow “another cart with the remainder of the luggage” and that Frodo “took his own tea with Pippin and Sam Gamgee in the kitchen” (1.3), it sounds like the house is pretty much empty.
There is some evidence, though, that Tolkien’s “bare” might be closer to a modern equivalent of a house with basic furnishings than an entirely unfurnished one. Not only do we not hear of the table and chairs being moved out (instead, it’s “the luggage” that is), but it also sounds like a portion of the furnishings is definitely to stay.
First, after lunch on the day following the farewell dinner, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins came to see “that nothing she had paid for had been carried off… It took a long while to satisfy her, as she had brought a complete inventory.” That cannot be trivial. Second, after Frodo’s tea, they “left the washing up for Lobelia.” (This tea sounds like tea-as-meal, i.e. more substantial than merely a cup of tea, but it’s impossible to say whether it’s more an afternoon snack than a dinner.) There must’ve been some dinnerware that either Frodo didn’t care about and left at Bag End or that belonged to the house.
On the basis of these snippets, then, you could argue either that Frodo preferred to have a comfortable meal with a tablecloth and all of the trappings that a gentlehobbit is expected to have, or that he wanted to make the move from Bag End easy and therefore kept things as simple as possible. I find both equally plausible, given Frodo’s character.
I chose to skip the tablecloth, and laid the table with simple, unadorned dinnerware: an oval ceramic plate, a clear glass dessert dish, wooden utensils, and a plain metal candleholder. There’s also a handmade iron knife for cutting the cabbage. A solid-color napkin – green, naturally – takes care of potential little messes.
Since the “good wine” was explicitly not included in the sale, we went with the spirit of indulgence and picked a fancier glass for it. The glass is a replica of historical glassware from Sweden, bought years ago from Statens historiska museum shop in Stockholm. Unfortunately I don’t remember exactly when the originals were made; most likely they’re from the Roman age or early medieval period.
If I were to do this dinner setup again, I might swap the glass dessert dish (with a foot) with a small ceramic bowl (without one), but otherwise I probably wouldn’t change anything.
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!