Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s Supper at the Prancing Pony.
- Root vegetable soup
- Cold chicken and ham
- Bread and butter
- Blackberry tart
No meal in The Lord of the Rings is more clearly described than the supper laid on by Butterbur of Bree at the Prancing Pony, and we have stuck to the letter of the description: a hearty vegetable soup and cold chicken and ham served up with bread, butter, and cheese, with home-brewed stout to drink and a blackberry tart for dessert. (1.9)
There are plenty of different kinds of soup I could have picked for this dinner, but I went with a vegetable soup since there are no other vegetables on the table. It makes a good complement to the cold meats. This soup uses beer in the broth and works well as a way of using up old, flat beer, a problem that even as busy a tavern as the Prancing Pony would have to solve.
Ham and chicken are easy to cook and eat well cold, which makes them good choices for the meat to go with this dinner, although you could also serve cold beef, pork, or mutton. Using a couple of different meats gives the meal a little more variety.
Bread, butter, and cheese are all pretty straightforward. I kept the blackberry tart very simple, in keeping with the idea of plain, solid tavern food. The beer is a blackberry stout I brewed last fall, to go along with the flavors of the tart.
Root vegetable soup
You can use just about any mix of root vegetables you like in this soup. Roasting the vegetables first brings out the sweet flavors and helps them stay firm when cooked.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 carrots
- 2 potatoes
- 1 parsnip
- Pinch of salt
- 1 onion
- 2 stalks fresh rosemary
- 1 cup / 2 dl flat beer
- 3 cups / 8 dl vegetable stock
- 2 tomatoes
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl wheat berries
- 1-1/2 cup / 3 dl water
- Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.
- Peel and roughly chop the carrots, potatoes, and parsnip. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a broad, shallow roasting pan. Toss the chopped vegetables with the melted butter and salt. Roast until well browned, about an hour.
- Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large soup pot.
- Chop the onion and sautee in the melted butter until well browned.
- Roughly chop the tomatoes. Add the roasted vegetables, rosemary, beer, and stock to the soup pot and bring to a simmer.
- While the soup is coming up to a simmer, rinse the wheat berries and place them in a separate pot with the water. Bring to a boil and cook until the water is absorbed and the wheat berries are chewy. Add the cooked wheat berries to the soup and remove the rosemary stalks.
This tart works as well with frozen berries as fresh. Brushing the crust with egg creates a layer that blocks the liquid from the blackberries from seeping into the crust and making it soggy.
- 1-1/4 cup / 3 dl flour
- 1/3 cup / 1 scant dl sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 2 egg yolks
- Preheat oven to 400 F / 200 C.
- Blend the dry ingredients.
- Add the butter, cut into chunks. Work the butter into the dry ingredients either with a pastry blender or in a food processor until the mixture is like coarse crumbs.
- Add one egg yolk and blend until the mixture forms a ball.
- Using your hands, press the dough into a greased and floured pie or tart pan. Prick all over with a fork.
- Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
- Whisk the other egg yolk and brush it over the crust, then return it to the oven for 1 minute.
- Let the crust cool completely before filling.
- 3 cups / 7 dl blackberries
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C.
- Stir the filling ingredients together and spread over the prepared and cooled crust.
- Bake 45-60 minutes or until the juices bubble up in the center.
We know that Bree is more open to various influences than the Shire: it sits at the crossing of the East-West Road and the Greenway (North Road). Tolkien tells us that the men of Bree were “more friendly and familiar with Hobbits, Dwarves, Elves, and other inhabitants of the world … than was (or is) usual with Big People.” Indeed, there are also many families of Hobbits living in the greater Bree area.
Although at the time of Frodo’s quest the Bree-folk didn’t travel much, people still remembered that “there had been a time when there was much coming and going between the Shire and Bree.” And even though traffic had slowed from before, the inn of Bree hosted “such travellers (mostly dwarves) as still journeyed on the East Road.”
It makes sense, then, that the material culture in Bree-land combines that of Hobbits and of Bree Humans, possibly with some Dwarven-made touches. I therefore re-used or mimicked items that I picked for the Long-Expected Party or plan to use for our upcoming Dwarven dinner.
Inspired by the Pony’s “thick curtains” which the four Hobbits see approaching the inn’s door, I picked a thick light grey fabric for the tablecloth. I had tried some embroidery techniques on one end, which actually worked okay for this setting even though any decorations are completely unattested by Tolkien’s description. I left the fabric creased from being stored, thinking that since the proprietor Mr. Butterbur was “run off [his] feet” with the sudden influx of travelers there wouldn’t necessarily have been time to do ironing.
Purely for pragmatics, our table has a fabric-lined basket holding a variety of bread in smaller pieces rather than large loaves. An individual Hobbit’s serving of cold meats shares a plate with a buttered piece of rye bread. A large tea mug stands in for “good deep mugs of beer.”
Tolkien says there’s a “large hand-bell” on the dining parlor table for summoning inn staff. We don’t own a hand bell, but we faked one with a silvery mortar and a metal measuring spoon. Placed at the edge of the photo below, it’s enough.
I pulled the color white from Tolkien: Mr. Butterbur was wearing a white apron and there was a white tablecloth on the four Hobbits’ dinner table. Expanding on that, I used mostly white (or light beige) dishes, white candles, and clear glass to make the whole a bit more hotel-like. The soup bowl with leaf imprints on its inner surface is similar to the green one in the Long-Expected Party; I theorized that since Prancing Pony caters to hobbit tastes in room size and location, why would they not do that with some of the dinnerware as well.
In addition to two thick pillar candles, I placed a stubby white taper in a white ceramic candlestick with a touch of blue to coordinate with the blue embroidery and the bluish soup bowl. A low wooden plate stands in for a cutting board under half a wheel of cheese.
If I were to do this dinner setup again, I’d lay it on a round table like Tolkien describes and switch to a larger, pure white tablecloth to accommodate it.
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!