Making Food in the Wild

Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s Food in the Wild.

The menu

  • Pan-braised game hens with root vegetables
  • Leaf and herb salad
  • Blackberries with mint leaves

erikchef1Our heroes were in too much of a hurry to do any good eating in the wild between Bree and Rivendell, but we’ve tried to imagine what a ranger might have been able to cook up in better times. Strider mentions four different kinds of wild food: berries, roots, herbs, and game, and we’ve used a little of each in this meal. (1.11)

Dinner4 Main

The main course is pan-braised game hens. It is the only dish that needs cooking and can be cooked in a shallow pan over a campfire. We used commercially raised game hens and farmed roots for our version, but wild-caught birds and carefully dug wild root vegetables would also do. We also used farmed greens and blackberries, but there are many wild-growing plants whose young leaves can be eaten (the full-grown leaves of most edible wild plants, in contrast to their cultivated cousins, are too tough or bitter to be eaten raw, but may still be useful for cooking). Wild blackberries are common in many forested areas—and they seem to be especially common in Middle Earth, as Bilbo frequently wishes for blackberries while traveling and the Prancing Pony offers a blackberry tart (H4, H6, 1.9)

Of course, it goes without saying that if you want to forage for your own food, make sure you know what you’re picking. In addition to edibles, there are also many plants in the wild that are dangerous, even deadly, or that are protected by law, and plants can be hard to identify, especially when young.

Dinner4 Greens

Recipes

Pan-braised game hens

This is a particularly good dish for cooking over a fire as the the smoke will add a pleasant note to the flavor, but it works just as well on a stove top.

Ingredients

  • 2 Cornish game hens or other small fowl
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 small onions, leeks, or large shallots
  • 1 small parsnip
  • 1 carrot
  • 1-2 cups / 2-5 dl fruit beer or wine

Directions

  1. Clean the fowl and season with salt.
  2. Quarter one onion (or leek or shallot) and stuff the fowl with it.
  3. Finely chop the remaining vegetables and lay them in the bottom of a spider (cast iron skillet). Place the hens on top of the vegetables. Pour one cup of fruit beer or wine over the fowl and and set the spider over a moderately hot wood or charcoal fire (or on a medium high stove burner).
  4. Cook, uncovered, turning the fowl occasionally to cook both sides and adding liquid as needed just to keep the vegetables covered. Keep simmering until the fowl is very well cooked and the meat around the legs is soft.
  5. Serve the fowl on a bed of mixed green and fresh herbs garnished with the vegetables and juices from the pan.

 

Setting

eppucamera1

Tolkien tells us that the northern Rangers are adept at wilderness survival, but doesn’t give details. In fact, this is about as much as he ever says about the practical lives of the Rangers. This lack is felt keenly, considering that the most famous of the Rangers becomes one of Frodo’s party.

Since Tolkien doesn’t even always tell us whether the Company lights a campfire or not, it’s plausible that when he does mention there being no fire it’s because of its oddity. I used that concept to create a setup where the Company is enjoying a picnic-type meal, with a fire going somewhere in the background.

LotR Dinner4

The table setting is, therefore, very simple. We imagined a cast iron spider as a multipurpose cooking vessel. Light-weight wooden plates, a two-pronged wooden fork, and a small metal eating knife won’t be too heavy to carry.

A small fabric sack holds apples (which we had to fake with peaches due to a glitch in our shopping schedule). Additional pieces of unbleached fabric can be used to bundle up wild leaves and berries collected during a day’s walk.

Dinner4 Dessert

I chose a length of rich, deep blue wool blend for an underlay as a nod towards Aragorn’s high status as the heir of Elendil. This choice is not at all supported by Tolkien’s writing, but it does make the photos more interesting. (And, let’s be honest, looks just gorgeous.)

A rough piece of firewood functions as a makeshift stool or table, and suggests the outdoorsy setting. As additional props referring to travel in the wild, I picked brown faux fur and a brown Viking Age replica clay mug that was broken and repaired.

Dinner4 Decor

If I were to do this dinner setup again, I’d try to find a more worn fabric to lay things on and pick a more natural color. The rich, deep blue I used this time around may be appropriate for Aragorn’s heritage, but it isn’t plausible at all for survival in the wild.

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!

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