Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s In the House of Elrond.
- Roast lamb
- Salad with strawberries and roasted apples
- Cardamom buns
Elven food leaves us in a bit of a pickle, as Sam Gamgee would say. We know that Elves eat and drink, but Tolkien’s descriptions of their food, as with most things Elven, are long on ethereal glamour and short on detail. (Most of our information about Elven food comes from The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings is a little more circumspect about what exactly Elves eat.) We have to do a little detective work to come up with a menu.
It is certain that Elves cook, since an Elf mentions cooking fires as Bilbo and the Dwarves approach Rivendell. (H3) It is also clear, despite what Peter Jackson’s movies suggest, that Elves eat meat, since the smell of roasting meat wafts from the wood Elves’ feast in Mirkwood. (H8) What sort of meat they eat is less clear, but a Rivendell Elf makes a jest about sheep (2.1) and people on both sides of the Misty Mountains eat mutton. (H2, H7) Roast lamb seems fitting.
As for vegetables to go with our lamb, we have even less to go on. Bilbo makes a joke about peas and apples in Rivendell (2.1) and Gildor’s company offers the Hobbits fruits in the wild (1.3), so we went with cooked peas and a salad using roast apples and strawberries along with pea sprouts.
The Elven song that greets Bilbo and the Dwarves as they approach Rivendell mentions bannocks, which are a sort of biscuit or quickbread from Scotland. (H3) Similar to scones, though not sweet, they make a good accompaniment to the meal. (There is, of course, the famous lembas bread, but that was meant for journeying and would not have been served at a dinner in Rivendell. (2.9))
An Elf makes a joke about Bilbo eating too many cakes, which is as close as we get to a suggestion for dessert. (H3) I decided to make cardamom buns, an old Nordic recipe, which seemed fitting for Elves.
Lamb is a delicate meat that should not be overcooked or else it will become tough and dry. Use a meat thermometer for best results and remove the roast from the oven as soon as the temperature is reached.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 lamb roast, about 2 pounds / 1 kg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 F / 175 C
- Melt the butter in the bottom of a skillet
- Wash, dry, and trim the roast. Season with salt and pepper and brown on all sides in the skillet.
- Transfer the lamb to a roasting pan and roast in the oven until the meat reaches 150 F / 66 C, about an hour and a half.
- Let the meat stand for five minutes before carving to let the interior continue cooking.
If you can get them in season, fresh peas are the best. If not, use frozen peas. The important thing is not to overcook them. A little pinch of tarragon also helps bring out the flavor.
- 2 cups / 5 dl water
- 2 cups / 5 dl shelled fresh or frozen peas
- 1 small pinch tarragon
- Bring the water to a boil in a pot.
- Add the peas as soon as the water boils and reduce the heat to low.
- Test the peas frequently by pulling one out and chewing it. As soon as fresh peas are soft or frozen peas are cooked through, drain the hot water and sprinkle in the tarragon.
These versatile biscuits make a good accompaniment to juicy meats or soups and also work well for open-face sandwiches and toast. If you like a heartier bread, you can substitute up to about half of the flour with whole wheat. The consistency of the dough is important. It should feel sticky in your hands but hold together and knead well. If too wet, sprinkle on a little flour; if too dry, wet your hands and keep kneading.
- 4-1/2 cups / 10.5 dl or 575 g bread flour
- 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 cup / 2 dl buttermilk
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl plain yogurt
- Preheat the oven to 400 F / 200 C.
- In a large bowl, blend the flour, baking powder, and salt well.
- Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is reduced to fine crumbs.
- Add the buttermilk, egg, and yogurt and mix well.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. The dough should be sticky but not wet.
- Press out into a circle an inch or less high and cut into eight wedges, or press out into a square and cut into nine squares. Place on a baking sheet and bake for half an hour or until the surface begins to get golden brown.
Salad with strawberries and roasted apples
This salad uses sweet fruits and pea sprouts. Roasting the apples further concentrates their natural sweetness. The fruits can be nicely balanced with a sharp vinaigrette dressing, if you like, or just enjoyed as it is.
- Mixed salad greens
- A handful of fresh pea sprouts
- 1 pint / 5 dl strawberries
- 2 apples
- Peel, core, and slice the apples into large but thin chunks. Arrange the apple pieces on a baking sheet on parchment paper. Roast at 350 F / 175 C for 20 minutes or until the pieces are brown at the edges.
- Wash and hull the strawberries. Cut them into slices.
- Toss the salad greens and pea sprouts in a bowl. Add the strawberry and apple pieces.
Cardamom gives these sweet buns a unique flavor. The texture should be rich and moist when baked and the tops beautifully browned. The dough is good for making many different decorative shapes besides the s-curves described here. Try braiding a ring or weaving strands of dough together.
- 1 cup / 2 dl milk
- 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl warm water
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 4 whole cardamom pods
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 4 cups / 10 dl or 500 g flour
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 egg
- About a tablespoon of pearl sugar
- Scald the milk and cool it to lukewarm. (To scald milk, heat it in a pan on the stove just until bubbles form at the edge.)
- Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.
- Crush the cardamom pods to release the seeds. Discard the husks and grind the seeds into a coarse powder with a mortar and pestle.
- Combine the yeast water with the milk, sugar, salt, 2 eggs, cardamom powder, and 1 cup / 2 dl of flour. Beat well to make a smooth batter.
- Add another cup / 2 dl flour and beat well again.
- Melt the butter and add it to the dough. Beat well.
- Add the rest of the flour and beat well. This should produce a stiff dough.
- Turn the dough out on a floured surface and let rest for ten minutes, then knead until smooth.
- Return the dough to the bowl and set it to rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch down and let rise again until nearly doubled.
- Turn the dough out on a floured surface and divide it into eight portions. Roll each portion out into a long, thin rope. Curl the ends of the rope on opposite sides to make an s-curve.
- Preheat oven to 400 F / 200 C
- Place the buns on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment.
- Lightly beat the glazing egg and brush the glaze on top of the buns, then sprinkle the pearl sugar over the buns.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until well browned on top.
The setting for this dinner is as challenging as the menu. Tolkien tells us fairly little about Elrond’s house, just like he barely mentions the practical lives of the northern Rangers. It’s strange for such an important LotR location, but unfortunately not that unusual for Tolkien.
We do know from The Hobbit that there are plenty of trees (pine, beech, oak) near Rivendell and that the Elves cook on wood fires (and not coal, for instance). (H3) The LotR suggests that the Elves build with wood, for when Frodo wakes up in Rivendell, he sees the ceiling with “dark beams richly carved.” (2.1)
As a primarily visual person, I have to confess that Peter Jackson’s LotR movies have strongly skewed my view of Elves; I tend to forget what Tolkien actually wrote in favor of the gorgeous sets and props created by the artists at Weta Workshop. I was surprised to see the reference to these dark beams while re-reading for our dinner project. Then again, what a great reminder is it to remember to go back to your primary sources.
In general, Tolkien repeats a narrow range of colors with regard to the Elves: white, grey, silver, and gold (see Lorien Elves for gold). Arwen is described wearing a “soft grey raiment,” “a cap of silver lace netted with small gems,” and “a girdle of leaves wrought in silver.” Elrond himself wears “a circlet of silver.” There’s also an occasional inclusion of green and brown for Legolas, and we hear of “garments of green cloth” (given to Frodo after he wakes up in Rivendell). Apart from these scant clothing details, we know that Frodo was seated at the table on “a suitable chair, and was raised upon several cushions.” (2.1, 2.2)
The quote we used to inspire the current meal comes from the Hobbits’ meeting with High Elves when Frodo et al. were walking from Bag End to Crickhollow. Those High Elves used plates and dishes even on the road; they also poured drink into cups, but unfortunately Tolkien doesn’t say what sort they are, nor what kind of vessels they use to carry that drink in. (1.3)
There is one instance to hint that the Elves have (had) access to strong colors: in The Hobbit, Bilbo borrows a red silk handkerchief from Elrond. (H19) However, some decades later when the events of the LotR take place, red seems to have disappeared from the preferred Elven color palette. That’s pretty much the extent of Tolkien’s interest in Rivendell Elves’ material culture, though.
The dark wood beams Frodo saw upon waking in Rivendell inspired us to use Erik’s book table (treated to look like dark wood) as a setting for our dinner. In addition, our table setting pulls colors from Tolkien: the tableware is white with small touches of silver and gold.
Since the brown wood table is so gorgeous, I opted not to cover it with any fabric, not even placemats (which sound very modern to begin with). I did add a bread plate with a blue rim for the bannocks for a touch of variety, since too much white can get monotonous. Then again, with the vibrant greens, reds and browns of this dinner, there’s little danger of that.
The cardamom buns are pretty enough on their own not to require a more ornate plate, especially with a small mound of strawberries placed in the middle. A silver-stemmed martini glass (from the local thrift store) holds the white wine. A printed white on white tablecloth with meandering vines covers up the mundane office background nicely.
Finally, I included a small meta-detail. Peter Jackson’s Thranduil rides a huge stag. I don’t think that’s attested in Tolkien, but what we do know for sure is that deer are known to Elves. In The Hobbit, the Dwarves encounter some deer in Mirkwood. (H8) We represented it with a reindeer candle holder by the Finnish design company Pentik.
If I were to do this dinner setup again, I don’t think I’d chance anything. Along with the rangers’ dinner, this is the most successful of our dinners so far, both for food and setting.
Check out the introduction for more!
Images by Erik and Eppu 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!