Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s Dinner with Durin’s Folk.
- Sourdough rye bread
- Rosemary crackers
- Lentil soup
- Grilled sausages
- Honey-nut cakes
- Whiskey cider punch
The idea for this month’s dinner is a meal that doesn’t actually happen in Tolkien’s text. We were trying to imagine what sort of a dinner the Fellowship might have enjoyed if they had arrived at Moria and found a thriving Dwarven colony there instead of a fallen kingdom. Not only is there no particular meal in the text for us to use for reference, in fact it is a bit of a puzzle to work out what proper Dwarven food would actually be like. Gimli doesn’t have much of an opportunity in The Lord of the Rings to serve up food of his own. There’s plenty of Dwarves and plenty of food in The Hobbit, but it’s mostly the Dwarves eating food prepared by other people—Hobbits, Elves, Beorn, etc.—or making do with what they can find in the wild. We don’t get much of a sense of what Dwarves cook for a nice dinner at home or offer to guests.
So, a little speculation is called for. We can start with the fact that Moria is underground. Thorin recounts to Bilbo that the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain traded with the Men of Dale for food rather than growing their own. (H1) We know that the Dwarves of Moria traded with the Elves of Hollin long ago, so Balin and company would probably have traded for food from the world outside as well. (2.4) Since the lands west of the Misty Mountains were quite desolate, most of the Dwarves’ trade would have been with people to the east, especially with the Beornings whose baking Gimli praises. (2.8) In those days of wolves and war, keeping the trade routes open for fresh food would have been difficult. The Dwarves of Moria would have mostly had to make do with food that would keep for a long time.
These are the ideas that inform our menu: ingredients that keep (salted and smoked meats, roasted nuts, dried lentils) and things they could have gotten in trade from the Beornings or other peoples east of the mountains (honey, bread, and flour).
We start with sourdough rye bread. This is an old recipe from western Finland where breads of this type were baked in big batches a few times a year and strung on poles to dry. For meals, people would break off pieces of dry bread and soak them in soup to soften them up.
This way of preserving food would work for the Dwarves. Rosemary crackers are another variety of dry bread that keeps well.
Dry lentils keep very well, too, so making a soup of them (with some imported spices to add to the flavor) suits the Dwarves’ situation in Moria and goes nicely with the bread and crackers. The Dwarves who visited Bilbo were certainly fond of bacon and meat pies. (H1) Sausages are another way of preserving meat, so we’ll have a nice pile of those.
Honey-nut cakes are a variation on Gimli’s favorite honey-cakes using nuts, which are another good food for long-term storage. (2.8) There’s no doubt that Dwarves love their beer. (H1) They enjoy other drinks, too, and a warm whiskey cider punch makes a fine sweet drink to end a meal on, especially when laying on a dinner for weary travelers.
This hearty bread uses all rye flour and a sourdough starter, both of which contribute to its rich flavor. I like to add some wheat gluten to improve the texture, but you can leave it out if you want a more authentic bread. If starting a batch fresh, make the starter recipe below several days in advance.
- Rye bread starter
- 2-1/4 cups / 5-1/2 dl water
- 5 cups / 12 dl rye flour
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl vital wheat gluten
- Place the rye starter, 2 cups / 5 dl water, and 1 cup / 2 dl of rye flour in a bowl and blend well. Cover the bowl with a cloth and let stand in a warm place for 48 hours (or 24 hours, if you prefer a less sour bread).
- When ready to make the bread, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl warm water, then mix into the starter bowl. Stir in the salt and wheat gluten.
- Add the remaining rye flour, one cup / 2 dl at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all the flour is incorporated into the dough, cover the bowl with a cloth and let it rest for ten minutes.
- Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. If you are used to handling wheat bread dough, you will find the texture of this dough soft and grainy and no amount of kneading will make it feel like the dough you are accustomed to, but you will feel the dough gain some spring as you knead.
- Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth, and let stand to rise in a warm place, about four hours.
- Punch the dough down and let rise for another hour.
- Divide the dough into two balls. (If you want to save starter for your next batch, reserve 1/2 cup / 1 dl of dough at this stage.) Flatten each ball out into a circle about an inch thick. Use your fingers to open a hole 1-2 inches wide in the middle of each circle and smooth it with your fingers. Prick each loaf all over with a fork. Cover with a cloth and let stand in a warm place for half an hour. Preheat the oven to 375 F / 190 C.
- Bake for 40 minutes. Watch the time carefully. If underbaked, the bread will doughy inside; if overbaked, crusty on the outside.
Rye bread starter
If you want to make rye bread again in the future, remember to save 1/2 cup / 1 dl of dough before shaping the loaves and baking. Store the starter in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator and it will stay good for months between batches of bread. Rye starter improves with each batch, so if you like the bread, do reserve starter so you can make it again. Here’s how to make a starter to get your first batch going.
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl rye flour
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl milk
- Mix the rye flour and milk well in a clean glass jar.
- Let stand, lightly covered, in a warm place for several days until it has a pleasantly sour smell.
- Use at once or cover tightly and keep in the refrigerator
These crackers are nice crispy bites with soup. You can whole-wheat flour if you like a more flavorful cracker.
- 1 cup / 2 dl flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons chopped rosemary leaves
- 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl olive or other vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup / 1/2 dl water
- Pinch of coarse salt
- Preheat oven to 350 F / 175 C
- Blend the flour, pinch of salt, baking powder, and rosemary together. Add the oil and water and mix well.
- Turn out on a floured surface and knead lightly.
- Press the dough out on a baking sheet covered with baking parchment. Roll out under a sheet of parchment or wax paper to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into diamond shapes with a blunt knife.
- Sprinkle a pinch of coarse salt over the tops and bake until light golden brown, about twenty minutes.
This soup is good for warming up on a cold night. Leftovers keep very well.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 onions
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
- A pinch of fennel
- 1 teaspoon crushed mint leaves
- Leaves from 1 stalk of rosemary
- 2 cups / 5 dl dried red lentils
- 1 cup / 2 dl light ale
- 3 cups / 7 dl beef or vegetable stock
- 6 scallions
- Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
- Finely chop the onions and garlic and sautee in the butter until well browned.
- Add the spices and sautee for a few minutes to bring out the flavors.
- Add the lentils, ale, and stock. Simmer until the lentils are soft, about half an hour
- Remove the soup from the heat. Chop the scallions for garnish.
You can make your own sausages if you like with ground meat, salt, spices, and casings, but for our dinner we got locally-made sausages from our butcher.
There are lots of good ways of cooking sausage. Their versatility is one of the things that makes them appealing. We decided to grill them, something that should come naturally to a people as adept at smelting and smithing as the Dwarves.
To grill sausages, use a grill over coals or a grill pan on medium heat. lay out the sausages with a little room between them. Turn the sausages occasionally so they cook evenly. Cut a sausage in half to check for doneness before serving.
Honey nut cakes
These sweet, sticky cakes are simple to make and take just about any type of nuts. I like a combination of pistachios, cashews, and almonds, but try whatever is your favorite. Make sure to grease the bottom of the pan well of they will be hard to get out.
- 4 cups / 10 dl assorted nuts
- 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
- A pinch of black pepper
- 7 tablespoons honey
- Thoroughly grease the bottom of a large cake pan.
- Grind the nuts in a food processor until they have the consistency of a very coarse whole-grain flour. (A few larger pieces left intact are fine.)
- Add the poppy seeds and black pepper to the nut mixture and blend well.
- Bring the honey to a boil in a heavy pot.
- Remove the honey from the heat and thoroughly blend in the nut mixture.
- Firmly press the honey-nut mixture into the greased pan, making as even a layer as possible.
- Cut the mixture into small cakes with a blunt knife and let stand in the pan overnight to cool and harden.
Hot whiskey-cider punch
This is a simple but satisfying hot whiskey punch. Use the best quality whiskey you have as warming brings out the subtle flavors of good liquor.
- 4 cups / 10 dl apple cider
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup / 2 dl whiskey
- Combine the cider, cinnamon, and lemon juice in a pot and bring just to a simmer.
- Remove from the heat, add the whiskey, and mix well.
If Tolkien’s writing has scant details of the pragmatic lives of rangers and Elves, the information for Dwarves is almost nonexistent apart from hints at their color preferences.
In LotR, we hear details of Gloin’s outfit at the dinner to celebrate Frodo’s recovery in Rivendell: “snow-white cloth of his garments […], a silver belt, and […] a chain of silver and diamonds.” (2.1) It contrasts strongly with the bright, colorful clothes that Thorin’s company wore in The Hobbit. For the hoods alone, Tolkien lists dark-green, scarlet, blue, purple, grey, brown, white, yellow, pale green, and sky-blue with silver tassel; their belts were gold or silver. Thorin’s golden harp was wrapped in a green cloth. (H1) Also the color of two of the Dwarves’ stockings (yellow and grey) was mentioned when the trolls were talking about cooking them. (H2)
It sounds that, as a rule, Dwarves do prefer colors, for Gloin tells Frodo that
“in metal-work we cannot rival our fathers […] Only in mining and building have we surpassed the old days. You should see the waterways of Dale, Frodo, and the fountains, and the pools! You should see the stone-paved roads of many colours! And the halls and cavernous streets under the earth with arches carved like trees; and the terraces and towers upon the Mountain’s sides!”
Like Erik mentions above, Tolkien says explicitly in The Hobbit that Dwarves of yore in the Lonely Mountain didn’t grow or gather food themselves, but bought or bartered for it. He also describes the kinds of foodstuffs members of Thorin’s company requested at Bilbo’s (raspberry jam, apple-tart, mince-pies, cheese, pork-pie, salad, eggs, cold chicken, pickles, and cakes; they drank ale, porter, red wine, and coffee). (H1)
What Tolkien doesn’t say is the materials for any of the Dwarves’ clothing and everyday supplies. My impression is that the Dwarves have a quite narrow range of interests they’re focused on (mining, building, metalwork and tinkering), but also that they possess a strong sense of pragmatism. Presumably they might make metal dishes or utensils themselves, and, given that no culture is entirely uniform, I’d expect some Dwarf somewhere to be interested in making a few pieces of pottery (or whatever) on the side. Since they also trade with Humans, it makes sense that you’d find a mixed selection of materials and styles.
Our table setting makes use of that presumed variety, from ceramics to wood to glass. We also mostly chose sturdy, heavy pottery and relatively simple shapes, imagining a no-nonsense, everyday working-Dwarf home rather than that of the royal Durin’s house.
Instead of place settings, I arranged a pile of heavy plates near the food for an informal help-yourself serving. There’s also a utensils crock with a mishmash of forks, knives, and spoons. Two simple candle holders of black metal hold white tapers. They are accompanied by a tall white marbled pillar candle for a little more flair.
I added a table runner with hexagonal woven decorations in two shades of blue to soften the stone surface. A pashmina scarf with black, red, blue and gold stripes draped on a wall of cabinetry stands in for banners or wall hangings. A silver napkin ring holds a plain white napkin. Finally, the same chunky stoneware mugs that we used for our Prancing Pony dinner are perfect for the frothy beer.
What really makes the setting, in my mind, is the combination of the dark granite table (our kitchen island) and fire light. The polished stone surface looks appropriately Dwarvish, and the candles and the lit fireplace help the illusion of underground. It was a very dark photoshoot, though, and I’m glad I chose to keep the accent colors limited.
If I were to do this dinner setup again, I’d definitely do fire light again. I’d have to get a camera tripod, though, for the current attempt took a lot of trial and error, not to mention editing.
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!