Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s Rangers’ Rations.
- Fruit sauce
- Cucumber salad
- White wine
Like the Hobbits’ dinner at the Prancing Pony in Bree, we get a pretty clear description of what the rangers of Gondor eat at their camp in Ithilien and it all makes a lot of sense for people who are stuck out in the wild away from supply lines living off rations. Ham, dried fruit, butter, and cheese are all preserved foods that keep well long-term. (4.5) Not all breads keep well, but there are many kinds that do. I’ve stuck to this description with a couple of adjustments.
First, I added a cucumber salad for the sake of some more vegetables. This particular salad uses vinegar and salt, not unlike a pickling brine. While this salad wouldn’t last as long as a proper pickle, the brine does help it keep a little longer.
Second, I made a softer bread rather than the hardtack Faramir’s troops would probably have had for their regular rations. Since Ithilien has olive trees and other characteristically Mediterranean vegetation, I’ve used a basic Mediterranean-style dough that can be baked in many different ways. (4.4)
The thinking behind these adjustments (other than I wanted a vegetable and didn’t feel like making hardtack again) is that Faramir broke out the good stuff for his honored guests. (Remember we’re going by the novel here, not the Peter Jackson movies—which were mostly great but turned Faramir into a total jerk.) Cucumbers and soft fresh bread may not be much of a luxury to most of us, but for weary travelers they could be a welcome change from waybread and forage.
The ham came from a local farm. For the “good red cheese” we used a wheel of cheese with a red wax coating that came from a nunnery that supports itself by making high-quality cheese. The “pale yellow wine” of Tolkien’s description inspired us to choose a light white wine to go with this dinner.
This dried fruit sauce is simple to make and goes well with ham and other salted meats. If you don’t have the called-for dried fruits on hand, it takes substitutions well. The important thing is to cook it down as thick as you can without burning it.
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl prunes, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl dried apples, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup wine or cider
- Put the fruit and liquid in a medium pot and bring just to a simmer.
- Simmer for about half an hour, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is well absorbed.
- Serve warm or cold. Keeps well if kept cold.
If you’re not a fan of garlic, dill, or mint, any and all of the herbs can be omitted from this salad. Like any vegetable recipe, this one is at its best with fresh produce, but this can also be a good way of using up cucumbers that are still edible but not at their prime.
- 1/2 red onion
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 1/2 cup / 1 dl vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2-3 large cucumbers
- 1 bunch fresh or a large handful dried dill
- 1 bunch fresh or a large handful dried mint
- Slice the red onion into thin strips.
- Mince the garlic.
- In a small bowl, mix the vinegar and salt. Add the onion and garlic and let stand for half an hour.
- If the cucumbers have thick skins, peel stripes down them. If the skins are thin, you can leave them intact. Slice the cucumbers into thin rounds.
- Combine the cucumbers, onion/garlic/vinegar mix, and herbs in a large bowl and toss well. Let stand for half an hour and toss again just before serving.
Olive oil bread
This is a simple, versatile dough that can be used to make loaves of bread, breadsticks, and focaccia, or rolled out thin for pizza crust. It you like a heartier bread, substitute one cup of whole wheat flour for one cup white flour.
- 1-1/3 cup / 3 dl lukewarm water
- 1 package yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cups / 9-1/2 dl flour
- Dissolve the yeast in the water.
- Add the salt and olive oil and stir well.
- Add the flour, one cup at a time, stirring well between each addition.
- Knead the dough until smooth and let rise for an hour in a warm place.
- Punch the dough down and let rise again for half an hour.
- Form into loaves of desired shape and let rise for half an hour
- Preheat oven to 400 F / 200 C
- Bake for half an hour or until well browned.
Like the rangers’ food, their refuge in Ithilien is simple to the extreme. Surprisingly, we hear quite a bit of the practical details of their base. On the Hobbits’ arrival to the torch-lit cave, they were given “a low bed” to lie on, which sounds like merely a (straw-filled?) mattress on the ground or the like. The rangers used trestle tables with plain dishes of good quality:
“Light tables were taken from the walls and set up on trestles and laden with gear. This was plain and unadorned for the most part, but all well and fairly made: round platters, bowls and dishes of glazed brown clay or turned box-wood, smooth and clean.”
The base is not perfectly ascetic, however. Some of the men have polished bronze cups or basins. As the commander, Faramir drinks from “a goblet of plain silver” and gets “a wide copper bowl and a white cloth” to wash with, and his private nook in the cave is partly screened by curtains. (4.5)
We copied the rangers’ setup with a background of grey cloth and a makeshift narrow trestle table (a well-used leaf from an old table we have). A small piece of fur peeks from underneath the “table” and hints at the pelt-covered barrels that the Hobbits sat on during their meal.
Otherwise our table setting leans towards the humbler end. I chose plain wooden bowls and serving plates, plus brown glazed pottery for the food: a bowl, plate, and mug. To be a little fancier, the butter got its own little green ceramic bowl; bread was served from a fabric-covered basket. Hunks of cheese can be cut on the same small wooden cutting board that it’s served on.
If I were to do this dinner setup again, I don’t think I’d change the dishware at all. The one major alteration would be to extend our cloth background farther to allow for more varying angles. Otherwise I’m pretty happy. At most, I might add a wash basin and a towel in the background, or try a candle-lit photoshoot.
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!