Making The Return of the King

Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s The Return of the King.

Dinner11

The menu

  • Saffron seafood soup
  • Roasted pork with olives and dates
  • Sauteed spinach
  • Almond pastries

erikchef1Since we really only see Gondor in a time of war and Tolkien gives us very little detail about what daily life was like after the defeat of Sauron, it takes some imagination to come up with a proper meal for such an occasion. In creating this month’s menu, I had a specific idea in mind: a feast that would represent all the people of Gondor. Aragorn’s coronation meant a new beginning for a kingdom that had been in a long decline. It touched all of Gondor’s people and it made sense that they would all contribute something to the table.

From the fishing folk of Ethir Anduin, we get a seafood soup. This recipe uses a variety of different seafoods combined with carrots and onions. It is, at heart, food for a hardworking family making a living from the sea and small coastal gardens, but the addition of cream and saffron makes it richer, sweeter, and more luxuriant. (5.1)

From the small farmers and herders of the hill country, we have a haunch of roast pork. To reflect the southern climes of Gondor, the pork is stuffed with herbs, olives and dates. This, too, is simple food, but presented in royal style.

From the fields and gardens of Pelennor, we get sauteed spinach, flavored with garlic and ginger. This recipe is inspired by a medieval dish from the middle east which seems appropriate for the Mediterranean-ish setting of Gondor.

Finally, from the sophisticated city-dwellers of Minas Tirith itself, we end with an artful set of almond pastries representing the white tree and seven stars of Gondor.

Recipes

Seafood saffron soup

This recipe is very flexible and can take just about whatever fresh seafood you can find. Our version is made with cod, clam, and shrimp, but try haddock, hake, scallops, and squid, if you like, for variety. The bay leaves and saffron give it a light, sweet flavor to balance the richness of the cream.

Ingredients

  • A piece of salt pork or two strips of bacon
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Half a dozen saffron threads
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 cups / 5 dl seafood stock
  • 1 cup / 2 dl chopped clams
  • A dozen medium shrimp
  • 1 lb. / 1/2 kg flaky white fish
  • 1 cup / 2 dl light cream

Directions

  1. Chop the salt pork or bacon fine and cook it over low heat in the bottom of a large pot until the fat is well melted and the meat begins to crisp.
  2. Mince the onions and brown in the fat, stirring well.
  3. Add the bay leaves and saffron.
  4. Peel and mince the carrot and add to the pot, stir well.
  5. Add the stock and bring to a slow simmer over medium heat. Cook until the carrot is soft.
  6. Meanwhile, peel and clean the shrimp, rinse the clams, and clean the fish.
  7. Add the seafood to the pot and simmer until the shrimp and clams are cooked and the fish flakes easily to gentle pressure from a spoon.
  8. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream.

Dinner11 Soup

Roast pork with olives and dates

I like a mix of flavorful olives, like kalamata, for this stuffing, but it will work with whatever you have. The combination of the salty olives and the sweet dates gives the pork a really great flavor. Reserve the liquid that comes out while cooking, skim it, and thicken it for gravy if you like.

Ingredients

  • 1 large pork butt or shoulder
  • About 1 cup / 2 dl mixed pitted olives
  • About 1 cup / 2 dl dried pitted dates
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 sprigs mint

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F / 160 C
  2. Rinse and trim the pork. Cut several deep slits in one side.
  3. Roughly chop the olives and dates. Chop the mint and strip the rosemary leaves. Blend together.
  4. Stuff the slits with the olive, date, and herb mixture. Pile the remaining mixture and wrap the pork around it. Tie or pin.
  5. Roast until the meat reaches 160 F / 70 C, around 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Let stand for five minutes after removing from oven before carving.
  6. Carve into thin slices across the stuffing slits and serve.

Sauteed spinach

1 pound may seem like a lot of spinach, but if you’re cooking for more than one you’ll be glad you started big. If you’ve cooked spinach, you know that it cooks down a lot, so don’t worry if you can’t fit it all into the pan at first.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound / 1/2 kg fresh spinach
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small piece of ginger root
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Rinse and dry the spinach
  2. Spread the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet.
  3. Peel and finely chop the garlic and ginger. Heat the oil over medium heat and cook the ginger and garlic until they begin to brown and smell good. Add the salt and pepper.
  4. Add the spinach a large handful at at time and cook, stirring occasionally.

Dinner11 Main

Almond pastries

You can make your own puff pastry dough if you want, but it’s hard work. I recommend buying the ready-made stuff, but suit yourself. You can substitute marzipan for the almond paste, but it may not stand up as well to baking.

Ingredients

  • 2 sheets of puff pastry dough
  • 7 ounces / 200 grams almond paste

Directions

  1. If the pastry dough is frozen, thaw it for about half an hour before you start working with it. It should still be cold and stiff, but it should bend and not break. If it gets too warm, put the pieces back in the freezer for a little while before continuing.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 F / 200 C
  3. Cut one sheet of pastry into one wider strip (about 1 inch / 2.5 cm) and four narrow strips (about 1/2 inch / 1.25 cm). Lay the narrow strips perpendicularly across the wide strip, spaced about 1/2 inch / 1.25 cm apart.
  4. Break off 8 small pieces of almond paste and roll them into balls a little narrower than the width of your narrow strips. Place a ball at each end of each narrow strip and roll the strip up around it.
  5. Cut the other sheet into nine squares. Cut a slit from the corner of each square almost to the center.
  6. Divide the remaining almond paste into nine discs. Place a disc at the center of each square and fold one arm up from each edge, pinching them together in the middle. Optionally, secure the center arms with a toothpick to prevent them from unfolding while baking.
  7. Bake all the pastries for about 10 minutes or until puffy and light golden brown. Cool on wire racks with aluminum foil or parchment paper underneath to catch drips.
  8. Once the pastries have cooled for about ten minutes, pick the least attractive two stars and eat them before anyone else sees them.

Dinner11 Dessert

 

Setting

eppucamera1 So, as Erik said, we imagined a rich Gondorian sit-in meal in stable circumstances, not war-time munchies for soldiers and rangers on duty in Ithilien and elsewhere. We figured that, since Gondor was recuperating from a war, making new furniture, dishes, cutlery, and other accessories wouldn’t be a great priority for Aragorn’s coronation. So, we’re using what Denethor had as a model for our dinner.

Tolkien scatters details of Gondorian meals and homes here and there in The Return of the King (books five and six of the trilogy). Probably the most complete and useful description of interiors within the city comes from the description of the small house given for Gandalf and Pippin’s use before the siege started:

“Within [the house], upon the first floor above the street, up a wide carven stair, […] a fair room, light and airy, with goodly hangings of dull gold sheen unfigured. It was sparsly furnished, having but a small table, two chairs and a bench; but at either side there were curtained alcoves and well-clad beds within with vessels and basins for washing. There were three high narrow windows that looked northward […] Pippin had to climb on the bench to look out over the deep stone sill.” (5.1)

Denethor’s hall contrasts starkly with this house. It had a “tall door of polished metal,” plus pillars of black marble with carved capitals and ceiling with gilt vaulting. The hall didn’t have textiles: “[n]o hangings or storied webs, nor any things of woven stuff or of wood, were to be seen in that long solemn hall.” (5.1)

We can’t duplicate the extensive stonework that features in these extracts, so we concentrated on color. Since Denethor’s hall is mostly white and black, we decided with a contrast of white and dark (table) for the shoot. I chose primarily white dishware or, if I couldn’t find pure white dishes, ones with only hints of blue or pale green. Most of the color comes from the food.

Dinner11 Table

Otherwise, I planned our table setting to—hopefully—strike a balance between opulence (as befits a meal for the ruler of one of the richest realms in the story) and austerity (which was important for Denethor). The shapes of the dishware I selected are simple, with no patterns or surface decorations.

When Gandalf and Pippin first come to talk to him, Denethor calls for “wine and food and seats for our guests”. We hear explicitly of “a salver with a silver flagon and cups, and white cakes” (5.1). It sounds odd that they were to eat the cakes without plates or napkins. For our table, I therefore added creature comforts: a white napkin and a white, shimmery table runner with grey embroidered leaves. I translated the salver mentioned in this extract into a small pewter plate underneath the glass pitcher. Silver cutlery and silvery candlesticks introduce a touch of luxury. A pewter cup hold mint sprigs for additional color and flavoring.

On our table, a glass pitcher stands in for a flagon. We don’t have anything that could stand in for wine cups, but the thriftstore wine glasses that I found a few years ago are quite elegant and reminiscent of 1800s wine glasses in our world, so I used them. Their shape is slightly angular, which I thought fits Denethor’s personality—no soft curves for him.

If I were to do this dinner setup again, I might add more layers—more textiles and more dishes, like we did for the Rohan dinner—for a little more opulence. I think the mostly white color scheme worked well, though. I’d also try to diffuse the light more evenly; it was a challenge to edit this round of photos.

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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