Here’s a look at how we made yesterday’s A Proper 1420.
- Boiled chicken dinner
- Poppy seed-cakes
There’s few ways of cooking more traditional than boiling. You can put vegetables and meat all in one big pot and boil until cooked through. Everything comes out piping hot and full of flavor. It’s simple and satisfying.
Our dinner this month is based on an old staple of New England cookery, the boiled dinner of corned beef or ham and root vegetables. I’ve substituted chicken for the meat and used what seemed like suitably Hobbitish vegetables: onions, potatoes, carrots, and cabbage.
We can be certain that Hobbits have chickens, since there’s no end of eggs in Bilbo’s kitchen. (H1) Pippin also complains about Gandalf guarding the palantir “like a hen on an egg.” (3.11) Potatoes, carrots, and onions are all on Sam’s wish list for a good stew (4.4) and the Gaffer scolds his son for dreaming of elves and dragons instead of cabbages and potatoes. (1.1) These ingredients all seem pretty solidly attested.
“Seed-cake” can mean any of a variety of cakes flavored with seeds, but I picked an old poppy seed-cake recipe that sounded like something Bilbo would enjoy. (H1) Poppies have long been cultivated in western Europe and elsewhere for their seeds and oil; they seem like they would be at home in the Shire.
Boiled chicken dinner
Boiling has a bad reputation among cooking methods these days, but as long as you don’t overcook things, boiling is a great way to keep things tender and meld flavors. Make sure you remove the chicken and vegetables from the cooking water as soon as they’re done so they don’t get overcooked. The leftover cooking liquor makes excellent soup stock, just add some beans, dried peas, or whole grain berries.
- 4 potatoes
- 4 carrots
- 2 onions
- 1 small head of cabbage (or half a large one)
- 1 spring thyme
- 1 spring sage
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 whole chicken, plucked, cleaned, and dressed
- Salt to taste
- Peel the potatoes and carrots. Halve the potatoes, quarter the onions, quarter the cabbage, and cut the carrots into finger-length chunks.
- Put the vegetables in the bottom of a large stock pot and add the herbs.
- Wash and dry the chicken and lay it on top of the vegetables in the pot. Add enough water to the pot to just cover the vegetables. Salt as desired.
- Cover the pot, set on the stovetop and bring to a strong boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the chicken is well cooked through (about an hour).
- Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot and arrange on a serving platter.
This old recipe is essentially a pound cake recipe with poppy seeds added. You can make this as a single loaf or, like I did, divide it into muffin tins.
- 2 cups / 5 dl cake flour
- 5 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 8 ounces / 225 g butter
- 1-1/3 cups / 3 dl sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
- Preheat the oven to 325 F / 160 C.
- Grease and flour one loaf pan or six large muffin cups.
- Sift the cake four twice.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and nutmeg.
- In a third bowl, beat the butter until it becomes creamy. Add the sugar, salt, and nutmeg and beat at high speed until the mixture becomes light-colored and fluffy.
- Add the egg mixture a tablespoon at at time and continue beating.
- Add the flour in three additions, beating slowly until combined.
- Pour the batter into the loaf pan or muffin tin. Bake for an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Loosen the cake from the pan with a wooden knife or thin spatula and cool on a wire rack.
After the Battle of Bywater, we’re told some details of the repair work required. Among others, Merry and Pippin brought to Bag End “all the old furniture and gear” from Crickhollow “so that the old hole soon looked very much as it always had done.” We also learn that “[g]reat stores of goods and food, and beer, were found that had been hidden away by the ruffians […] so that there was a great deal better cheer that Yule than anyone had hoped for.”
Tolkien also tells us that the harvest was fantastic in 1420, and specifically mentions strawberries and cream (i.e., cows were doing well), plums, corn (by which he means wheat), and barley. (6.9) Other than that, we hear very little of the Hobbits’ everyday life. Presumably, then, everything went back to normal as much as was possible.
I chose therefore to recycle dishes from our previous two Hobbit meals, A Long-Expected Party and A Farewell Feast in Bag End, and set the meal on the same table. This setting is more sunny and cheerful, however, as a nod to the rich harvest of 1420, with a lot of green and yellow (mentioned in The Hobbit (H1) as favorite colors for Hobbits to wear).
I picked an unbleached linen table runner with green and yellow stripes in the warp and placed it over a dark green sheet-cum-tablecloth for even more color. Green also comes on the napkins and plant pot with an ivy motif.
The dinner is served on one large, hefty platter and enjoyed off of plain white plates. Beer went in the same large tea mugs pretending to be tankards in Supper at the Prancing Pony. From same dinner, a bread basket lined with cloth, this time with two brighter colors (yellow and pale green), holds the small dessert seed-cakes. The fancy water glasses are recycled from A Farewell Feast and add another pop of greenish hues to the table.
If I were to do this dinner setup again, I’d move it to a larger surface for more depth (i.e., more flexibility in arranging the dishes). Otherwise I’m pretty happy.
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!