Each year I host a marathon of Lord of the Rings. We begin at about 9:30 in the morning, watch all the extended editions, and we eat. And eat and eat. We do all seven Hobbit meals (we eat both dinners) which, it turns out, can be scheduled perfectly around each disc of the DVDs. This marathon has turned into a tradition – one friend uses it as an excuse to try a new scone recipe, another always brings Munchkins, and one friend tweaks his vegetarian faux-coney stew each year, always inching closer to perfection. Since we live in Manhattan and have a thematically appropriate hobbit-sized kitchen, we’ve also been more open to ordering one of the meals. (Surely there’s a Middle-earth pizza joint? Maybe in Minas Tirith.)
Since The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is coming to theaters next week, and there are still more holidays coiled in the back of this year's cave, waiting to strike, I wanted to share some of the best Hobbity recipes resources I've found!
Now first, I’d love to say that my marathon meal was a wholly original idea, but we actually nicked it from Alamo Draft House. Their Austin, Texas outpost holds Lord of the Rings Trilogy feasts, with meals served at appropriate intervals and suggested beverage pairings. Their menu manages to be upscale enough to be worth the price, while also staying true to the theme, and they offer the full seven meal extravaganza.
Yes, including second breakfast. And while Bilbo wouldn’t know what to make of the blood orange mimosa they offer as a breakfast drink, I’m sure he’d approve of cider, stewed coney, and taters for dinner.
But The Alamo’s menu was just a more official version of the recipe sharing and communal feasting that has proven to be a large part of the Tolkien fandom. The focus on food informs much of LOTR, both the comic moments and the darkest points of the journey. For instance, the difference between “high” and “low” teas is central to understanding The Hobbit's “Unexpected Party,” as explained by a collection of food historians on recipewise.co.uk in their thoughts on Tea in The Hobbit:
“…high-tea was a working man’s hearty tea and supper after a long, hard day of manual labour. It was the combination of afternoon tea and the evening meal, of various dishes and cold cuts of meat and cheese, eaten on a high table… Afternoon tea on the other hand would often be served for guests sitting around smaller, lower tables in the parlour with dainty desserts and fine china on them, and was always referred to as low-tea. This was the tea preferred by the upper classes, who had a much later evening meal in the separate dining room on the higher tables. What Bilbo started out hastily arranging when the bell rang was low-tea, for an important wizard, although to his dismay it ended up being a high-tea, for common ‘coal miners’—this then is the underlying humour of the entire chapter, ‘An Unexpected Party’. Tolkien would have understood these strict conventions from his Victorian childhood, and he obviously (and thoroughly) enjoyed standing them on their head.”
The authors go on to contextualize the food choices by exploring the rural foodways of Victorian England, placing The Shire as “Warwickshire village (near Birmingham) in 1897 Victorian England.” And yes, they give lots of recipes and drink suggestions.
Bon Appetit magazine also took the food history route, drawing on historic British cookbooks including A.W.’s A Book of Cookrye (1591), Gervase Markham’s The English Huswife (1615), and Isabella Beeton’s The Book of Household Management (1861) in their recipes for mutton pie, Medieval British Apple Tart, and seed-cake!
But hobbit feasts are not only for food professionals. For years Tolkien fans have gone online, sharing recipes on theonering.net and Tolkien wikis. This has caught on to the point that Warner Bros has a site dedicated to “Bombur’s Cookbook,” suggesting meals for Tolkien fans, and asking fans to submit their own recipes. Middle-earth Recipes has a deliciously exhaustive roundup of “Aragorn's Athelas Tea” to “Rosie's Shire Pie,” and Middle-earth Foodie blogs about the recipes with full illustrations to guide you through your feast-assembly.
That’s Nerdalicious is a blog focused on geek foods and housewares (for instance Adventurer Pint Glasses) and could be expected to come up with some great feasting tips, and they do not disappoint, offering a yummy scone recipe and one for mixed berry pie. Geeky Chef, which also hosts recipes for Pumpkin Pasties, Butterbeer, and Laura Moon’s Chili from American Gods, has a stellar Lembas Bread recipe, which included minced kumquats! Those are not words I ever expected to type in sequence...
And speaking of Lembas, The Wasted Lands took a break from reviewing D&D to give their own recipe for Elvish Waybread, promising “a good holiday treat, or a nice, filling and fairly healthy snack at the gaming table.” Gamer and baker Grey Elf breaks down Tolkien’s description of lembas, and then walks the reader through all of his choices before he gets to the recipe itself, so we can see his careful commitment to authenticity. For instance, he rejects the use of citrus in lembas since “elves lived in a temperate climate in England” and instead goes for a protein nut to stand in for the fruit of the Mallorn tree, and make the bread more filling: “I use walnuts, but peanuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, or even chestnuts would work well, too. Some have described the Mallorn fruit as being similar to acorns, though due to the dangers of consuming improperly prepared acorns, this isn't recommended for us mortals.” There also some great tips and additions to the recipe in the comments!
We've reached a point in our culture when Denny's can bring Tolkien's feasts to the masses, making full Hobbit-themed menus for each film. The last time I was in a Denny’s, a drunken fork-fight broke out (this was in Florida) so I'm a little skillet-shy, but all the reviews I’ve read make this seem like a really fun tie-in. It's even inspired some competitive eating challenges, although I'm guessing even the strongest human stomach would be bested by Merry and Pippin. And, given this piece detailing the original Hobbit menu, they’ve actually gone to some lengths to create dishes that evoke the Shire, but of course, we all know there’s only one opinion that matters here:
Now perhaps this seems silly, and Hobbit feasting habits are played for laughs in the books and films, and particularly in the extended edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, food is centrally important to the tone of the books, and even to the moral gravity of Tolkien’s world. Establishing hobbits’ intense love of food, and then showing them forsaking all comfort to help save the world, tells us everything we need to know about their true nature.
Food is the great symbol of hope in the books, from Sam's stubborn habit of carrying salt through Mordor to his praise of a certain tuber to the darkest moment of all, after the Ring has been destroyed, when the memory of food is the lifeline Sam uses to try to pull Frodo back to the living world.
And in any case, it gives us all an excellent excuse to share recipes for berry tarts.
Leah Schnelbach has not yet perfected her lembas recipe, but she makes a mean apple pie. And sometimes...she tweets!