If you enjoy the hundreds of free recipes here at Kitchen Overlord, help me keep the lights on by picking up a cookbook or two.
As a historian who grew up reading Tolkien, An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery is one of my favorites. (You know you’re a hardcore nerd when you’re super excited about using international Inter-Library Loan for research!) Unlike my usual artificially colored food sculpting extravaganzas (I’m looking at you, Dining With The Doctor!) An Unexpected Cookbook is all wholesome period recipes from Tolkien’s childhood, modified to fit the strict dietary limitations he placed on the Shire.
In addition to the recipes, I also tuck in historical details about Tolkien’s life, what real people ate in his aunt’s home village (his inspiration for the Shire), and the way World War I and II shaped his writing and his relationship with food.
Since you can’t get four nerds together without having five dietary restrictions, whenever possible I included modern variations for gluten free, paleo, vegetarian, or vegan diets.
I hope you enjoy reading my Hobbit Cookbook half as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Elevenses: Small Adventure Sized Mincemeat Pies
These two bite pies are a great snack for small adventures taken just outside the borders of the Shire. A hunk of bread, a little cheese, and 2-3 of these make perfectly portable Elevenses that’s just the right size to tide you over until a civilized lunch back in the comfort of your Hobbit Hole.
In the Middle Ages, mincemeat pies included ground beef and suet (beef kidney fat) as well as generous quantities of spices, the new novelty item brought home by crusaders. By Tolkien’s day, the actual meat had disappeared from mince pies and the spices were a little less aggressive. Suet became the only animal product left in something now rather inaccurately called “Mincemeat.” It makes you really wonder about the real origin story behind some of the more graphic British place names.
Suet is particularly hard to find these days. You’ll need to ask your butcher directly, because it won’t be in the case. If you can get ahold of it, you are in for a real treat. Suet adds a wonderfully rich flavor that can’t be imitated by any other fat. That said, you can still make perfectly delicious (if not entirely historically accurate) mincemeat using butter or lard. Vegans can substitute coconut oil. Whatever fat you use, you’ll end up with something that tastes like a grownup Fig Newton sprinkled in pixie dust and spiked with rum.
- 3 large granny smith apples, peeled and cored
- 1 c / 340 g golden raisins
- ½ c / 170 dried figs, chopped
- ¼ c / 85 g dried cherries
- ¼ c / 85 g dried apricots
- 2 tbsp crystallized ginger
- ¾ c / 150 g brown sugar
- ¼ c / 55 g beef suet (if you can find it), butter, or coconut oil (for vegans)
- 1 orange, zested and juiced
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- ½ c / 120 ml spiced rum or brandy
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp allspice
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
In Tolkien’s day, this recipe represented a massive amount of work in the form of diligent chopping. Today, all that work has been reduced to one simple step. Put everything in a food processor and pulse 10-12 times, less if you prefer a coarser mixture. That’s honestly all you need to do. It’s almost embarrassingly easy.
If you don’t have a food processor but do have miraculous patience, you can always chop all the solids very fine by hand then mix them with the liquids.
Either way, let the final result sit in the fridge for at least 3 days. Thanks to the combination of alcohol and refrigeration, the mincemeat should keep for up to 6 months, so feel free to make plenty of it.
- 3 c / 380 g flour
- ¼ c / 50 g sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 c / 225 g butter (or 3/4 c / 170 g coconut oil for vegans)
- ¼ c / 60 ml water
- ¼ c / 60 ml apple juice
Mix the flour, sugar and salt until well blended. Victorian mincemeat crusts included cornmeal/maize flour, but since maize is a new world grain, Tolkien specifically prohibited it from the Shire.
Add your fat of choice. If you were able to get ahold of some suet, adding 1-2 tbsp to the crust really enhances the flavor. Use your fingers to really work the fat into the flour mix until you have something that looks like edible gravel. Moisten it up with the water and apple juice until you achieve a dense, sweet pastry dough. Knead it a few times for good measure, then flatten it into a disc, wrap it in plastic, and leave it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Once your dough has chilled, it’s time to start assembling your pies. You can always make one gigantic pie and serve it in slices or make portable pies using the same techniques as the hand pies in second breakfast. However, these bite sized mini pies are perfect for either Elevenses or a working man’s tea.
Spray a mini cupcake pan with nonstick coating. Once it’s greased up, lightly flour your work surface and roll out about ⅛ of the dough. It’s easiest if you work in small batches. Aim for a ⅛ – ¼ inch / 3-5 mm thickness. You don’t want to make it too thin. This should be a hearty, satisfying couple of bites, not a dainty pastry. Use a round cookie cutter to cut circles from your dough. Tuck them neatly in the mini cupcake tin’s holes. Cut away any excess from the top.
Once you’ve made all your bottom crusts, fill them with about 1 tbsp of refrigerated mincemeat mix. Your mileage may vary depending on the size of your mini cupcake pan. Make sure to leave a little room at the top for the top crusts.
Roll out the last of your dough. Cut out top crusts for your tiny pies. You can use a simple circle or make a thick X of dough, but if you have any mini cookie cutters, leaves, moons, or other autumnal decorations make them look extra fancy for little added work. Whatever shape you pick, just make sure it doesn’t cover the top completely. You want to leave a little room for steam to escape while the pies bake.
Once your pies are filled and topped, pop them in a 400F / 205C oven for 18-20 min or until the tops are golden brown. It may be a struggle, but once you remove them from the oven, let them sit for at least 15 minutes to set.
These are delicious hot, but unlike most baked goods, they taste even better the next morning. That makes them great snacks for Elevenses when adventuring outside the shire.
Substitute coconut oil or your preferred vegan margarine for the butter and suet. Instead of water and apple juice in the crust, use all apple juice to add to the natural sweetness and flavor. For the filling, increase all spices by 25% and add ½ tsp of salt and 1 tbsp molasses or dark treacle to make up for the missing animal fat flavors. It won’t taste the same, but it will still taste delicious.
Let An Unexpected Cookbook fill your home with the smells of the Shire this Christmas!
Americans! Give your favorite Tolkien fan a copy of An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery from Amazon.com.
UK and International Readers! Click here for a signed copy sent directly from the author (including a special bonus mini-poster!)