One of my favorite bits of Tolkien Trivia is that he wrote so many lush descriptions of lavish meals while living under wartime rationing. This is no coincidence! Like all hungry men, he wrote a lot about food. Tolkien joked that it would be more realistic for dragons to appear over England than for any family to eat like a Hobbit. There are touching passages from personal writing where he wonders if his children will ever taste the foods he grew up on.
He also saw the world rapidly changing around him as trains cut a two week journey into two hours. He wrote extensively about how he based the Hobbits on a bucolic country life that was disappearing before his eyes. His extensive and strict dietary code for the Hobbits was part of an attempt to use fiction to preserve the flavors of fading era.
In honor of Tolkien’s real lived experiences while writing our favorite books, I present this cheap, hearty feast that would be equally at home on a Hobbit’s table or as an aspirational Sunday Supper during wartime rationing. It gives you a real taste of Tolkien’s life as well as the atmosphere he was trying to create for his Hobbits. Instead of a cut of meat, you’ve got carrots cooked in beef broth and a giant family sized potato pancake topped with a meager four slices of crumbled bacon and shared for the whole family. It’s really potatoes, carrots, peas, and apples cosplaying as a fancy meal, because those are all foods that weren’t rationed. Leftover potatoes and carrots could turn into some skillet hash the next day, and any leftover apples could be diced up and served on top of porridge.
Like all the best country food, these historic English recipes take cheap, simple ingredients and turn them into something absolutely delicious.
Let’s take a look at this week’s cheap, fast, easy, historically based Hobbit meal!
Join the Discord at 10 pm EST/7 pm PST for a two hour long live-chat before the next episode! Then join the 3 hour long After Party on Sunday for panel discussions, live guests, fan art, and more!
This week I’m contributing the following custom menu that you can make at home during the After Party.
One (Cheap) Meal to Rule Them All
That’s right! Your main course is a giant, family sized potato pancake topped with crumbled bacon. This is budget-friendly, stick-to-your ribs food!
I originally planned to include Yorkshire Puddings with this menu. After all, they’re a quintessentially British food you’d expect to find on a Hobbit table with the added bonus of being incredibly cheap to make … today. However, while Tolkien was writing during wartime rationing, Yorkshire Puddings would’ve used up an entire family’s allowance of eggs for two weeks, along with all their cooking fat. Out of respect, I limited this meal to historic recipes from Tolkien’s childhood that home cooks could realistically make during his adulthood, when he was writing The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.
Like a lot of hearty, working class meals, it is incredibly simple to make the entire menu completely vegan! Just substitute quality veggie broth for the beef broth and the fat of your choice for butter.
I’ve already posted recipes for Boxty and Roasted Apples before. Click the links above for the recipes. Read on for the surprisingly umami rich Beef Braised Carrots and lovely country Rosemary Peas.
Beef Braised Carrots
Meat was expensive enough during Tolkien’s childhood that few rural families could afford it daily. However, there are lots of tasty ways to stretch out the flavor of meat in an otherwise vegetarian meal. In this case, leftover beef broth packs plenty of taste plus some extra calories and minerals to an inexpensive bunch of carrots. This recipe wasn’t a full on attempt to make a Victorian meat substitute. No one was trying to pretend the carrots were really sausages. Cookbooks of the era referred to recipes like this as a way to offer “flavor without substance.” At a time when food cost more than rent recipes like this wa
- 2 ¼ lbs / 1 kg carrots, peeled
- 2 c / 475 ml beef broth (or veggie broth)
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 sprigs fresh kitchen herbs (rosemary or thyme)
- 2 tbsp butter (or vegan fat of your choice)
Sort your carrots to find the ones that are no more than 1 inch / 2.5 cm wide and 6 inches / 15 cm long. Alternately, you could simply cut your carrots into evenly sized pieces, but sometimes it’s fun to be a presentation snob. Peel the carrots and cut off any woody end pieces.
Melt the butter in a wide bottomed stock pot. Add the beef broth, crushed garlic cloves, and fresh kitchen herbs. Give it all a good stir and bring the broth to a boil.
Now add your carrots in a single layer and roll them around in the broth a bit. Turn the heat down to medium and let them simmer for 12-15 minutes, or until the carrots are fork-tender. Gently turn them every five minutes to make sure the carrots stay evenly coated.
Once the carrots are nice and tender, remove them with a slotted spoon. Try to keep them intact for presentation purposes.
Turn the heat back up on the broth. Keep boiling until it’s reduced to a glaze. Fish out the garlic cloves and any whole herbs then pour the glaze on top of the carrots. In addition to glazing the carrots, this makes a great substitute gravy to help flavor your bread or potatoes.
You can use the exact same technique with homemade vegetable broth and a bit of olive oil. It results in a radically different but equally tasty flavor. Put your budget towards the best quality broth you can afford, since the broth is the real star of this recipe.
Rosemary Skillet Peas
Peas are a classic English vegetable that has been that has been horribly maligned due to the cruel arts of preservation. No one in the Shire would understand your hate because their peas were fresh, crisp green orbs that popped satisfyingly with each bite.
It’s very difficult to find fresh peas in the grocery store these days (though if you can, you really should give them a try) so this recipe relies on their closest relative, the frozen version. Do not, under any circumstances, make this recipe using the mushy gray mass that plops out of a can. This simple recipe is meant to be a celebration of the goodness you’d find in an English garden, not a funeral dirge for all that was lost to the horrors of canning.
- 2 c / 200 g frozen green peas
- 3 tbsp butter (or the fat of your choice)
- 1 tbsp dried rosemary
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced
- 2 tsp coarse or kosher salt
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted, add your frozen peas and give them a good stir, so they’re completely coated. Cook your peas, stirring often, for 5-6 minutes, or until they’re completely thawed and warmed through but not yet soft or mushy.
Sprinkle the rosemary, garlic, and salt on top. Give it all a good stir and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes or until the garlic barely starts to brown.
If you add the rosemary and garlic too soon, they’ll burn by the time the peas are fully cooked. You want them in the butter long enough to add flavor without any tragic consequences.
This recipe can be easily doubled if you’re serving plenty of guests or your well-trained family really loves their vegetables.
Simply substitute the cooking oil of your choice for butter. Since the butter does add flavor as well as fat, you might want to add in a second clove of minced garlic and another pinch of salt.
Come back next week, when the menu for Rings of Power Episode 6 will be Traveling Food! These recipes are equally good popped into your rucksack for a small adventure or laid out on a tray in your living room during a Watch Party!
Need more Hobbity goodness in your life?
Preview more recipes from An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery, available now!