An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Mar 24, 2015 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Oh my, oh my. THIS is a book after my own heart. I'm talking, of course, about An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery, written by Chris-Rachael Oseland. She's the author of amazing geek cookbooks, including Wood for Sheep: The Unauthorized Settlers Cookbook, Dining With The Doctor, Kitchen Overlord Illustrated Geek Cookbook, SteamDrunks: 101 Steampunk Cocktails and Mixed Drinks, and the upcoming Geek Breads cookbook (Cybermen rolls? Yes, please). Her website, Kitchen Overlord, is your home for geeky recipes, edible art, and nerdy kitchen gadget reviews. She's SO COOL - she gets fandoms, books, games, and passions.

Take a look at my favorite cookbook author...
 

 

 

We were sent a review e-copy of An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery (thank you!). I have to say - our daughter is a HUGE Tolkein fan - we watch the movies, read the books, listen to the audiobooks, play the lego videogames (I love how Thorin's majestic hair looks in the lego version. But I digress). Here are 136 pages of recipes - breakfast, second breakfast (swoon), elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, supper, and dinner. Perhaps the most fun part of the book (well, besides the recipes and the gorgeous photos) is an in-depth discussion of the Shire pantry. It's a bit of a (literary) history lesson, and a glimpse into the great mind of Tolkein, tempered by a renowned cookbook author (and fan) today. Oseland notes, "You can feel the love and nostalgia for that hearty country cuisine every time the Hobbits eat. The end result of all that thrifty cleverness is often insanely more delicious than anything you can buy pre-made at your local grocer."

 

An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery. Interview with the author - and 2 recipes!

 

All throughout the book, readers learn about hobbits, cooking techniques and tricks, and recipes - all with some humor thrown in. It's a pleasure to read each recipe, as Oseland expands the dialogue (my favorite line? "This isn’t fancy Elven baking chemistry." Porter cake, p. 38. Second favorite line? "Admire your handiwork for a moment before punching down the dough." Chelsea buns, p. 57) and makes this an easy to read, inspiring, and delicious companion to The Hobbit. There are vegan versions of recipes, for those so inclined.

Honestly? This is my favorite cookbook, EVER - and I have over 5,000 of them. Maybe because I love Tolkein's work, maybe because our daughter is also a (huge!!) fan, but primarily because Oselund has created and shares such extraordinary, delicious recipes, with a sense of place, history, and fun. Highly recommended!

We were lucky enough to catch up with Chris-Rachael Oselund, and ask her about The Hobbit cookbook, inspiration, research, recipes, and more. She's also generously shared two recipes - be sure to click through to read her interesting (and funny) introductions to them. Here's what she had to say...

 

What inspired you to write the Hobbit Cookbook?

As a second generation geek with multiple history degrees who happens to write cookbooks for a living, how could I *not*?

Honestly, it started a little over a year ago when I decided to have a Hobbit theme week on my cooking website, Kitchen Overlord. I fell deep down the research rabbit hole. When I came up for air, I started looking for Hobbit cookbooks and was genuinely surprised to find that there weren't any. I mean, c'mon! This is Tolkien! There are half a dozen Hunger Games cookbooks, but nothing for the Shire? This had to be corrected.

 

Let's talk about the research - how did you research and create dishes for this cookbook?

Most people think of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as being medieval fantasy, but they're actually rooted in the late Victorian era of Tolkien's childhood and deeply influenced by the backdrop of global war in which he lived most of his adult life. Tolkien said he based the Shire in great part on his aunt's farm at Bag End (yes, that's a real place!) and the surrounding village, which had no cars and no train lines. He saw it as a peaceful, bucolic place untouched by the ravages of Industrialization and war. He really wanted to preserve something of that way of life in his writing before it entirely disappeared.

In honor of that, I spent a heck of a lot of time researching recipes, tax records (which often tell you a lot about what people ate), and any food related documents I could get my hands on for central England.

Once I had far more information than I could realistically use, I put it through the filters Tolkien placed on the Shire; no new world foods other than coffee, tobacco, and potatoes. That narrowed things down considerably, but left me with another issue - how far back into history should I go when eliminating "non-English" foods. After all, England was colonized by the Romans, who brought cabbages - that quintessential English food - as well as turnips, radishes, asparagus, garlic, onions, and leeks.

I ended up drawing a line at the Crusades, entirely because of Tolkien's love of seed cake. The vintage seed cake recipes I found all included caraway seeds, which are not indigenous to England at all. A few spices had made their way to wealthy households for over a thousand years, but the kitchen staple spices in just about every cookie or cake today became really popular after crusaders brought home bags of it. I feel that Tolkien's intent in limiting the Shire wasn't to create a cuisine based on nothing but nettle soup and boiled potatoes, but to lovingly preserve English country life as it was before Industrialization and World War I changed everything, in his opinion, for the worse.

 

What can Tolkein fans expect, in terms of Shire recipes?

Good country cooking. No matter where you go in the world, country cooking is delicious. In this case, I took the hearty country recipes that made it through the first round of filters and settled down to see which ones could be realistically modified to exclude new world foods. You have to remember, when Tolkien was born, the sun never set on the British Empire. England imported food from all over the world. Heck, tea, which we think of as quintessentially English, was actually a Chinese import which they later farmed in India. Recipes from that era are full of an almost child-like delight at throwing together random flavors from all over the globe just to see what will happen.

I filtered my list down to recipes with a minimum of foreign ingredients or with foreign ingredients which could be easily replaced with an English equivalent. For example, you won't find any vanilla or chocolate in this cookbook, even though people of his era adored both. I generally replaced vanilla extract with almond extract or eliminated it entirely in favor of fresh fruits or herbs.

Because food was insanely expensive at this time - up to 2/3 of a middle class family's income - I also did my best to interweave the recipes so you always had a use for leftovers. The roasted apples served for pudding at last night's Supper can be chopped up and turned into a filling for a tasty bread served at today's Elevenses. The leftover carcass from Sunday's roast chicken are made into broth which can be used in Mushroom Soup for tomorrow's luncheon. Leftover potatoes end up in darn near everything.

 

What DO Hobbits eat?

I included a chapter for each hobbit meal; Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Elevenses, Luncheon, Afternoon Tea, Supper, and Dinner.

Breakfast has historical recipes for porridge, home made country sausage, and hash. Second Breakfast I saw as as a time for a little morning adventure, before the day gets too hot, so all the foods are durable hand pies that can take a beating if you toss them in the bottom of your pack. Elevenses was my carb loading meal, full of both quick breads and yeast breads. Luncheon is mostly pub food, so scotch eggs, steak and ale pie, and a stewed hare. Americans would consider Afternoon Tea a meal entirely of cookies and cakes. I didn't include any small sandwiches there since those were more of an aristocratic habit. Supper and Dinner both include a couple of main courses, like roast rack of lamb or braised oxtails, plus vegetable sides like asparagus, green beans, and peas, some mushroom dishes, and a more complicated dessert than those in the Afternoon Tea chapter.

 

And taste-testing - what are your favorite recipes, in the book?

I want everyone to try the Seed Cake. As a girl, I always imagined it with sunflower seeds, so discovering he meant caraway seeds was a pleasant surprise. It's a darn shame they've gone out of fashion in modern cooking, because they're freaking delicious. On the savory side, I really love the Beef Braised Carrots in the Dinner chapter. In this case, home made broth makes all the difference.

 

What's up next for you?

Artist Tom Gordon and I spent two years creating an Illustrated Geek Cookbook. It covers 120 years of geek culture, from HG Wells The Time Machine to the Fox show Sleepy Hollow plus homages toso many games, comics, books, tv shows, and movies. It is available on Amazon. People can get a preview of it here: http://kitchenoverlord.com/illustrated-recipes/
 

And here are a few sample recipes that Chris-Rachael has generously agreed to share with our Wandering Educators!

How to eat like a hobbit in 7 steps: Afternoon Tea's Shortbread Biscuits
 

 

How to eat like a hobbit in 7 steps: Afternoon Tea's Shortbread Biscuits. From An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery

 

Shortbread Biscuits

1 c / 225 g butter
2 c / 260 g flour
½ c /100 g sugar
½ tsp salt

Cream your butter and sugar together until they’re completely smooth.

Shortbread is excellent on its own, but if you want to add in some extra flavoring agents, now is the time. Lavender and rosemary are perfectly Shire-appropriate additions. At most, add ½ tbsp of either.

Once you’ve stirred any extra flavors into your buttery goodness, whisk your salt into your flour. Dump the salty flour into your butter mixture. Keep mixing until the flour is completely integrated into the butter. The best method is to give up on the spoon and just reach in there with your hands. Once you have a nice, uniform dough, knead it a few times for good measure.

If you’ve added any flavoring agents, form the dough into a log, wrap it in plastic, and let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours so the flavors can mingle. If you don’t plan to add any extras, you can either shape it into a log for easy cutting or go ahead and bake it now.

If you want to use a cookie cutter for fun shapes, let your dough come back to room temperature and roll it out to ½ inch / 1.25 cm thickness. If you’re not particular about shapes, rolling it into a log and simply slicing off coins certainly saves time. Either way, the shortbreads will taste great.

Arrange your shortbreads 1 inch / 2.5 cm apart on a heavily buttered glass cake pan. The extra butter makes them release even faster.

Bake at 325F / 160C for 18-20 minutes, or until the shortbreads turn a rich golden brown. Don’t over bake them or else they’ll turn a sickly grey-brown. To preserve the texture, store them in a room temperature an airtight container.

 

 

How to eat like a hobbit in 7 steps: Boxty on the Griddle

 

How to eat like a hobbit in 7 steps: Boxty on the Griddle. From An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery

 

Boxty on the Griddle

1 lb / 450 g bacon
2 c / 500g potatoes, peeled and grated
2 c / 500g mashed potatoes
1 ½ c / 225g flour
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1 ¼ c / 300ml whole milk
¼ c / 55g melted butter
2 tbsp butter (for frying)

Grab your largest skillet and fry up an entire pound of bacon until crispy. This should leave you with a pan full of delicious juices. Set the bacon aside.

While the bacon is frying, peel and grate the raw potatoes until you have 2 cups of of shreds. Soak them in cold water for five minutes to wash away the excess starch. Drain the potatoes then refresh them in more cold water.

Mix your flour, salt, pepper, and baking powder in a large bowl. Once those are well blended, add your mashed potatoes, whole milk, and melted butter. Keep mixing until you have a thick, pancake-like batter. Strain the shredded potatoes and add them to the party, mixing just enough to evenly distribute them in the batter.

The next part requires patience. To make one large, family style boxty, you need slow, low, steady heat. Leave your bacon grease filled skillet at a steady medium, no hotter. Pour the batter in and spread it around the skillet until you have a single, giant pancake, no more than ½ inch / 1.25 cm thick. If you have any leftover batter, get out a second skillet and make some baby boxty’s fried in butter.

Let the bix boxty cook for about ten minutes. You can use a spatula to peek under the edge in order to make sure it isn’t burning, but do your best to just leave it in peace. Once the underside is a nice, golden brown, carefully slide it out onto a plate.

Add the last 2 tbsp of butter to the pan and let it melt. Now carefully, quickly, put the buttered pan on top of your plate and flip it over so the raw batter side goes splat down onto the hot skillet.

Put the boxty back on the medium heat and let it continue cooking for another 10 minutes, or until golden brown on both sides.

Slide your glorious disc of boxty onto a large plate. Remember all that bacon you fried? Tear it into small pieces and pile them on top of the boxty. If you’re making oxtails for people who are averse to seeing bones on a plate, you can also pull all the meat off the oxtails and pile it on top of the boxty then serve it with oxtail gravy on the side.

VEGAN VARIATION

Purists will say you can’t have a proper boxty without bacon. However, in lean times families might cut the bacon in half or even down to a quarter the usual quantity. Think of the vegan variation as being extra thrifty.

Substitute 2 tbsp of your favorite vegan cooking oil for the bacon grease and an equal quantity of oil for the butter. You can also substitute in your favorite non dairy substitute for the whole milk, but try to get one that actually has some fat. To enhance the flavor, add 1 heaping tsp each of onion powder, garlic powder, and black pepper into the flour mix. You don’t want to add any herbs because the long cooking time and griddle method could cause any in the crust to burn.

 

Learn more at: http://kitchenoverlord.com/