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13
Bilbo's Delight


Dear Sam,

I’m sorry if I’ve seemed stingy with recipes here, but so many of them call for things that can’t be gotten in the Shire. I’m still discovering foods I’ve never even heard of before, not liking some of them, and positively loving others, and I can only hope and pray you’ll someday discover first-hand what I’ve been raving about.

And now there’s one you may be able to manage—still you don’t have all the ingredients, but you do have some.

We were at a loss as to what to do with ourselves this morning. Tilwen and I had our lesson with Dűndeloth, then he went back to the college to give his classes, and Lord Elrond and Gandalf went into town on some business, Ladies Celebrían and Elwing went to the orphanage where Lady E. teaches classes and Lady C. does volunteer work. Lady Galadriel, I think I’ve mentioned, has moved into the royal palace, and Lady Ríannor will be staying there with her for a while. Soon Lord E. and Lady C. will be moving there as well, along with Lady E., and this house will go to Gandalf, while Bilbo and I will be moving to our cottage by the cove—it still needs some remodeling, and Leandros (Lalaith’s husband) and a couple of other carpenters are building us some hobbit-sized furniture. I am greatly looking forward to going there to live, not but that I won’t miss this house, but since Gandalf will be living here, with Lady R. in time (neither has mentioned marriage yet, but I haven’t a doubt they will take that step eventually), I’ll be able to come back to it whenever I like.

So, this morning Bilbo and I were pretty much alone, along with Tilwen, who stayed around to serve us our meals. She fixed us a delicious meat-pie contrived by Lady C., stuffed with beef, cheese, potatoes, green peppers, okra, peas, herbs and mushrooms, and Bilbo was unusually hungry today, which I was very glad to see. As Til went to bring us another course, I noticed Bilbo studying the crust of his pie intently. It is a particularly light and doughy kind of flat-bread with tiny flakes of cheese baked into it.

“What are you doing, uncle mine?” I asked him absently. He didn’t answer for a moment. Tilwen came back with a bowl full of chunks of a kind of melon that grows here, to which Bilbo and I have lost our hearts, the rind streaked with shades of green, the inside a rich dark pink dotted with black seeds, incredibly juicy and sweet and delicious, especially when eaten very cold. I truly wish I could send you some of the seeds!

Til gathered up our used dishes to take back to the kitchen. It was really good of her to stay and serve us, since it’s hard for me to deal with the kitchen, which isn’t hobbit-sized and so I am hopelessly clumsy in it, although I like to help out when I can. I even served as kitchen-maid in her stead for a couple of weeks after her wedding, when Lady C. told her she was not to do a stroke of work except in her own house, and to enjoy her wedded bliss and come here only as a guest, whenever she liked. But when I expressed my appreciation, Til replied that it was always a pleasure to serve us, and Bilbo, who quite dotes on her, beamed at that.

(By the way…one thing I so dearly wish I’d said, the night we confronted Rűdharanion in the tower, is “NEVER underestimate a servant!!” At least I didn’t tell you I said that when I really didn’t. But I wish with all my heart that I had. Well, my worse half almost hopes he won’t reform TOO much before I can get the chance to say it after all.)

“My dear,” Bilbo said to Tilwen, “is there any dough left of this crust in the kitchen?”

“Why, yes, I believe there is,” she said as she set out the bowl of melon. “The Lady and I made enough for supper, I’m sure.”

“And what about that sauce from that delicious meat dish for last night’s supper?” he asked.

“There’s a little left,” she said, “perhaps a ladle-full, but I can always make more. It’s not so difficult.”

“That’s my lass,” he said as I looked away with a grin. “And cheese, how are we fixed for cheese?”

“There are three kinds, the mild white goat-cheese, that sharp yellow kind, and that really smelly stuff—enough for tonight and tomorrow, I’m sure. Have you something in mind, Mister Bilbo?”

“Well, come to think of it…perhaps we should repair to the kitchen. I’ve a little idea I should like to try, if you think the Ladies wouldn’t mind? We could surprise them. Are you with us, Frodo-lad?”

I must admit, my curiosity was aroused. So we three beat a retreat into the kitchen, where Tilwen pulled up high stools to the table for us. Bilbo asked for the long flat wide pan on which rolls are usually baked, and a large lump of the dough and the rolling-pin. Til buttered the pan and I took the rolling-pin and rolled the dough out flat in the pan as Bilbo directed. Then he asked for the sauce, for which I don’t know the full recipe yet—I know it has tomatoes and herbs and red wine in it. He asked her to pour it into the middle of the flattened dough, and instructed me to spread it thinly while Tilwen retrieved the cheeses, which we all chopped into thin slices and laid all over the spread sauce. Then Bilbo suggested some dried herbs be sprinkled onto the cheese slices, and asked if there were still any mushrooms in the cellar. Tilwen went down and fetched them, her eyes full of giggles, as I think my own were, and we stemmed those and laid them around the mixture in a way that would look pretty.

“What vegetables have we?” Bilbo asked, as he surveyed what we had done so far.

“We’ve tomatoes, peppers, onions, cabbage, potatoes, radishes, beets, leeks, garlic, and olives, I’m sure,” she said. “Shall I bring it all up?”

“Bilbo, why don’t you tell her all that you want at once, instead of making her run her legs off?” I suggested.

“Oh, it’s no trouble,” Tilwen laughed. “I’m getting excited about this new dish. It already looks delicious, and it’s not even cooked yet.”

“I think onions certainly,” Bilbo said, “and well, maybe the peppers too. I suppose I oughtn’t to be eating too much spice at my age, but I’m rather sick to death of bland food, begging your pardon, dear one, and I’ll take my chances. The garlic too…and the olives, well, I think they might do as well.”

I don’t know how to define “olives” exactly—they grow on trees, are not sweet enough for fruit and not hard enough for nuts, but who ever heard of a vegetable that grows on trees? They can be eaten ripe or unripe—I prefer them green, myself, they have a distinctive acrid flavor that is very pleasant when you get used to it. And there is an oil that can be extracted for cooking.

Tilwen and I both went down to the cellar and gathered a basket of the specified vegetables.

“Let’s go lightly on the peppers, Bilbo,” I said. I allowed him only one green one and half a yellow and half a red one, and a small one at that. Then he called for an onion.

“Must I cut this up?” I pleaded. “My eyes run like two drain-pipes during a storm when I cut up onions.”

“Here, let me have it,” Bilbo said, taking the onion from me with a “what a sissy” expression at Til, and began slicing it thinly while I chopped up the garlic cloves. “A pity Lady Galadriel isn’t living here any more. This will be a dish befitting a queen, surely.”

“Perhaps we should invite her over,” Tilwen said. “But who can we send to the Palace?”

“I think Gandalf and Lord Elrond will be back sooner or later,” I said. “Perhaps one of them could go. I’d go myself, if I were allowed, but you know how that is.” I rolled up my eyes.

“And Galendur has gone deep-sea fishing with Seragon and Leandros, or I could send him,” Tilwen said. “And I imagine they’ll be at it all day. You know how they are in a boat. Perhaps I could go myself, or find someone in town who would be willing. For you’re right, the Queen really should taste this.”

By the way, Sam, I must tell you I’ve been made a Prince? I’ve been wondering whether or not to tell you, fearing perhaps you might be put off by such a rank, but I suppose I really shouldn’t keep these things from you. No one asked me if I wanted to be a prince, they just made me one, whether I wanted it or no, and I might have declined the conferral but for little Lyrien, who fairly skipped with delight when she heard about it. “I KNOW A PRINCE!” she squealed to everyone she knew, and so I resigned myself, so long as I was allowed to dress in the fashion to which I was accustomed, and was not required to live in the Palace. So I may continue to dress as a hobbit, wearing princely robes only for state occasions. You should see what they made me—you would laugh, I think—a robe of deep blue velvet embroidered with silver and pearls—pearls! And a cloak of crimson cloth lined with gold silk and trimmed with white fur, and a silver circlet with the pearl from Lyrien’s fairy set in the middle—she asked that it be so, which is the only reason I had it done. I can only hope there won’t be very many state occasions! And yes, I had boots made. I decided I would feel even more ridiculous sitting in on a council with my fuzzy feet sticking out, and so I gave in. Surprisingly, Bilbo didn’t laugh at me about it, but actually expressed his approval!

But anyway, to continue:

“Deep-sea fishing, eh?” Bilbo said. “Speaking of which, have we any of those delightful little fishes—anchovies I believe they’re called?” He looked very innocently at Tilwen, at me not at all.

“Bilbo, you’re not going to suggest putting THOSE horrible things on our dish?” I said, appalled. “The Lady Galadriel is the only other one in the household who can tolerate them.”

“It’s her I was thinking of,” Bilbo said, his tone meek enough, but his eyes twinkling wickedly. Of course he was just trying to get a rise out of me, and I fell for it. “Well, never mind them, then, my lad. It was just an idea. But say, what about that sausage we had at breakfast?”

“Haven’t we enough spice already?” I protested. “Your stomach is going to rebel as it’s never done before, uncle dear. I don’t want you getting sick on us.”

“I have an idea,” Tilwen spoke up. “There’s some bacon in the larder; why don’t I fry some of that, and lay out little pieces of it all over? That would be delightful, I should think.”

“Brilliant!” Bilbo said. “Yes, do that, my dear. Yes, the sausage is a very bad idea. Much too heavy. Should we use the ripe or the unripe olives?”

“What about both?” I said, and Bilbo considered this for a moment, then nodded.

“That may work,” he said. Tilwen helped me chop the olives in half and sprinkle them around. It was then we decided that was enough. Til covered the dish and laid it in the cold-storage until it should be ready to bake, came up and grinned at us all.

“Now I shall send word to the royal palace,” she said. “You two might wish to put on your princely vestments tonight. I only hope Galendur won’t come in smelling of fish! If so, I shall make him bathe, if I have to knock him unconscious and push him into the tub. Do you suppose there will be enough for all?”

“If we don’t all get too greedy,” Bilbo said. “If we each take but one piece, there should be enough to go around. Oh, and of course we must have red wine, have we plenty of that?”

“A whole cellar-full. Oh, I can hardly wait to taste it—I know it will be wonderful!” Til said, then said if she were going to the Royal Palace, she had better go home now and change clothes. She could hardly go mincing out there dressed as a kitchen-maid!

“Go ahead,” I said. “I will prepare some side-dishes and desserts, and Bilbo can help me. Are there plenty of potatoes?”

When the time came, we baked it until the cheese was melted and the crust was plump and soft—it took but about a quarter of an hour, I think. Everyone was ecstatic over it, the Queen most of all. She called for the recipe, and gave it a name: “Bilbo’s Delight.” I dearly hope you will be here in time to taste it, Sam. I don’t know what foods they have on the Other Side, but I can scarcely imagine that they have one to equal this one!

By the way, Lady G. was charmed by Bilbo’s suggestion of the anchovies, and I’ve no doubt Galendur will keep her well supplied. And she is more than welcome to them.



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