DESSERT-OLOGY PT 4
26th December, 2013
Some things we hold to heart deeply on the merit of temporariness. Like all things impressed by frivolity, there is no guarantee that on your next chance encounter they will evoke the same fanciful attachment as that first endearing moment. Some things begin as an aspiration of grandeur, but we know all too well how quickly those ideas evaporate. But simple desires persist and there are few more understated, constant and self-perpetuating than the desire to be nourished. Whether it be in philosophy or in physicality, the indulging comfort of familiar tastes is something we will always pine for.
Twelve summers and several miles separate me from that little nook where I first delved into a brand new copy of The Hobbit. I devoured each page with voracity as it boasted its contents before me. It has since become one of my favourite annual traditions to revisit my beloved copy, now with dog-eared pages and fading cover art. The passing of years did little to hinder my childhood imagination. This fixation was encouraged by the yearly viewing of the latest Lord of the Rings or Hobbit film adaptions, a practice I gladly share with my equally Middle-Earth crazed friends. Biting back the week-old spoilers that threaten to surface, I assure you that the Desolation of Smaug did not disappoint. I determined that my ensuing mad scheme of holding a post-DOS, Hobbit-themed Christmas party with the pals, who are my closest fans should not either. I set off on an adventure of my own to recreate the fine fare of Middle Earth with the Lord of the Rings volumes as my guide not caring where I might be swept off to.
“I am in fact a hobbit in all but size,” the author, J.R.R. Tolkien famously claimed in a letter to a friend. Tolkien’s noteworthy creation–the mythical race of Hobbits consumed a total of seven meals a day comprising of breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper, excluding snacks. The tight-knit gathering of my friends, new and old for this holiday season was characterised exclusively by comfort akin to a welcome foray into the hobbit’s pantry.
Adapting the Lord of the Rings menu into contemporary meals entailed an afternoon vigil in front of the oven for me. Mum watched me scuttle to and fro with a raised eyebrow wondering why I expend more effort in my LOTR dinner than in our traditional Prose family Christmas feast. Nose half-buried in books or sniffing for burning dough, I served up a melée of twice-baked cakes and homemade Elvish way bread, or lembas accompanied by a wedge of smoky Edam cheese and salt-crusted roast pork. The use of cutlery was discouraged, alright forbidden. A luxury that my friends made well-use of amidst compliments and repeated requests for additional servings.
The elves, reportedly Tolkien’s favourite race, leant insight into my Middle Earth menu as the purveyors of the libations. Lacking the rumoured magical powers, the Elvish miruvor ‘wine’ I concocted falls far behind its authentic counterpart but the cordial of chai iced tea with a shot of cinnamon and star anise certainly comes close. The heady spices render the beverage almost alcoholic save its palatable aftertaste, not unlike the rejuvenating kind offered at Lord Elrond’s Last Homely House in Rivendell. Of course I could not do without a woodland assortment of fruit, berries and nuts. They make for easy snacks in between courses for my ‘hobbit’ guests who are intent on cramming the seven meals into one, excluding snacks.
There is something altogether English in the preparation of a scone, as I soon discovered. It was a carry-on-as-you-please kind of pastry. Never demanding to be served in elevation or in excess, it is happily consumed amid cushions of a cozy armchair with crumbles falling liberally and landing conveniently out of sight tucked between the folds and seams. It was just the way Tolkien himself would have probably enjoyed it while the halls of Rohan and Gondor formed in his mind. The same goes for a jolly good toad-in-the-hole, topped with hard boiled eggs for that added delicacy to the original dish. This traditional British breakfast remained Tolkien’s favourite throughout childhood all the way until the First World War. I admittedly yielded to the temptation of streaking the dough with a more international palette. I added greasy gems of various sausages of chorizo and kransky to balance the sponginess of the golden pudding-bread.
As for the dessert, could we settle for anything less than an Eton mess? An Oxbridge man himself, Tolkien had an affinity for the treat and was rumoured to have requested it as soon as he returned from war. My friends soon fell helpless to the charms of the sponge-jelly duo like Bilbo to the Ring. The delicate tartness of the meringue against the bouncy bubbliness of the gelatine cannot be done without. It was soon apparent that Tolkien and I share a similar sweet tooth and soft spot for this dessert. It is sinful in many decadent ways that it requires the repeated chanting of mantras like “sponge cake has next to nothing calories,“ and “jelly is technically a fruit serving“. I doubt Middle Earth denizens fuss about dieting as much as I do. Bless them for not doing so.
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” This proverb of Thorin, Dwarf King Under the Mountain in the last chapter of the Hobbit encapsulates Tolkien’s gastronomic literature. It rings true after three generations of readers and countless adaptations. As I waved goodbye to the last of my Middle Earth revelers, my heart beats with nostalgia as it dawned on me that this year’s celebrations would someday merit a repeat for all of you who have joined me on this journey. You who have been there for every step and I now consider my close friends. It is always a comfort to know that my holidays have been enriched by those who, as evidenced by Tolkien, share a fondness for good food, excellent company and unforgettable moments. They are guarantees that we will be taken there and back again with every bite.