Hobbits are known as hearty eaters: they love food and are not ashamed of admitting that. Hobbits are very hospitable and fond of parties where food is usually plenty. On a usual day they may take up to six meals, if they can get that many. Besides, it is very common for hobbits to grow most of their own food and be able to cook very well.
The food that hobbits prefer is rather simple, but tasty and nutritious. When in a letter Tolkien compared himself to a hobbit, he mentioned his love of good plain food — just the very kind that Little People prefer and typical of the rural English cuisine. In his books Tolkien provides some vivid examples.
The contents of Bilbo Baggins’ larder are very impressive. As the Dwarves storm into Bag End and a very unexpected party starts, Mr Baggins has to play a generous host, so a real feast begins. There are various kinds of pies (pork-pie and mince pie), cold cuts, salad, cheese, eggs, cold chicken, pickles, seed-cake. For those having a sweet tooth there are buttered scones, raspberry jam and apple tart. The variety of drinks is also quite stunning, ranging from ale, beer and tea to red wine, coffee and porter. The meals and drinks are to different tastes, appetites, and nobody of the company is left hungry or discontent.
There is an interesting fact provided by Douglas A. Anderson in the Annotated Hobbit. In the first drafts of the book there were tomatoes, but later Tolkien changed them into pickles. Tom Shippey assumed that tomatoes were not native to England and thus, as Tolkien wanted to add Englishness to hobbits and their culture, they appeared rather alien on Bilbo’s table.
In the Prancing Pony inn in Bree the food served to the four Hobbits is no less nice and delicious, just perfect for Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin tired of their perilous road and needing some home comforts:
In a twinkling the table was laid. There was hot soup, cold meats, a blackberry tart, new loaves, slabs of butter, and half a ripe cheese: good plain food, as good as the Shire could show, and homelike enough to dispel the last of Sam’s misgivings (already much relieved by the excellence of the beer).
(Fellowship of the Ring, p. 203-204)
Beer seems to be rather a favourite among hobbits. Pippin is unhappy about passing by the Golden Perch with its excellent beer on the way to Crickhollow, and so is Sam (silently). They are, however, recompensed by having a drink at Farmer Maggot’s place where “a good brew” is provided, alongside other tasty dishes.
Together with good solid farmhouse food, Mrs Maggot serves “a mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon”. Mushrooms are very much favoured by hobbits, and in his younger years Frodo made himself very unpopular with Farmer Maggot for stealing his mushrooms. Amends were made, though, and on departing from the farmer’s house, the travellers received a generous gift: a basket of mushrooms from Mrs Maggot.
However, it is not only eating food for hobbits. They are also very good cooks, and Sam Gamgee is considered to be one of the best:
All hobbits, of course, can cook, for they begin to learn the art before their letters (which many never reach); but Sam was a good cook, even by hobbit reckoning, and he had done a good deal of the camp-cooking on their travels, when there was a chance.
(Two Towers, p. 321)
Being able to cook seems to be more important than being able to read and write for hobbits, but Sam knows his letters as well as his recipes. Before setting out on their dangerous journey to Mordor, Sam checks that he packed his treasured cooking gear and a box with salt — the things that come in very handy one day. In the vicinity of Mordor he cooks a very decent stew with two rabbits and some herbs — bay-leaves, thyme and sage. Though lacking some potatoes and bread for a proper hobbit dish, this stew, together with the way-bread of the Elves, becomes a real feast for the tired hobbits and the first solid meal for them for a really long time.
It is also preparing and collecting food that seems to be a favoured past-time of the hobbits. On his journey with the Dwarves Bilbo muses that when summer begins, “haymaking is going on and picnics” alongside “harvesting and blackberrying”. Since growing and eating food occupied most of hobbits’ time, these activities seem to be more than just automatic monotonous chores, but a rather major part of the hobbits’ social life and culture.
Food has a very important meaning to hobbits and not only because they need to eat something simply to keep them alive. Growing, preparing and eating food are central to the hobbits’ lives, and if that might seem trivial to some, let us see what Thorin has to say about it on his deathbed:
If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
(Hobbit, p. 333)
Food for hobbits is not only about stuffing themselves full. It is about merrymaking and parties, simple pleasures, like that of a singing kettle, cosiness and treasured comfort of your own home. It is a whole lifestyle of happiness, joy and carefree attitude that makes hobbits who they are.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Hobbit; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2012.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, Douglas A. Anderson – The Hobbit or there and back again: revised and expanded edition annotated by Douglas A. Anderson; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2003.
Featured image: Pixabay