Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth has been captivating readers for almost a century with beautiful imagery and expansive lore. Luckily for fans and newbies alike, his creation will soon be captivating reader’s bellies as well. WellWell spoke with Robert Tuesley Anderson, author of Recipes from the World of Tolkien: Inspired by the Legends, on the wonderful cuisine inspired by Tolkien’s words.
When were you first introduced to Tolkien and what did his work mean to you?
When I was about eight or nine, my father gave me the hardback editions of Lord of The Rings and I was hooked like most boys of my age from that time already. They were really beautiful editions. It was my dad’s first great present to me, so it was very special.
Was the cuisine or even appetites of that world something that always interested you?
No, that was later. I think early on kids probably notice there’s a lot of food in the books. I think both The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings begin with some kind of feast and throughout the books, you’ll find lots of references to food. The hobbits are always hungry, they’re always looking out for their next meal and there’s some great food scenes in the novels as well. It was clearly very important to Tolkien and I think it’s important to kids and to adults as well. People like reading about food.
Why Lord of the Rings versus any other themed property to write a cookbook on?
The Lord Of The Rings is a very popular series. That’s clearly one big motive for writing it. But also because food is so important in the books. There’s a close relationship between the stories and food so it seemed natural.
Where do you think Tolkien’s concern and emphasis on food stems from?
Probably from his own childhood. He grew up in England and came from a very comfortable middle-class household. So, he was used to very good food from an early age. But also, I think this idea of home was important to him. The hobbits always get a bit nostalgia for home. I mean, when Frodo and Sam are in the shadow of Mordor, the mountains of Mordor, they’re thinking about home and food. Sam brings up fish and chips at that moment which is completely ridiculous in the context of Middle Earth where potatoes are not supposed to exist in Middle Earth but that concept is very important to the hobbits and to the characters as a contrast to all the perils they’re going through.
Similarly, you mention in the book that food in Tolkien is also very much about companionship, friendship, love and hope. How crucial are these pillars beyond just Tolkien, but in everyday life?
Immensely, of course. I really like to cook for people and during lockdown, during the various lockdowns, I’ve not been able to do that and I really miss it. Recently I’ve been able to start cooking for people again and it’s been a huge pleasure and I’ve really reconnected over the dinner table with the world and people and friends. It’s wonderful.
Do you think it’s one of those things where you don’t appreciate as much until it’s no longer available? Did you underestimate how important eating with others was before lockdown?
I think I always appreciated how important it is. I live in a very rural location and I don’t get to see that many people that often so it’s always wonderful to have people round my table. But lockdown did bring that idea home.
A lot of the dishes are stripped directly from the pages, while others are a bit more creative. What was the process like behind developing these recipes?
Some are drawn directly from the books. For example, there’s the famous scene where Sam cooks Frodo rabbit stew, so there’s a rabbit stew. There are other obvious ones, but I think probably a good half were not quite so obvious. I had to be rather inventive and creative in how I came up with them really. So, one of the big problems is that they say Middle Earth supposedly exists in a pre-new world kind of setting so lots of things that you would have in recipes like tomatoes and theoretically potatoes shouldn’t be available. So, we had to ignore that.
Was there any dish or recipe that you were specifically excited about when you began the project that jumped out immediately to you as something that you wanted to elaborate on in a cookbook?
I think the rabbit is probably the ones that are actually in the book that was really exciting to me. It’s actually creating something directly from the books like the rabbit stew. And other things, I think, there is a fish and chip recipe as well and also the famous Elven bread, the Waybread, called Lembas bread as well. These are always great fun to create and recreate, the ones that are directly from the books. And of course, all the cakes there are. Bilbo Baggins, at the party in the beginning of the Hobbit for example, when all the dwarves turn up and they want to eat tons and tons of stuff. Those are the ones that are particularly interesting to create.
The book itself is organized in six of the mealtimes that the hobbits talk about, breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea and dinner. Was this always how you planned to set up the book or is that something that came to you in the process of writing?
The six hobbit meals, is it five or six? I can’t remember. But that was always there from the very beginning because it’s such a famous fact about hobbits. I mean, there’s a little introduction about hobbits in the beginning of The Lord Of The Rings and Tolkien makes a big thing about them always having five meals.
We are obviously a health and wellness site. Do you think there’s anything we can learn, positive or negative, from the diets of the hobbits or any of the other characters?
The hobbits diet doesn’t particularly sound very healthy. It’s very solid, it’s very lengthy, lots of heavy stuff. I think we kind of moved away from that. I mean, I’m actually working on a follow up cookbook, an Elvish cookbook, which is going to be the foods that are slightly lighter and fresher and more kind of gathered and foraged stuff.
Kind of the diet version?
Yeah. Perhaps eating like a hobbit once a day is fine.
The Hobbit, Tolkien’s first work was published nearly 85 years ago. What do you think is the overall legacy of these books and why do you think they’ve endured for almost 100 years?
It’s probably because he appeals to very universal themes. It’s a distinct good and evil thing going on, but also, I think it’s his appreciation for nature. He’s actually underappreciated as a nature writer. I mean, you can really get entangled in all his words about mountains and nature.
About Robert Tuesley Anderson
Robert Tuesley Anderson is a writer, poet, and editor living in the Southern Uplands of Scotland. His cookbooks have given him the opportunity to bring together two lifelong enthusiasms: good, home-cooked food and classical literature. If you’ve ever wondered what a Hobbit, an Elf, or a Dwarf might eat in a day’s meals, this cookbook is for you! Mr. Anderson’s book Recipes from the World of Tolkien: Inspired by the Legends will encourage you to cook recipes that cover all six mealtimes from the realm of J.R.R. Tolkien. Divided by the time of day, these recipes use modern ingredients, culinary techniques, and American measurements. This book is a perfect way to experience real food that tastes like a fantasy!