Friday, February 20, 2015

Middle-earth's Kitchen: Travel Cuisine

As a modern traveler, if there is one major thing I appreciate when flying, it’s the overpriced food places in the terminals. I know, I know--overpriced. Like outrageously so. But for me it’s totally worth having it and the hassle of airplanes as compared to what travel was a few hundred years ago (I’d love to go everywhere on horseback, though, if it were possible). Enjoying that last hotdog before heading back to Ireland for 5 months was great--and much better than cram.

Since he invented such a complete world, it’s no surprise that Tolkien included food and drink in his books. After all, he said, “'If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” And, since LOTR and The Hobbit are based around travel, there’s food for that too. No Five Guys or Starbucks like I have in my airport at home… but, close enough.

“Cram” is the main ready-to-go-in-convenient-all-new-packaging food that’s used by Bilbo and the dwarves in The Hobbit. They got it from the men of Dale, who make it as a filling, all-purpose sort of snack. According to Tolkien it was quite biscuit-like, and if you’re a fan of ancient texts on sea travel you’ll also probably recognise it as being a fictional cousin to hard tack. It was so unappealing that Bilbo and the dwarves spent time complaining about it as they went along. Honey-cake was similar but more delicious than cram, and was also mentioned in The Hobbit as being made by Beorn, although it made the consumer thirsty.

On the other hand, the wise and perfect Elves had their own version of a waybread that was good for traveling and filling one up over long distances. Lembas is the more famous, flavourful version of cram. It’s said to be more nuitritious and golden brown on the outside and cream coloured inside, and far more palatable than cram. Being made by the elves, lembas also has some interesting qualities (and not just in its ingredients, which are closely guarded and never really shared). We know that Tolkien was against allegory in his work, but that he openly admitted to using religion as inspiration for his writings (along with a lot of mythology). Lembas had a quality about it that made it very repulsive to creatures of an “inherently” evil nautre, thus why Gollum was disgusted by it and spit it out after being offered it in The Return of the King. Many have made the point that it was very similar to the Eucharist (because of the aforementioned reason), which is the ritual of taking the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine in the Roman Catholic church. Like the Eucharist, which represents the spiritual bread of life, lembas sustains one’s strength and will. Tolkien apparently confirmed all of this in a private letter, which I don’t yet have a source on (if you find it in his published book of letters, let me know!).

In place of your Starbucks, ent-draught, miruvor, and the orc’s vitality potion are all good options for re-energizing in Middle-earth. The two more appealing ones, ent-draught and miruvor, are both known for being invigorating and strength-giving. Ent-draught was an ent special, and it was taken from the waters of the ent springs (which are the source of the famous river, the Entwash). Ent-draught, as far as we know, was not typically consumed by anyone other than the ents, since they were known to keep pretty much to themselves. However, Treebeard does give Merry and Pippin some upon learning that they are not “little orcs” up to mischief, and it has positive effects on them too, like making them taller and growing out their hair. The best part is that even though it’s not specifically mentioned, it’s implied that because of consuming so much ent-draught, they became the tallest hobbits in hobbit history, surpassing the 4’5” hobbit on record, Bandobras Took.

Miruvor was also said by Tolkien to be “mead” but instead of getting someone outrageously sloshed, it usually served, like ent-draught, to increase vitality and strength--like when Gandalf gave a few drops to the Fellowship on Caradhras to warm them up from the cold. Tolkien also compared it to the mythological Greek nectar of the gods, and called it a “death-defeater”. That’s the kind of stuff I’d like to have handy when I’m dying of boredom on a four-hour layover. Maybe it would pay to travel on my own two feet, like the Fellowship, and simply use miruvor for warming up my bones (I could have used it during that Irish winter). Sometimes, earlier times were simpler.

(Have you made your own Lembas before? Tell me about it in the comments, and include your favourite recipe if you can!)


  1. I've made lembas bread on numerous occasions for the past few years (hobbit day, tolkien reading day, etc.) I made some last year on Tolkien Reading Day and passed it out. It was well-received, though I doubt it has any magical qualities. Except for the honey in it. :)

    Also ent-draught is my favorite thing. I jokingly tell people I drank too much of the ent-wash/draught because I'm too tall to be a hobbit but I'm definitely a hobbit at heart. :D

    I loved reading this. :)

  2. Waaaait ... there are recipes for lembas? I WANT. I tried making Butterbeer the other day according to an online recipe, and suffice it to say it turned out as caramelised milk. Still good, but oh well. Really great post; such detailed study of Tolkien works :D