Suite101: Pasta La Feasta, Baby - What foods did people eat in Middle-earth, and how were they prepared?

In this week's Suite101 article, Michael Martinez writes that J.R.R. Tolkien probably knew enough about the etymologies behind the names for various foods to be sure of what he was writing about. A few American foods notwithstanding, the Middle-earth menu is very realistic.

Here is an excerpt:

How much attention did J.R.R. Tolkien pay to food in Middle-earth? That question comes up fairly often, usually with respect to the Elves. Most people think the Elves were vegetarians, although nothing could be farther from the truth. Well, it's true that the Green-elves of Ossiriand didn't eat meat, but they're about the only ones.

As with so many other aspects of Middle-earth, Tolkien didn't limit himself in the kinds of dishes enjoyed by his characters. The hobbits snuck in a few distinctly "English" plates (such as the fish and chips Sam offered to cook for Gollum). But there were some exotic dishes on the menu. For example, the honey-cakes that Beorn gave to Thorin and Company have elicited a lot of curiosity from fans. What's the recipe?

I doubt Tolkien had a specific recipe in mind, to be honest. But he probably knew that honey is a pretty good food (for most people, but only a few ancient civilizations would have been concerned about diabetes). Honey even has medicinal properties, although I doubt Tolkien would have had his characters smear honey on their wounds (it's a natural antiseptic, used in ancient Egypt for that purpose).

In fact, honey cakes are a historical food, having been invented or improved upon by many cultures. Beorn's honey cakes have long intrigued Tolkien fans who would love to try them, but I've never come across the Beorning honey cake recipe. I don't believe there was one, unless Tolkien had sampled a honey cake and decided to include it in his story about Bilbo Baggins.

Another food item Tolkien fans have wanted to know more about, of course, is lembas, the Elven waybread. Once again Tolkien failed to provide a specific recipe, but he did actually write something about the history of lembas. It was a sort of holy bread, baked from a meal produced from a special corn given to the Eldar on the Great Journey by the Valar. The corn only grew in secret gardens attended by Elven women called Yavannildi, or Ivonwin, "the maidens of Yavanna".

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