Written for The Great Feast: September Challenge on lotr_community.livejournal.com.
Author's Chapter Notes:
I would say Pippin is somewhere around eight or nine here, with his sisters ranging from early teens to early twenties. Young enough to be responsible with minor chores, not quite old enough to help in the kitchen.
Eglantine may or may not be channeling some of the things I've heard my mother and grandmother say to my brother and I.
Eglantine Took tucked her hair back under her kerchief for the seventh time that day. “Pervinca,” she called out, steadily cutting cabbage into thin slices, “have you got those beans done yet?” Serves 6.
“Pimpernel, Mum,” her middle daughter corrected, adding the last of the skinned fava beans to a bowl. “You asked me to do the beans. You sent Pervinca to find Pippin and make sure he didn’t hare off somewhere with Merry instead of setting the table.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, dear,” Eglantine apologize, although with four children with similar names it was easy to get them mixed up. “Are they done?”
“Yes, and Pearl has the vinaigrettes ready.” Pimpernel set the beans aside began to melt some butter in a huge soup pot. “The salad’s is in the green bowl and the leeks’s in the yellow. She’s working on the fish now.”
The sand in one of the hourglasses lined up in a neat row in front of Eglantine’s workspace ran out and she set the cabbage aside and turned to get the nucato out of the ovens. The trays of honey, nuts, and spices went to one of the baking racks to cool, and she began to lay out slices of poached quince on the butter cakes that waited to go in the oven.
Onions, celery, and carrots, all chopped into tiny pieces, sizzled in the hot butter as Pimpernel scraped them into the soup pot. The smell of sauteing vegetables helped cover up the odor of the fresh fish Pearl was filleting at the furthest end of the kitchen. Cats, attracted by the smell, wove around Pearl’s feet, meowing piteously, sure that pretending to be starved would get them a treat.
Covering the cakes in quince slices took only a couple of minutes and Eglantine popped them into the ovens and turned back to the table. She flipped over a new timer for the cakes and recited the plan to get everything ready together to herself as she worked.
“...have Pippin set the table and carry out the first dishes, Merry too as I’m sure they’re running around together,” she said to herself, while her older children listened with half an ear in case she said something they needed to hear. “Pervinca is old enough to cook the potatoes and vegetables. The rissoles are already on their trays...fish and leeks at the same time...sweet potatoes with the sausages...” The cabbage went into the large salad bowl and she started on the radicchio.
“The fish is ready, Mum,” Pearl told her, setting the plates of fillets down next to the stove to await frying. Dish towels, too thin with age to be useful so it wouldn’t matter if they smelled of raw fish, were draped over them to keep flies off. “The leeks are ready to go in as soon as the cakes are done.”
The cats had trailed Pearl across the kitchen, purring and trilling now in the hope that being cute would work where being starved hadn’t. They scattered when Pervinca, Pippin, and Merry bounced into the kitchen, all talking rapidly over each other.
“Pippin, Merry,” Eglantine interrupted, adding radicchio to the salad bowl along with the parsley Pimpernel had chopped for her earlier. “Wash up and go set the table. Now,” she added, stressing her tone just slightly to be heard over their immediate protests. “Pervinca, you wash up too and get started with the vegetables.”
Pearl, a veteran of preparing Highday feasts, was already helping her mother with the salad, slicing beets into neat little wedges. Eglantine watched Pippin and Merry out of the corner of her eye to make sure they washed their hands properly and didn’t dawdle about getting the table set. Pimpernel was still busy with the soup, which should be ready for stock and beans any moment now. Pervinca washed up at the big work sink as her brother and cousin bounded off to the dining hall to set the table - and hopefully not get too distracted. (Eglantine had sent them to take care of that chore well before it was needed, just in case.)
“Mum, can I do the hippocras?” Pervinca asked, lugging a pot filled with quartered potatoes and water over to the stove and setting it to boil.
“No,” Eglantine said, firmly, over the hiss of the pan deglazing as Pimpernel poured stock into her soup pot. The cats that had braved a comeback retreated again. Eglantine paused in the middle of peeling apples and flipped over a twenty-minute timer so Pimpernel would know when to add the spinach. “You know that’s done by the host, the hostess, or both if they’re available. It’s tradition.”
“You’re not even old enough to have wine,” Pimpernel pointed out to her sister. “You can’t prepare something if you don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like.”
“I am too! Dad let me have some at Mid-Year’s Day!”
“Girls, don’t argue,” Eglantine said automatically. “I want a nice feast to celebrate the first harvest, not you two at each other all night. Pimpernel, if you’ve got the stock in that soup come help your sister with the beets. Watch the small green timer for your spinach. Pervinca, if you get your share of the meal done - promptly - you can measure out the spices for the wine.”
“Yes, Mum,” Pimpernel said automatically. Pervinca was a slightly sulkier echo of her older sister, but at least she didn’t bang things around as she got the peas and carrots into their pots.
Beets and apples were quickly taken care of with three sets of hands to help. Eglantine added them to the bowl, gave the vinaigrette a quick whisk, and tossed the vegetables and the dressing together. She checked the timer for the soup and told Pimpernel to start portioning salad out onto plates. The task of arranging the almonds, prunes, dates, and figs in a pattern on top she gave to Pearl, who had a steady hand and an eye for patterns.
Pausing for breath, Eglantine took a quick look around the kitchen and ran down her mental list of what else needed to be done. Everything except the wine was ready to be baked, boiled, or fried, and the wine ought to be done just before it was served with the dessert courses anyway. Family and friends ought to be arriving now, and she needed to go greet them.
“Alright, then,” she said out loud. “Pearl, you’re in charge. Do you remember when the dishes need to be started?”
“Yes, Mum,” Pearl asserted. “Fish and leeks, sausages after the soup, and rissoles in between each course. Open the wine to breathe after I start the sausage, and make sure the cakes and the nucato are cut and plated to take out while you and Dad make the hippocras.”
“Good girl,” her mother praised her. “Pimpernel, Pervinca, listen to your sister - I might just check on the lot of you, and you won’t know when. If you have any questions I’ll be in the parlour with your father and our guests.”
Another chorus of ‘yes mum’s followed. Eglantine hung up her apron and kerchief, washed her hands and face, and went to greet her guests.
A Medieval Coat of Arms Salad
In French cuisine a “salad composée” refers to a salad in which an assortment of ingredients are arranged aesthetically on a plate. During the Middle Ages it was not uncommon to form a coat of arms with edibles.
Recipe by Maite Gomez-Rejón.
For the salad:
6 cups cabbage, thinly sliced
2 cups radicchio, thinly sliced
3 bunches parsley
6 cups beets
6 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
2 cups almonds
2 cups dried prunes
2 cups dried or fresh figs
2 cups dates
For the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
½ teaspoon sugar salt and pepper to taste
The rest of the recipes mentioned can be found here.
Eglantine Took tucked her hair back under her kerchief for the seventh time that day. “Pervinca,” she called out, steadily cutting cabbage into thin slices, “have you got those beans done yet?”