One to two other hobbits belonging to the farm-household came in. In a short while fourteen sat down to eat. There was beer in plenty, and a mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon, besides much other solid farmhouse fare. The dogs lay by the fire and gnawed rinds and cracked bones.
The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
My dad is a great teller of stories. My sister and I would demand one each time we went for a long walk - we'd give him a group of characters (a mouse, an elephant and a girl call Alice) and he'd create an incredible world for them to inhabit. We'd be rock hopping through a creek or winding our way up a mountain while he told us stories of Alice sneaking into a circus late at night, or journeying to India with a mouse in tow. When he and mum divorced, he recorded himself (on an old school tape recorder, I think) reading our favourite stories - The Minpins, The Mirrorstone, Wombats Don't Have Christmas - out loud, so we could listen to them wherever we were. I still have a copy on CD.
I also have vivid memories of him reading to us at night, relaxed into a chair next to our bunk beds, sharing his old favourites: Jim Hawkins' adventures on the Atlantic, Bilbo's in Middle Earth. I still associate all of Tolkien's writing with these memories, though I didn't read The Lord of the Rings until many years later.
Without more than a 'mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon' to go on, I've had to be creative here. This pie is just the kind of thing I'd want as my last hot meal before heading off on an adventure - sustaining, warm and comforting. It's humble, homely food, easy to make, and elevated by the quality of your ingredients. On Mr and Mrs Maggot's farm it would be glorious, with mushrooms picked earlier that day, leeks from the garden and bacon from a local pig. My Cotswolds ingredients (the area was apparently part of Tolkien's inspiration for Hobbiton) proved worthy substitutes.
The journey into Mordor takes Frodo and Sam six months, during which time they eat little but Lembas, a sweet Elven bread wrapped in leaves. This farmhouse feast, enjoyed by the hobbits before they begin on their journey, speaks to what they're leaving behind, and what they dream of returning to.
Mushroom, Bacon and Leek Pie
125g pancetta/lardons/streaky bacon (chopped into small bits)
4 medium leeks, sliced into thin discs
450g button mushrooms, sliced into quarters
8 springs thyme
Salt and pepper
500ml vegetable stock
Handful dried wild mushrooms
Handful chopped parsley
2tbsp double cream
1 egg yolk
2tbsp iced water
Large frying pan
Food processor (optional)
1. Place the frying pan over a medium heat and, once hot, add the bacon/lardons and fry until golden. Remove them from the pan and drop them into mixing bowl.
2. Leave the bacon fat in the pan and add 1tbsp of the butter. Cook the leeks until soft and translucent, then remove them to the bowl too.
3. Add another tablespoon of the butter, and half the mushrooms. Don't crowd the mushrooms, or they will steam rather than brown - if you're doing this in a narrower, deep pan, you may want to do it in three batches. Once browned, transfer to the mixing bowl, and cook the second batch of mushrooms. Add a generous amount of pepper and a pinch of salt to the mixing bowl. Strip the sprigs of thyme and put the leaves into the mixing bowl too.
4. Prepare the vegetable stock (warm it if using homemade, or prepare your favourite stock pot/cube), and add the dried mushrooms. Set aside.
5. Tip the mushrooms, bacon and leeks back into the pan. Sprinkle the flour in and cook, stirring constantly, for two minutes. Add the sherry and cook for another minute. Pour the vegetable stock in, lower the heat and simmer until thick, which should take around fifteen minutes.
6. Tip the filling back into the mixing bowl. Stir in the chopped parsley and the cream, then set aside to cool completely.
7. To make the pastry, put the flour and cold, chopped butter into the food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, if you don't have a food processor, you can rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Add the egg yolk, and mix or blitz. Trickle some of the water in, stopping as soon as the pastry comes together. Wrap the pastry in cling film and place in the fridge for 20 minutes.
8. Preheat your oven to 200C and place a baking tray into the centre of it to heat. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll a bit more than half of it out into a circle that will fit into the pie dish, ensuring there is some overhang. Patch any tears or holes, and pour the cold pie filling into the dish. Roll the remainder of the pastry out into a disc to put on top. Wet the edges of both pastry discs with water to ensure they stick together. Place the second disc on top of the pie and pinch the edges together to seal.
9. Paint the top with a beaten egg, adding decoration if you life. Make a couple of cuts in the top for steam to escape through. Place the pie into the oven, onto the heated baking tray. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.