What’s your first memory of reading The Lord of the Rings? Mine was thumbing through tattered hand-me-down copies that barely stayed bound after numerous rereads. Though the epic fantasy classics are known for their immense battles between good and evil, the thing that always stuck with me were the quiet cozy moments, or the rambunctious slice of life fun. But most of all what really stuck with me from The Lord of the Rings—like most books and films I loved as a kid—was the food.
Tolkien often introduces pivotal moments with food and festivities. The Fellowship of the Ring begins as Bilbo Baggins celebrates his eleventy first birthday as Frodo Baggins celebrates his 33rd. The warmth of the event filled with family, friends, and—most importantly—food establishes a fairytale-esque feel as loved ones feast together. It also establishes the importance of food as a place of safety and fun in a world that’s increasingly dangerous. Food also acts as a way to introduce the different cultures in the story, from the Hobbits and their six meals (seven in the Peter Jackson movies), or the exotic cuisines of Rivendell.
Speaking of those movies, the most magical moments for me all take place in the quiet and cozy. The Hobbits embark on their epic adventures in both the original trilogy and the follow up Hobbit series; however, the moments I revisit the most are in the Shire. It’s there where our heroes nourish themselves and rest before the big journey. It’s where new members of the party arrive to feast before they embark on a dangerous quest. And it’s the place that every Hobbit cannot wait to return to, and fights to get back to as they battle to save their world and home.
So with all the world saving, dragons, treasure, and of course those magical rings, why does food hold such an important part in the hearts of fans of the Lord of the Rings books and their adaptations? For me, it’s a vital part of the world building that makes the fantasy space feel lived in and real. It’s also aspirational. Many of us didn’t have access to delicious hearty food. Nor did we have food grown in our own communities or that we didn’t have to struggle to pay for.
A Hobbit eats six meals a day and takes pleasure in each one. And even as they battle for their lives they think about the importance of food, what it means to them, and what they’ll eat when they get home. Who among us hasn’t had the thought of a delicious meal fueling them through a tough—though likely not world-ending—day? See, Hobbits are just like the rest of us.
There are plenty of delicious descriptions of food in the books. Some of them are brought to life in the movies like lembas bread, honey cake, steaming teas, and flagons of ale. One of the meals that I often return to in sad, dark moments or times when I want to instill a sense of coziness in my life is the spread at The Prancing Pony.
It’s also one of the most popular meals for fans to recreate at their own Lord of the Rings inspired dinner parties. After reading the moment from chapter nine of The Fellowship of the Rings it’s easy to see why. “In a twinkling the table was laid. There was hot soup, cold meats, a blackberry tart, new loaves, slabs of butter, and half a ripe cheese: good plain food, as good as the Shire could show, and homelike enough to dispel the last of Sam’s misgivings (already much relieved by the excellence of the beer).”
These delightful descriptions inspired a deep love for fictional food. They made me want to find more delectable dishes in fantasy and clearly inspired generations of writers. The first time I found something close was in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. When Tristan and a new friend shared a meal, my memories and imagination were instantly tinged with hunger. “They sat beside a brook to eat their lunch. Tristran produced the cottage loaf, the ripe, red apples, and round of cheese—hard, tart and crumbly—that his mother had given him.”
This was years before I discovered Studio Ghibli, arguably the contemporary masters of fantastical food in fiction. But like many of us I often return to the meals of Middle-earth. And recently I realized I wasn’t alone.
Thanks to TikTok, I discovered there’s a whole community of people who create gorgeous Lord of the Rings inspired food. They often replicating or inventing dishes that Hobbits would eat. It’s a creative and cozy circle, where people go to great lengths to nourish those they love. It also continues a long tradition of Lord of the Rings fans crafting meals, writing cookbooks, running recipe blogs, and hosting large dinners for friends. It’s a fandom that, just like the Hobbits that inspired it, embraces food and how it can be a space to show love, care, and community.
Featured Image: New Line Cinema