Posted on May 6th, 2011
I am a word person. As far back as I can remember I have derived an immense amount of enjoyment and amusement from taking a word, bending it and folding it, and then trying to stick it somewhere interesting. It is for this reason that literary meals (or literary descriptions of meals) have always affected me profoundly, taking on an air of unreal, unattainable perfection in my mind. Meals that have been rendered into words have a sumptuous quality that pictures seem to lack–seeming a bit brassy and overdone in comparison. But what is worse is that behind each morsel, no matter how lavishly it has been photographed or otherwise depicted, is that we know that the pictured victual was touched by human hands at some point, and as a result, has likely been tainted by our collective frailties.
Standing in stark contrast to this are written representations of food which are called from nothingness into a perfected state of being. As such they can exist as unchanging, ideal (and undigested) representations of forms that we may or may not have seen, but that each of us can imagine. They are eternal and insulated from human debasement.
In this way one can experience an entire idyllic spectrum. One that ranges from the excesses of a dying French gourmand whose last alimentary hurrah involves a host of tortured ortolan, to the unfussiness of a cottage table upon which chipped mugs of tea, steaming bowls of stew and jugs of mulled wine await diners in front of a dying fire.
The Lord of the Rings books are filled with the latter descriptions of plain meals, mainly breakfasts, that are imbued with this fascinating ideal simplicity. In reading them one gets the sense that Tolkien has gone to some lengths to establish the breakfast as a cultural touchstone that connects the Hobbit travellers to their homes and hearths. It is often the one thing that provides them with a fleeting refuge from their travails and indeed, breakfasting is as close a thing as the hobbits ever get to attending divine services.
George Orwell echoes the powerful cultural importance of breakfast in his essays on England and the English. In describing his own affinity for breakfast, Orwell praises the solidity of the baked goods and sausages that underpin the meal, and the jams and other preserves that lend it colour and (a restrained) finesse. Orwell posits that English identity has somehow become bound up with the concept of the solid breakfast. Ever the Englishman, Tolkien assigns to his Hobbits (an English race par excellence) a fondness for mornings of near continuous, leisurely breakfasts.
It would come as no surprise to hear that the residents of the Shire stood enamoured by the compelling simplicity of the unassuming tomato half, upended on a hot grill and kept there until it attained a warm and caramelised perfection. In the text of Lord of the Rings itself, we read how breakfasts call forth memories of “fair faces, and laughter, and wholesome food in quiet days now far away” and how the combination of “fruit, drink and bread” supplied by friends is able to erase the horrors of a night of pursuit and steady one’s nerves for the coming day’s adventures. It is also worth noting that the breakfast ritual as practiced by the Hobbits is one that, despite constant orcish goings-on, is never interrupted.
Frodo’s Full English
One half pound of thick cut back bacon
One Tomato sliced in half
Two good handfuls of mushrooms
Thick sliced country bread
Your preferred toast accompaniment
Fry the bacon in a heavy bottomed pan (preferably cast iron), pour off most of the rendered fat and fry up the rest.