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Disclaimer: Middle Earth and all its people belong to the Tolkien Estate. I do not own any of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
MISSUS MAGGOT’S MUSHROOMS
Estella Brandybuck kept one ear cocked to the voices in the next room, as she bustled about the kitchen cooking dinner. Rose Gamgee had offered her help, but Estella had refused. She wanted to cook this particular meal all by herself. Since she and Merry had wed a little over two months ago at Yule, they had lived here at Crickhollow with Merry’s cousin Pippin. And the three of them took the cooking chores in turns.
And Merry and Pippin were better cooks than she. It rankled. Lasses were supposed to be better cooks than lads. Neither of them *said* anything. It wasn’t that she was a *bad* cook, her meals were perfectly edible--but she ate, too. And she knew whose food tasted best. But after tonight--well, there would be at least *one* thing she could make better.
She could hear Merry and Pippin talking to Sam and Rosie, and as she passed the opening to the front room, Pippin caught her eye and grinned. He was dandling the nearly one-year old Elanor on his lap.
What story were the cousins telling Sam now? Ohh--*that* one! She grinned as she worked.
“Oh, I guess it was about a week or so after the Council, Sam,” said Merry. “You know, they still had not said if they were going to allow Pip and I to come along--”
“As if they could have stopped us!” snorted Pippin, lifting Elanor over his head and making her giggle.
Merry continued as though there had been no interruption. “--so we weren’t being invited to all those long talks in Elrond’s library like you and Frodo were. We had gone out to one of those benches they had all over the place, under a tree, and were enjoying a bit of elevenses we had scrounged from the kitchens--”
“Some of those lovely honeycakes, and some Elvish mead,” put in Pippin with a reminiscent smile as he jiggled the baby.
“--when we see this unfamiliar Elf walk by. Now of course, we had not been in Rivendell so long that we knew all the Elves there, but we had not seen this one before. He was not as tall as most of them, a bit more muscular, with dark hair and stronger features than most Elves. As he passes us, he gives us a nice smile and a bit of a bow, and we think no more of it. But a couple of moments later, here he comes again from the *same* direction, and again he smiles and bows; it was like the same thing happening over again. We were startled to say the least.”
“Startled?” chuckled Pippin. “You choked on your mead, and I spluttered mine out!”
“Well, we noticed him again from a distance a few more times that morning, and thought he seemed to move awfully quickly even for an Elf. Then we went to luncheon in the dining hall, and we saw he was just finishing his meal and leaving. We got our plates, and found our seats, when there he is again, just getting a plate.”
“Of course, if he’d been a hobbit we wouldn’t have thought much of it, but Elves aren’t much for seconds, you know,” put in Pippin. Elanor was beginning to get sleepy. He cuddled her into the crook of his arm as her little thumb went into her mouth. He dropped a soft kiss on her golden curls.
Merry smiled at them, and went on with the story. “He saw our expressions, I guess, and kind of grinned, but he didn’t speak. About an hour later, we’re in the hallway headed to our room, he passes us--again with a smile and a bow. Not ten seconds later, it happens again.”
Sam laughed. He had an idea where this story was going, but he wouldn’t say anything to spoil it for Rosie. Pippin gave him a wink.
“Well,” said Merry, “of course, now we’re starting to wonder if this is not some Elvish wizard, who knows how to be in two places at once!”
“This happens several more times that afternoon,” said Pippin “and it’s beginning to make us more than a little nervous.”
Merry shook his head, remembering how innocent they had been of the ways of Elves and Men in those days. “So, anyway, we were taking tea with Bilbo in his rooms that afternoon, and when we arrive, the Lady Arwen is there; Bilbo had invited her to join us.”
Pippin looked at Sam, who reached out to take his sleeping daughter.
Merry continued. “While we are eating and talking, Bilbo says to her ‘I hear your brothers have returned once more.’ ‘Oh yes,’ says she ‘the twins have come home, but there is no saying that they will stay put very long.’”
“Pip and I look at each other. ‘Twins?’ say I. She gives me a smile, and says ‘Yes, Elladan and Elrohir are identical twins.’ We kind of goggle at each other, and she notices, and laughs. ‘Oh, don’t tell me they have been pulling that old trick on you! My brothers are quite the pranksters.’”
“Well, of course, we don’t tell her we’ve some experience along those lines ourselves,” laughed Pippin.
“You remember that lovely liquid soap the Elves provided in the rooms for hand-washing, Sam?” asked Merry.
“Yes, indeed. There was always a full jar of it by the basins in our rooms.”
“Well, to make a long story short, we found out where their rooms were, and went for a little payback--”
“Blueberry juice in Elladan’s --”interrupted Pippin.
“And raspberry in Elrohir’s,” finished Merry.
“Of course, after that we had no trouble telling them apart, though they left again soon after.” Pippin chuckled.
“And before they did, they congratulated us on our cleverness,” said Merry. “They laughed as much as we, and said we had much in common. They said that if they had not had to leave so soon, we could join forces and make a real impression.”
Sam’s eyes widened in alarm at this. “Thank goodness!” he said. “No one would have been safe!”
In the kitchen, Estella chuckled as well. When they had first told her that story, she’d no idea how it would turn out. Twins were rare among hobbits, and identical twins even more so.
Well. It looked like this dish was finished at last. She took up the skillet to fill the serving bowl.
“Supper’s ready!” she called.
The meal had been just the success she had hoped for. She basked.
“Estella,” Pippin had said “I haven’t had mushrooms like this in ages!”
“That’s right, Mr.--” Sam stopped at the Look he was getting from the cousins. They were trying to break him of calling them “Mr.” all the time. “Sorry. Pippin. Those are just as good as the mushrooms and bacon that Missus Maggot made us on our way to Buckland that time. We’ve told you about that, Merry.”
“Oh, I’ve had her mushrooms myself a time or two, and I agree. Estella, my love, my heart, they are indeed just as good as hers!” And Merry took his bride’s hand and kissed it. She blushed. Sam and Rosie smiled at each other, remembering their own early days.
Pippin just lifted the empty bowl mournfully, and ran his finger in the leftover juices and stuck it in his mouth. “Every bit as good, Estella!”
And Estella took a deep breath and let it out.
The next morning, Estella and Rosie sat in the kitchen finishing up their elevenses with a cup of tea, while Elanor played under the table at their feet. Estella sighed. She missed Merry already, and yet he and Pippin and Sam had only been gone a few hours. They had gone into the Old Forest to pay a visit to the mysterious Tom Bombadil and his lady Goldberry for a few days.
Rosie patted her hand. “It will be all right, dear. It even cheered up poor Mr. Frodo for a little while, when they paid old Bombadil a visit last summer. This will be good for them, to be away for the next few days.”
For it was the tenth of Rethe. Before Merry and Estella had wed, he had warned her that the month of Rethe was a very difficult time for the cousins, as they found themselves plagued by nightmares and memories of a sad, dark and fearful time. This was true for Sam as well. And this year, it was going to be even harder. They still missed Frodo so much; his sailing away was still raw and sore for them. That’s why Tom Bombadil had invited them to visit this spring.
And Merry and Pippin had explained that the Old Forest no longer held any malice towards them; apparently the Ent-draughts they had taken on their Quest had somehow marked them for the trees as friends.
But she and Merry had not been apart since the wedding. She sighed again.
Rosie was determined to cheer her friend up. “Estella, that was ever such a good meal last night. Sam just raved about those mushrooms. Ever since we’ve been married, all I’ve heard is that no-one makes mushrooms and bacon like Mrs. Maggot.”
Estella giggled. “I have a secret. Promise not to let on to the lads!”
Rosie grinned. “We lasses have to stick together.”
Estella reached in her pocket and took out a folded piece of paper. “Last week I went across the River and paid a visit to Mrs. Maggot. She told me how to make her mushrooms and bacon, and I wrote it down.”
She unfolded the paper, and showed it to Rosie.
Mushrooms and Bacon
(Mrs. Maggot’s style)
Half a pound of bacon
One and a half to two pounds of mixed mushrooms
Onion--half a small one, or a quarter of a large one
Five or six good sized cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of sweet vinegar
Dice the bacon into small pieces and cook in a skillet until crisp. Remove the bacon and drain it, and put to one side. Drain off all but a tablespoonful of the bacon drippings. Chop the onion fine, and cook it in the dripping until it is soft and brown. Crush the garlic cloves and add them to the skillet. For your mushrooms, leave the small ones whole, cut the medium ones in halves or quarters, and slice up the large ones. Put them in the skillet with the onion and garlic, and add salt and pepper. Let them cook down until they give up their juice; then cook some more until the juice begins to evaporate. Put the bacon back in. Add the sweet vinegar, and cook for about five more minutes. Serve piping hot.
“So that’s how she does it!” exclaimed Rosie. “What a clever lass you are, Estella. Would you very much mind if I--”
“If you got a copy of the recipe, too? Not at all. Just don’t tell where it came from.”
Rosie grinned. “My lips are sealed.”
I got the idea for this story while writing the Conspiracy story. Okay, I got hungry for mushrooms when I wrote the part about supper with the Maggots. I came up with this recipe a few months ago when I could not find one to suit me for a LOTR party I had when the last movie came out.
For sweet vinegar, I usually use balsamic, though raspberry vinegar works very well also. I did not think hobbits would have balsamic vinegar, but I’m sure they make other kinds of flavored vinegars, such as raspberry or other fruit vinegars.
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