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Dreamflower's Mathoms III  by Dreamflower

Author: Dreamflower
Title: An Evening at Whitwell
Rating: G
Theme: Sweet or Savoury (I chose savoury) Recipe!Fic Challenge 
Elements: mellow
Author's Notes: The children's ages are as follows: Esmeralda is six, Paladin is nine, Peridot is twenty and Primrose is twenty-two (the equivalent of Men's children of 4, 6, 12 and 13 1/2) For other notes, see the end of the story and recipe.
Summary: Bilbo goes to visit one of his Took cousins shortly after he returns from his Adventure.
Word Count: 2,117 (including recipe)

An Evening at Whitwell

"...and I ducked and dodged and hid in the shadows, as quiet as quiet could be. The goblins were dreadfully noisy and quarrelling amongst themselves, so they did not notice me until I was right at the crack in the door. I pushed myself in, and was caught fast, for the heavy stone door would open no wider, and my buttons caught on the edge of the doorway. I struggled as the goblins spotted me and came for me. I must confess I was dreadfully afraid--but I gave a mighty shove, and suddenly I was free! I ran as fast as I could into the daylight. The goblins cannot endure the Sun, and though they were very angry they followed only a few steps before turning back..."

Adalgrim smiled at the sight of his children hanging on Bilbo's every word. Little Esmeralda was quite cosy in his lap, and Paladin sat on the floor in front of his cousin. Primrose and Peridot, being tweens now, were too on their dignity. They both were sitting primly on the settee, but were listening to Cousin Bilbo with wide eyes and open mouths. He was truly happy to have Bilbo here at Whitwell once more; he'd thought for the past year that he'd never see his cousin again.

"I raced down the mountain, and began to worry about my Dwarf friends. I was just beginning to wonder if I should not go back to search for them--something I was dreadfully frightened to do--I heard their voices ahead of me: the Dwarves and Gandalf! I carefully sneaked up on them, making sure that I wasn't seen until I was right in the middle of them. My heavens, did they jump!"

The children laughed at Bilbo's droll recital, but Adalgrim had been listening carefully. There was no doubt a kernel of truth in his cousin's story of this adventure. But it was obvious Bilbo was leaving things out. Perhaps it was simply to avoid frightening the youngest of the little one. Yet there were definitely elements that did not ring true. But the Bilbo he knew had never been a liar.

Just then the door to the sitting room popped open, and Periwinkle came in with a tray bearing some savoury biscuits and a slab of her famous herbed farm cheese. "Paladin, Esmeralda, it is time for bed. Say 'good night' to Cousin Bilbo, and come along."

Paladin stood reluctantly, but little Esme who was only six and as the baby of the family, used to getting her way, pouted. "But Mother, I want to stay with Cousin Bilbo and hear more stories!"

Adalgrim would probably have given way to his youngest, but his wife was made of sterner stuff. "Cousin Bilbo will be here for a few more days. There will be plenty of time for stories. Come along at once." Esmeralda gave Bilbo a little peck on the cheek, and slid from his lap, dragging her feet as she went. Periwinkle turned her gaze on her older daughters. "Primrose, Peridot, come to the kitchen and do the washing up from supper. I will come to help you finish as soon as I have put the little ones to bed."

"Yes, Mother." The lasses rose and told Bilbo good night, and followed their mother from the room.

Bilbo chuckled. "I'm glad I was raised a Baggins, and free from that 'mother' and 'father' nonsense." For Tooks eschewed such familiar parental names such as "mum and da" or "mama and papa" in favor of the more formal address.

Adalgrim shook his head. "We don't live in the Great Smials, so I suppose I could have dispensed with it with my own children. But it's what I was used to myself, and you know how proper Winkie is." He rose and went to a sideboard and drew forth a bottle and some goblets. "How about blackberry wine," he said, "to go with the cheese and biscuits?"

"Don't mind if I do," said Bilbo. He leaned forward and took up the cheeseknife and cut himself a large slice of the cheese, and helped himself to a couple of biscuits. He reached up to accept the wine Adalgrim handed him. He took a deep sniff of the cheese, taking in the scent of parsley, chives, thyme and garlic. He took a bite, and after chewing and swallowing, looked over at his cousin, who had sat down once more. "Nice and mellow," he said, "a proper Shire cheese. I missed Shire cheese while I was gone. Don't get me wrong, I had some fine meals, few and far between as they were, but I really missed Shire cooking. Your wife makes a fine cheese, Chop!"

Adalgrim laughed. "Don't let her hear you call me that, Bilbo. You might not get anymore of her cheese."

"I'm surprised she lets you get away with calling her 'Winkie'."

Adalgrim just smirked, and drew out his pipe. There was a companionable silence as the cousins smoked, ate and drank. "Bilbo, what really happened while you were gone?"

"You've been listening to what I told the children. Perhaps I made it sound more droll and less dangerous, but it all happened, truly it did."

"But is that all that happened? I could tell you were leaving some things out."

"Let's just say that I prefer not to dwell on things that might upset the children, shall we?" A grim and somewhat sorrowful look passed briefly over Bilbo's face.

"It's hard to believe you could have hidden so easily from that creature in the tunnels, nor from the goblins..."

"The Gollum was upset and not paying attention; and the goblins were noisy." Bilbo's reply was testy, and Adalgrim could tell he was getting cross.

He decided to change the subject. "What did you have in your pocket, then?"

To his surprise, a look of real anger flashed in Bilbo's eyes, so quickly that Adalgrim wondered if it was simply a trick of the firelight in the hearth. There was a brief silence, not so comfortable as the last. Bilbo reached forward and took another piece of the cheese. "Nothing of real importance; just a little lucky piece." He reached in his pocket, and fumbled a bit, and then tossed a small gold coin to his cousin.

Adalgrim looked at it curiously. It had a mountain stamped on one side, and the face of a Dwarf on the other. Tiny angular runes ran round the edges. He tossed it back. "Was it lucky for you?"

Bilbo smiled. "I should say so. Things turned out much better in the end than they ought, given the circumstances. Though we were not without loss at the last..." and now Adalgrim saw a look of true grief in his cousin's eyes. Bilbo shook his head. "Ah, I daresay we will have plenty of time during my visit for you to hear the rest of the tale. And I will tell you of some of the things I can't bring myself to tell the children. But, come! Tonight I want to hear of the Shire, and all the doings of my kin and friends."

"Did you know that Rory and Gilda increased their family just before you got home? A little lad named Merimac!" And the conversation turned to the Shire and to gossip of Tooks, Brandybucks, Bagginses and other assorted relatives.

Periwinkle returned to the room in time to hear Bilbo tell of arriving just in time to prevent the auctioning off of all his possessions. "I must say, Bilbo, that I thought it was disgraceful the way your Uncle Longo was in such a hurry to declare you dead! And that rushed wedding of his son to that Bracegirdle lass had many thinking the two of them had put the dessert before the main course."

"Well," said Adalgrim, "it doesn't appear to be the case. I think they rushed it all through for fear you'd return and put an end to it. You are the head of the Bagginses after all." He yawned, and then shook his head. "Morning comes early on the farm. You know where your room is, cousin."

Bilbo smiled at his hosts. "Sleep well. I shall finish my pipe and bank the fire."


The room was lit only by the fireplace as Bilbo sat smoking. He was truly enjoying seeing his cousins again. He had always been very close to Adalgrim, and for just a few seconds, he had considered confiding in him about that ring. But Gandalf had asked him to keep it secret, and so he would. He took a last puff, and then leaned over to knock his pipe against the grate. He took up the poker and banked the fire. There was just a little bite of the cheese and a couple of the biscuits left. He wrapped them in a napkin to take to his room in case he got peckish in the night. Periwinkle did make a fine cheese.


Periwinkle Took's Farm Cheese

Measuring cups and spoons
Small cups or condiment bowls for prep
Kitchen shears (for mincing herbs)
A juicer
A large colander
Cheese cloth (I used four layers)
A stockpot large enough to easily hold 1 gallon of liquid
Large whisk
Cooking thermometer (you could use either a meat or candy thermometer)
Large mixing spoon
Small flat plate
An empty milk jug (save the one your milk came in)

1/4 cup lemon juice or white wine vinegar
Fresh herbs (I used chives, parsley and garlic)
1 gallon whole milk (pasteurized but NOT ultra-pasteurized. If you let the milk sit out at room temperature for about an hour or two before starting, it helps to cut down the length of time it takes to get it up to the correct temperature)
2 TBSP salt (you may not need quite that much)

1. Measure the juice or vinegar into a cup; use the kitchen shears to finely snip the fresh herbs. (I snipped them into a condiment dish, and then used the shears to chop them more finely. I began with about 2 TBSP, but after mincing them there was only about 1 TBSP in the dish.) Mince the garlic separately and then add it to the other herbs.

2. Line the colander with the cheesecloth. (I used four layers; that's about the bare minimum. Next time I will use about 6 layers. The cheesecloth should cover the bottom and sides completely and drape over the edges of the colander slightly.)

3. Pour the gallon of milk into the pot. On medium heat, slowly heat the milk to 200 degrees F (93.3 C). Stir frequently with the whisk and check the temperature often; do not allow the bottom to stick or a skin to form on top of the milk. (It took me almost 30 minutes to get it to the right heat. This was the most time-consuming part of the process.) Do NOT allow the milk to actually boil. (Rinse the carton out for later use.)

4. As soon as it reaches 200 degrees, stir in the juice or vinegar. It should begin to coagulate within a few seconds. If it does not, slowly add up to 2 more TBSP of juice or vinegar.

5. Once it has coagulated, you will begin to see curds kind of like cottage cheese. Lower the heat and stir for about 2 more minutes. The curds and whey will begin to separate.

6. Very gently pour the curds into the colander. Take your time and don't pour it all at once, so that it can drain. (If you want to save the whey, which is supposed to be good for use in baking, put the colander in a large bowl to catch the whey.)

7. Add the salt a little bit at a time to the curds in the colander and check for taste. Stir it in rather quickly, which helps the curds to dry and separate more. Then add the snipped herbs.

8. Gather the cheesecloth into a small tight bundle and put back into the colander. Place a small flat plate on top. Fill the milk jug with water and place on top of the plate as a weight. Leave it for 10 to 15 minutes.

9. Unwrap the cheese; you can eat it right away, or put it in the refrigerator for later. (I cut off a small piece to sample immediately. It was rather crumbly, like feta. But I wrapped the rest in plastic and refrigerated it. After a few hours it was much firmer.) Makes about a pound of cheese.

You  can empty the milk carton and then use it to put the whey in if you saved it. It too should be refrigerated.

The above recipe was adapted from a recipe found in One Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero; the original recipe called for lime juice and curry powder. I changed the lime juice to lemon juice, and added the herbs and garlic.

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