Friday, September 25, 2015

"An Unexpected Cookbook" by Chris-Rachael Oseland

I'm taking a break from the party games to review this splendid cookbook.  You can take this opportunity to "fill in the cracks" with any leftovers from your own Tolkien celebrations.

I bought it a few months ago and have really been enjoying trying out new recipes from it.  That is, after I finished reading the whole thing, cover to cover.  It's a charming read, both humorous and full of interesting historical tidbits.  Oseland clearly knows her Tolkien, and also her classic English cookery.  She strives to provide foods that are mentioned in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but also that Tolkien would have eaten when he was young, the sort of food he thought Hobbits would have.  She sticks to ingredients Hobbits could have access to, with no New World foods except potatoes, which Tolkien specifically wanted to be part of Shire cooking.

I learned so much from this book!  For instance, it taught me the difference between high tea and low tea, which I've always wondered about.  Oseland says,

" Tolkien's day, there was a social distinction between high tea and low tea.  High tea was more like a working man's early supper complete with plenty of cold cuts, hearty breads, and filling chunks of cheese with whatever sweets the family could afford on the side.  Its name came from being eaten around a high table, as often as not, the only table the family owned. 
Low tea, on the other hand, was an aristocratic snack time of dainty pastries and tiny pieces of cake served in the parlor, arranged on a low table -- hence the name" (p. 76).

What do you know?  I always thought high tea was the fancy one!  Now I know better.

Oseland also includes vegan variations of many recipes, and an appendix lists which recipes are or can be changed to be gluten free (18!), Paleo/primal (12!), vegan (21!!), and vegetarian (40!!!).  

So far, I have tried five recipes:  lemon and pepper baked fish (yummy), hot buttered scones (so good, I've made them twice), rosemary skillet peas (Cowboy loved them, I liked them, the kids hated them), mushroom soup (delicious), and lavender and lemon bread (addictive).  I hope that eventually, I will have tried every single recipe in this book, because they all look so tasty!

My one quibble with this cookbook is that there is no alphabetical index of recipes.  I'm going to have to make one myself, I guess.  But it's a small matter -- the wonderful recipes and laughter-inducing text more than make up for it!


  1. Replies
    1. It's delightful :-) I think I've convinced one of my friends to find it herself, after sharing some of the lavender and lemon bread with her this week.

  2. Fun! This sounds like such a great cookbook to have on hand, and thanks for the description of high tea and low tea! I think my perceptions were mostly informed by fancy restaurants, who always make you dress up and call the service high tea. They do serve sandwiches and such, though, so I guess it's more of a meal than just pastries?

    1. Hannah, it's an awesome cookbook and I totally recommend it to anyone who even just likes cooking old-fashioned food from scratch, whether or not they like Tolkien!

      The tea they described definitely had more than just pastries -- it was like a mid-afternoon break for workers who wouldn't get dinner until night time, so it was hearty :-)

  3. I love this! Clearly I must find a copy. Maybe my library has it! :)

    1. Kara, I hope your library has it, because it is a delightful book, and everything I've made from it so far has been delicious :-9


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