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Taters and Thyme  by Cuthalion

Taters and Thyme
by Cúthalion

June 1429

Lily Proudfoot, the midwife of Hobbiton, closed the door behind her, cutting off the disturbing sounds in the room Rosie didn’t want her husband to enter for hours now. He didn’t even catch a glimpse of the bed where his wife was just giving birth to their fifth child (Pippin, if the Lady blessed them with a lad, Pimpernel if it would be a lass). She saw him standing in the corridor, caught the miserable, anxious expression on his face and gave him a smile.

“The labor pain has slowed down a bit, and Rosie’s just having a rest now, Sam.” she said. “The baby is taking its time, but the heartbeat is as steady as a drum. Don’t be afraid. Everything goes perfectly well.”

“But… why does she keep me away, then?” he blurted out. “I’ve always been with her; when Ellyelle was born, when Frodo-lad came, and Rosie-lass, and I helped deliver Merry who slipped into my hands like a little eel while we were still waiting for you to arrive! I’ve done this before!”

“Every baby is different,” Lily said, “as is every birth. But within the next two hours you’ll be father again, Samwise Gamgee. Perhaps you should go to the kitchen and make something to eat for Rosie; she will be hungry once your youngest is here.“

And with these words she opened the door to the bedroom again; he heard a muffled cry from the direction of the bed and instinctively made a step forward. But she gave him another reassuring smile and shut him out before he could jostle past her and get inside.

He spent another five uncomfortable minutes standing in the corridor and fearfully listening to any sound that might penetrate the thick oak wood before him, then turned around with a sigh and obediently made his way to the kitchen.

Sun brightened the dark ceiling joists and made the copper pots on the wall and the hearth shine. The kitchen table was filled with the ingredients for the lunch Rosie had been preparing when she suddenly realized that her fifth child was about to come; peeled onions were waiting in one bowl and peeled potatoes in another. On a wooden plate lay a fine piece of lamb shoulder beside a freshly sharpened knife; Rosie had been forced to abandon her work before she was able to cut the dark red meat to cubes.

Sam was a skilled cook, and preparing a meal always had a soothing effect on his nerves (as Lily had very well known). So he cut the meat, chopped the potatoes and onions to slices and put the old, blackened roasting tin on the fire. Five minutes later a spoonful of goose fat had melted; the aroma of sizzling lamb tickled his nostrils, and while he filled more layers of meat cubes, potatoes and onions in the tin, he found himself peacefully whistling under his breath. He recognized the tune – it belonged to a song Bell Gamgee had taught him when she guided his hands through the procedure of cooking his first dinner.

“Taters and Thyme, a glass full of wine
Food waits in the hearth, the meal will be fine…”

He stirred the beef stock he had put in a pot beside the tin to warm, and waited for the first wisps of steam before he poured the spicy broth over meat and vegetables. Then he closed the roasting tin with the heavy lid and returned to the table. Something was missing – but what?

He looked around, and then he knew it. Thyme… Rosie had forgotten the thyme. Rosie always forgot the thyme, and during eight years of marriage it had become a custom that he added the fresh herbs to this special stew. He took a little basket from the stool beside the fireplace and walked outside through the back door.

Rosie’s kitchen garden greeted him; sage, rosemary and parsley dreamed in the warm afternoon haze, and at the far end thyme filled the air with its strong, balsamic scent. Within the next few weeks it would develop the typical white blooms and they would have to use other herbs to spice their meals, but now he could still strip the gray-green little leaves into his basket. He crouched beside the bed, surrounded by the rich smell of sun-warmed soil and the aroma rising from his palms, and suddenly he felt an inner comfort so deep and fulfilling and bittersweet that he had to fumble for the crinkled handkerchief in the pocket of his breeches. He blew his nose, dried his eyes and got up.

“Sam, you’re a silly sniveler today,” he chided himself when he returned into the kitchen. He chopped the thyme into fine strips, added them to the stew and inhaled the heartwarming steam of boiling meat, herbs and vegetables. He cleaned the table, washed the bowls, knives and pots, and when he was finished, the sun sent warm, red-golden evening light through the round window.

He sneaked out into the corridor and stood in front of the bedroom door again. It was completely silent; he bit his lip, pressed one ear against the wood and listened with bated breath. Water was splashing inside, and then came a long, low moan – and Lily’s voice: “Very good, Rosie… come on, one more time, you’re doing splendidly.” Sam’s heart jumped, but he still didn’t dare to open the door. Instead he walked back into the kitchen, for the moment unsure what to do with his hands, but then his gaze fell on a bowl with the first pears on the windowsill. Since the stew (that was now nearly ready to serve) had done so much good for his inner balance, he decided that he might as well bake a pie to crown the meal for the young mother with a proper, sweet dessert. He peeled and cut the fruits and made himself busy kneading the dough; he had just filled the pie form and was about to prepare the crumbles when the silence came to a sudden end – the sound of a tiny voice, first nothing more than a soft mewl, then louder and finally turning to a hearty scream.

Sam dropped the flour pot; a fine cloud rose around his head and made him sneeze. He hastily wiped his hands against his breeches, took the apron off and tossed it aside. An instant later he burst into the bedroom, breathless and trembling.

He was greeted by a wonderful sight; his wife lay on the bed, propped against a heap of pillows, holding a small bundle. Lily stood beside her, a smile in her eyes.

“Say hello to little Pippin,” she said.

Sam stepped forward, the next surge of tears blurring his sight. He saw the hand of Rosie reaching out for him, and he grasped it like an anchor in deep water. Then he sat on the bed, once more wiping his eyes and nose and marveling at a small, round face, petal-like lips and a dark, downy-soft shock of hair. He kissed the sweat-damp brow of his wife and drew her and the baby into his arms, closing his eyes in utter bliss.

When he was able to form coherent words again, he looked at Lily who was folding clean towels and stuffing used ones into a large washing basket.

“Thank you,” he said. “I’m glad that you were here.”

“Don’t thank me.” she replied, that secret smile still present and viewable. “Your Rosie did all the work.— But what have you been up to? You brought a scent with you from the kitchen that makes my mouth water.”

“I’ve made a stew,” Sam kissed Rosie's cheek, then touched the tiny fist of his youngest son with his fingertip; the perfect little hand opened and closed again around his thumb with astonishing strength. “Oh – “ He suddenly remembered something. “And I started baking a pear pie! Only… I forgot the crumbles, and the oven has to be heated and…”

Lily gave a soft chuckle.

“You take care of your wife and your baby,” she said, “let me take care of the pie.” Now she stood beside the bed. With one hand she gently and inconspicuously felt Rosie’s pulse (she was already falling asleep, leaning against her husband’s shoulder). With the other she took a corner of her apron and wiped Sam’s brow.

“Flour,” she whispered into his ear, and then he felt her lips brushing over his temple. “Congratulations, my dear Sam… to your kitchen skills and for your son. I’ll put the cake into the oven and be back a little later to serve dinner.”

She walked to the door and opened it. A cloud of delicious smells wafted inside while she went out, and Rosie stirred in his arms.

“Hmmm… what is this?” she murmured sleepily. “Did you cook something?”

“Yes, my lass,” he whispered. “I finished the stew for you.”

“Wonderful...” Rosie yawned. “I’m sure I will be very hungry… later.”

“Take all the time you need,” Sam pressed his lips into the tousled curls under his chin. “You were quite… occupied today.”

He held her and the slumbering baby a little closer and leaned against the headboard. His Rosie was well, the baby healthy and beautiful, and some time later they would finish this truly thrilling day with a tasty stew and a delicious pie.

I am a blessed hobbit, he mused happily, his mind foggy with exhaustion and a bottomless relief, a blessed hobbit indeed.

Sleep started to enwrap him like a dark, warm blanket, and finally his eyes fell shut.


Irish Stew

You need:

2 lbs of Lamb meat (preferably from the shoulder)
1 1/2 lbs of potatoes
1 lb onions
1/4 – 1/2 liter chicken broth

Cut the meat into cubes (not too big, our your guests will have to struggle *grins*). Cut the potatoes and onions into slices. Heat the oven (340 _F) .Take an oven-resistant pot and first fill in a third of potato slices (or: take some of the meat, roast it and take it out again before filling in the potatoes: that makes a fine aroma). Now add half of the meat and half of the onions. Spread a good pinch of salt and a tsp (or more, if you like) of thyme on the onions. Add the second third of potatoes, the second half of the meat and the onions (and spread them again with salt and thyme). Finish with the last third of the potatoes and fill the chicken broth into the pot. Put it in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours; you should open the pot after half of the time and see if there’s enough liquid left; if not, add another 1/4 liter of chicken broth. The potatoes should be moldered by now and give a good thick gravy with the broth. Serve with fresh parsley and enjoy the meal!



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