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Written for the Shire Kitchen Recipe Challenge 2008.
Theme: "In a Pinch".
Pippin and Tulip want to enter the Hobbiton Faire Baking Competition with a very special recipe he found in an old cookbook at Great Smials, so he enlists Merry's help. However, Bilbo unwittingly forces Pippin to make a temporary change in plans...
“Sometimes a Cake is Just a Cake…”
Whatever was he going to do with a ten year old for an entire day? Not any ten year old either, Bilbo reminded himself, but one with boundless energy, insatiable curiosity, and a knitted piglet in tow the lad quite believed was real. The old hobbit shook his head. Just how did I get myself into this? You know perfectly well how you did, Bilbo Baggins! You are far too kind hearted and you wanted to do something nice and offer the lad’s weary mother a day off during the family’s visit.
All right, so I’ve made my bed. Now all I need is a bit of help to lie in it. He grinned slyly at the thought. Ah, yes. Well, Merry adored his younger cousin. Surely he would be of some help? And Frodo too. Yes, that was surely the answer. Bilbo rubbed his hands together in anticipation as he went into the kitchen to prepare the first breakfast of the day for his guests and lay his plans.
There was plenty to do to get ready to attend the Hobbiton Faire. After all, it was only two short days away and he wanted to prepare dishes to enter at least five of the competitions. Let’s see. Bilbo rubbed his chin in thought as he inspected the pantry with a critical eye. He was certain he had the items he needed to at least begin all of his baking. However, there was no doubt at all he would need to go to the market for several important items. No matter. The lads could certainly help him out with minding Pippin. Or, if need be, he could always take him along. No…Bilbo pictured the youngster inside Miss Petunia’s specialty shop and cringed ever so slightly. He recalled the last time he’d taken the lad along shopping and the amount of money and apologies it had cost to make amends for Pippin’s rambunctious nature. Better to leave him home in the care of his elder cousin. Frodo would see to it that everything went well. Yes, that was the perfect solution.
“Cousin Bilbo!” A small fury of activity roared into the kitchen like a storm front after a humid day. Pippin careened into the old hobbit, attaching himself firmly to Bilbo’s knees. Pippin held on for dear life, clutching his knitted piglet in one hand as firmly as he clung to his elderly cousin’s legs. His golden brown curls were in need of a good brushing, and he’d obviously been outside in the garden because his hands were dirt smeared and grimy.
Bilbo sighed, and then reached down to disentangle the youngster from his legs and plunk him firmly on a kitchen chair. “Well, hullo there, young hobbit! And just what have you been up to so early on such a fine morning?”
Pippin drew a deep breath and began chattering away fully intending to fill Bilbo in on everything he’d done since opening his eyes that morning. Bilbo listened with half of his attention, chuckling as he resumed the breakfast preparations.
“Then I petted Lily because she was sitting on the corner of my bed and she was purring…did you know that kitties can do that, Cousin Bilbo?” Without waiting for an answer Pippin continued, “and then I had to go to the privy and so Lily followed me!” He paused to giggle into his hand before continuing. “I’m so happy I was allowed to bring her along. I wish I could have brought Dizzy too, but Da said no, because Dizzy is still too young to travel so far in the carriage, because he might get sick all over me like he did when--”
“Pippin! I really don’t need to hear about that part, all right, m’lad?” Bilbo chuckled again, shaking his head as he flipped the griddlecakes on the stove. The inviting scent had already awakened most of the family and soon Merry, and then Eglantine, entered the kitchen rubbing the sleep from their eyes. Pippin waggled his piglet at them and scolded, “Tulip says you’re late for first breakfast! And she’s very hungry so you better hurry up.”
Eglantine raised an eyebrow at her rambunctious son, catching hold of one of his hands as he flailed Tulip about. “You need to go have a wash before you even think of having breakfast, m’lad.” She hoisted him down and turned him in the direction of the bathroom. “March!”
“All right,” Pippin agreed readily and scooted off. He ran headlong into Frodo, who was just coming out of his room.
“Watch out, Pip,” Frodo laughed, leaping aside at the same time Pippin maneuvered smartly around him and shot away. Pippin moved like a streak of lightning, one hand waving over his shoulder.
“I’ll be right back,” he called, before he disappeared into the bathroom.
Paladin emerged from one of the guestrooms as his son streaked by, and bent to scoop up the knitted piglet Pippin had dropped. He placed it on his shoulder in the same manner that Pippin always did, causing Frodo to grin at him. Paladin winked and continued on to the kitchen without a word.
Eglantine shook her head when she spied him. “What’s the matter, m’dear? Did you forget to bring Sammie-Lambie?”
‘Hmph, very funny.” Paladin plunked the toy down on Merry’s shoulder as he passed him.
“Well then, what are you doing with Tulip, Da?” Pimpernel was up now, her younger sister on her heels. Vinca rubbed the sleep from her eyes and yawned, settling into the nearest chair.
“Bilbo, let me help with that.” Eglantine neatly removed the spatula from his hand as she passed him. “Where’s Pearl?” She addressed her daughters as she slipped between them in the now crowded kitchen and busied herself at the stove.
“She went out for a walk earlier,” Nell said. “She said she wanted to enjoy the morning air and have a little peace and quiet before--”
“Nellllyyyy!” Pippin’s shout and subsequent leap into the midst of his family was punctuated by a yelp as the youngster stomped on Bilbo’s toes as he launched himself at his sister.
“Easy, Pip.” Paladin caught him neatly in practiced arms before the airborne lad collided with Pimpernel, and settled him on his hip. “Aren’t you missing something?”
Pippin scrunched up his face in thought, then brightened. “Tulip!” He cried, pointing at Merry.
The shriek next to his ear caused Paladin to wince. He set Pippin on his feet with a grimace. “Aye, why don’t you go get your toy?”
“She’s not a toy, Da,” Pippin informed his father as he scampered away. “Is she, Merry?”
“Of course not, how could anyone think she is?” Merry chuckled and plopped Tulip into Pippin’s arms.
“Breakfast is served,” Eglantine announced just as the door opened and Pearl joined them.
“Are you absolutely certain you want to do this, Bilbo?” Eglantine asked for what Bilbo was certain had to be the tenth time that morning. “He can be quite the handful, you know.”
“Tina, I’m sure there isn’t a single person in the whole of the Shire who doesn’t know that,” Paladin snorted. He laid a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder and looked him straight in the eye. “That said, I’ll second my wife’s question – are you certain you want to watch Pippin for an entire afternoon and evening?”
“Oh mercy, you two sound like I’m offering to play nursemaid to Oddie the bull!” Bilbo waved dismissively. “You all go on just like we planned, and have a grand time visiting the Boffin’s, while we entertain the lad. Isn’t that right, Frodo? Merry?”
Merry and Frodo traded glances. Merry rolled his eyes as Frodo replied, “Of course. We haven’t seen much of Pippin in quite awhile and we’re delighted to keep an eye on him for you today.” He poked Merry in the ribs with his elbow a little harder than was necessary after his cousin looked like he might protest. “Aren’t we, Merry?”
“Uh, certainly. Aunt Tina, Uncle Pad, you go right ahead and have a good time while Frodo and I just stay here and…watch our cousin.”
Paladin regarded the pair with a smirk of amusement playing around the corners of his mouth. Finally he gestured to his daughters to hurry up and get ready and turned to his wife with a shrug. “Since they really want to do this, Tina, let’s get going.”
“All right.” Eglantine still sounded hesitant.
“Oh for pity’s sake – go, go! We’ll be fine. How much trouble can it be to look after one small lad for the day?” Bilbo shooed them away with a flap of the tea towel he still held after finishing the washing up. “We have plenty of baking to do for the Faire, so I’m sure we’ll keep ourselves well occupied. Won’t we lads?” Bilbo looked at Frodo and Merry with a slight raise of his eyebrow and a hearty wink. Two curly heads, one dark and one light, bobbed in unison. “There! You see?” The old hobbit made shooing motions again.
Paladin chuckled as he crossed to the door, muttering something about ‘famous last words.’ He eyed his small son sternly. Pippin beamed at him with his usual innocent look and Paladin couldn’t help grinning back at him. Little imp. That charming smile helped the youngster get away with a great deal more than he should at times. He ruffled Pippin’s hair. “Behave yourself.”
“I will, Da.” Pippin patted Tulip, who at the moment rested inside his half unbuttoned shirt. “So will Tulip!”
“See that she does,” Paladin chuckled and gestured at his wife and daughters impatiently.
Eglantine continued to fret even as she went out the door. “And remember, you may not make any plum tarts, young sir!”
Pippin shook his head from side to side, making his curls fly. “No, Tulip decided on another recipe she wants to make, and she’s very eager to get started.” Pippin’s expression took on an air of mystery and Eglantine hesitated. She knew that look all too well.
“Maybe I’d better stay and help--”
“I don’t even have any plums in the hole, Tina,” Bilbo snorted. “Now off with you! We’ll be fine!” Bilbo had no idea how much he’d regret his generosity before the day was out.
The family headed out, with Eglantine taking one last long look over her shoulder and mouthing a firm ‘be good’ to Pippin, just before Paladin tugged on her arm and pulled the door shut.
“All right!” Bilbo clapped his hands together and looked his charges over enthusiastically. All the trappings necessary to create many fine baked goods for the competition surrounded them. “What would you like to make first?”
“A speedy escape,” Merry muttered underneath his breath.
Bilbo tilted his head at Frodo. “Are you planning to enter this year, m’lad? That potato bread you made last time certainly was popular.”
“Well, I don’t know,” Frodo began uncertainly, and was interrupted by a tug on his sleeve. Pippin stared up at him, his eyes huge with beseeching.
“Please Frodo? You have to enter the contest with Tulip and me! Merry too!” Pippin continued tugging on Frodo’s sleeve until his cousin relented.
“All right, Pip. I’ll make my potato bread again.”
“Yay! Merry too!” The youngster bounced up and down on his toes, obviously pleased to be getting his way so readily. “What are you going to make Merry?”
“Besides a speedy getaway,” Frodo whispered as he walked by.
“Uhh, well I don’t think I’m going to make anything, Pip. I’ll just watch you and Frodo and Cousin Bilbo.”
“Oh no, we’re not going to have all the fun, Merry m’lad,” Bilbo shook his head. “You’re in on this too.”
“We insist,” Frodo said with an air of finality. “After all, why should Bilbo and I be the only other family members to compete with our little cousin?”
“And Tulip!” Pippin added, waving her around his head.
“But I’m not good at baking! I’m only good at eating,” Merry continued his protest.
“Then it’s high time you learned to be better at it. You’re a hobbit, aren’t you?” Bilbo countered.
Pippin had been pulling on Merry’s sleeve ever more insistently until his cousin finally looked at him with a defeated sigh. “What is it, Pip?”
Pippin motioned for him to lean down and then stood on his tiptoes and whispered something in his ear. Merry’s eyes widened and his mouth turned up at the corners into a knowing smirk. Pippin placed Tulip up to Merry’s ear next and it appeared the trio was having a meaningful exchange. Pippin dropped back to his feet and stared up at his cousin with one eyebrow quirked in question.
“All right,” Merry replied slowly, the smirk widening. “I suppose I should learn to be better at cooking.” He laughed aloud.
Frodo and Bilbo traded puzzled looks, while Pippin grinned. The smallest hobbit tucked his knitted friend under one of his braces and folded his arms across his chest. Bilbo thought he looked for the entire world like he was sizing them all up and wondered just what the impish youngster had up his sleeve this time?
“We’re ready to get started, Cousin Bilbo,” he declared.
“Bossy little thing, isn’t he?” Merry chuckled and ruffled Pippin’s hair.
“What was that all about?” Frodo asked Merry quietly, the first chance he had as they set about their work.
Merry smiled secretively. “I’m not telling. Yet.”
“That’s what I was afraid you’d say,” Frodo murmured.
“All right, let’s get these in the oven and then we can have a break for luncheon.” Bilbo bent and slid another pan of muffins into the oven before turning back to the soup he had bubbling on top of the stove.
“That’s good, since we had to miss elevenses,” Pippin reminded him, sounding only slightly accusatory. He climbed onto a chair, clutching Tulip and sniffed appreciatively at the steaming blueberry muffins Frodo had just removed from the oven. Slowly, he snaked out a single finger, just far enough to tell for certain that they were still too hot to eat…
“Don’t touch!” Frodo warned the youngster, and Pippin shot him a look that said he didn’t need to be told something so obvious.
“I wasn’t going to! D’ya think I’m daft?” Pippin rolled his eyes. “Even Tulip knows I’m smarter than that.” He paused, eyes widening as he appeared to listen to the piglet. “Yes, you do! You told me just that just a little while ago!” He paused again and then added, “Oh. I’m very glad you were only jesting with me.” Pippin spied his special cup high on the shelf and stood up on his toes to reach across the hot pans. He yelped when his stomach brushed against one of the muffin tins. Frodo snatched him up as he jumped backwards in surprise, almost falling off the chair.
“You’re not daft, Pip. But you certainly don’t take time to stop and think about consequences.” Frodo placed him on his feet and knelt in front of him. “Let me look at your belly.” He lifted up the shirt, noticing that it wasn’t damaged and sighed in relief to find just the slightest small spot of redness on Pippin’s midsection. Rising to his feet he held out a hand. “Let’s go put a cold cloth on that, just to be sure. And stay down from there.”
“Now, all we need is the cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on the top. Why don’tyou and Merry get that ready for me, hmm?” Bilbo chuckled to himself as he removed the sour cream crumb cake from the oven. The day was going much more smoothly than he had anticipated after all. “Pippin, you still haven’t told me what you and Tulip want to make for the contest. We’ll be ready to make yours next.”
“But it’s a surprise! I can’t tell you because I have an old recipe that no one has made in a long time. I found it in one of the old cookbooks at great Smials last Yule--”
“Not the plum tarts!”
“No!” Pippin scowled at the reminder.
“Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to tell me what it is because I’m certainly not going to leave you alone in the kitchen,” Bilbo said.
“But…but Tulip can help me. Then no one else will know what I’m making.”
Bilbo’s flat reply and the use of his full name caused Pippin to scowl. He scuffed his toes across the floor, thinking hard. He wanted it to be a surprise. And, Merry wanted it to be one too. Merry understood. Maybe he could talk Bilbo into leaving the two of them alone together? His eyes implored Merry to get the hint, but his cousin gave a slight warning shake of his head.
Pippin sighed. All right, he’d have to settle for a slight, temporary change in their plans, then. “Tulip wants to make Mum’s applesauce cake,” he declared, with a sideways glance at Merry who pretended not to see it.
“Oh, splendid! That’s a lovely recipe.” Bilbo nodded his approval. “Why, I imagine you make even win first place with it. Come, m’ boy!”
Frodo lingered behind. “What are you up to?” he whispered.
“Whatever are you talking about?” Merry looked offended.
Frodo sighed. “Never mind.”
Pippin was busy tying the apron on Tulip. He helped mix the flour in a large bowl with Bilbo overseeing. His enthusiastic stirring caused him to flip the entire contents of the bowl on the floor. “Oops. I’m very sorry, Bilbo.”
Bilbo heaved a sigh and set about cleaning up the flour and broken glass while Frodo took out a new bowl and helped Pippin start over. Frodo was growing very weary of the kitchen by now. It was beginning to seem like the day would never end. Pippin was talking to his toy again.
“That’s right, you just mix it up like this, m’lass.” He demonstrated stirring the batter a little too enthusiastically with both hands and a great cloud of flour flew up in his face and then rained down on them. A startled Tulip burst out in a series of huge sneezes and demanded someone get her a handkerchief right away! Pippin giggled as he wiped her off, smearing the flour everywhere. Behind him, Frodo was rolling his eyes and trying to renew his patience, while Merry measured the applesauce into another bowl.
“We’ll need to make a sugar glaze for the cake afterward. It needs to be poured over it while the cake is still warm,” Bilbo told them. “And you can decorate it with walnuts.”
“Mmmm, it’s going to be very yummy, isn’t it Tulip?” Pippin reached for a jar and was scooping its contents into a measuring cup when Frodo laid a hand on his arm to stop him.
“I think you want a cup of sugar, Pip, not a cup of salt.”
“Oh! You’re right, thanks.” Pippin resumed his work, humming a tune and keeping up a steady stream of chatter.
At last the cake was in the pan and Bilbo shoved it into the oven, then stood and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Whew, it has been a long day, eh lads? But we did get a great deal accomplished.” He patted Pippin on the head as he crossed to the sink. “Your parents are going to be very pleased.”
“Yes, they are,” Merry said, casting a sly glance at his young cousin.
“If I never see another cracked egg or broken dish, it’ll be too soon,” moaned Frodo as he finished cleaning up in the kitchen. Supper simmered on the stove and Pippin was playing outside in the garden. Things seemed to have calmed down at last.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Bilbo agreed wearily.
“What time do you think Aunt Tina and Uncle Pad will be back?” Merry was heading out the back door to find Pippin and tell him supper was ready.
“Not nearly soon enough,” muttered Frodo underneath his breath.
“Let’s eat, shall we?” Bilbo set the table and put Frodo to work serving up the stew and biscuits.
“Well, it looks like Bag End is still intact,” Paladin observed as he led the way up the path. “All of those worries for nothing, Tina. I told you so.”
“Don’t sound so disappointed, Pad. We haven’t even got inside yet. There’s no telling what your son has been up to all day, and if poor Bilbo has survived it.”
Paladin chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure Bilbo and the other lads are just fine.” He held the door open for his weary lasses.
“Bilbo?” Eglantine called out somewhat cautiously. “Merry, Frodo?”
“Shh!” The old hobbit emerged from his study with a finger to his lips. “We’ve had a very busy day and everyone is already in bed. How was your visit?”
“We had a wonderful time,” Pimpernel told him.
“Yes indeed, and I am also more than ready to call it a day,” Pearl said with a yawn.
“Me too,” mumbled Vinca, already heading down the tunnel towards her room.
“Good night!” Bilbo called, turning back to Paladin and Eglantine. “Not to worry, everything went fine. Your son made his very first applesauce cake with the help of his piglet friend and his cousins, and now he is safely tucked in with Merry at his side.”
“Thank goodness,” Eglantine breathed easy for the first time in hours. “And thank you so much for giving me a day out, Bilbo.”
“I was happy to, my dear.” He winked at Paladin. “Contrary to rumour, your lad is not all that difficult to keep an eye on.” Bilbo laughed, “But of course it was nice to have help! Frodo and Merry did a magnificent job.”
“Let’s all retire for the night then, shall we?” Eglantine was already heading to Pippin’s room to peek in on him.
“No problems at all, Bilbo? Are you certain?”
“Oh, a broken bowl and some spilled flour, not much more than that, Pad. Go on now and get some rest yourself. There’s plenty to do tomorrow too, you know.”
Merry and Pippin lay whispering together and hushed when they saw the crack of light as the door swung inward. Both pretended to be asleep. They went back to their whispering as soon as Eglantine withdrew and clicked the door shut. Pippin giggled and Merry hurried to shush him.
Yes indeed, plenty to do before the Faire started. Two curly heads and a knitted piglet went back to laying out their plans…
Old Fashioned Applesauce Cake
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp cloves
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup melted butter
1 lb can applesauce
Sift together dry ingredients. Add raisins, walnuts, melted butter, and applesauce. Beat until well blended. Pour into greased and floured 9x9x2 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees, 45 – 50 minutes. Cool, then spread with confectioner’s sugar butter icing and decorate with walnuts.
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