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Written for the "Shire Kitchen Recipe Fic Challenge"
April 27, 2009
A/N: References made to my story, “Lily Took.”
“Of Bread and Butter”
Pippin plunked Tulip on his shoulder and sauntered out of his bedroom. “Shh,” he warned as they crept past the kitchen door. He paused to sniff the air and pat his tummy. Tulip bobbed her head in agreement. The tantalizing scent of bread, fresh from the oven, had been filling the house for hours, and Pippin didn’t think he could stand to wait much longer for a taste. The aroma wafted past his nose, tickling it like a feather. His mother made bread every Mersday and it was his favourite day of the week.
Oh, how he took pleasure in the anticipation; from watching the dough rise slowly in the warm kitchen as the yeast worked hard to prepare the bread for baking, to spying on his mother and two eldest sisters while they mixed and kneaded, oiled and shaped, finally placing the loaves in the waiting pans to rise once again before placing them in the hot oven.
One of the most curious parts of the routine was when his mother would remark that it was time to ‘spank’ the bread. Eglantine would pinch off a ball from the huge, doughy mound in the kettle, kneading and smacking it, turning it over in her strong hands and repeating the process again and again. The gentle slaps to the fresh dough filled the kitchen with that delightful yeasty smell until Pippin was certain he would swoon from anticipation. He remembered asking once, when he was much younger, of course, if the bread had done something naughty? His mother had laughed and explained she patted the dough to remove any air bubbles that might have formed within.
‘Otherwise, my dear,’ she had told him, ‘all the loaves would have great tunnels inside and there would be less bread for you to eat!’
Pippin wasn’t certain that he entirely understood, but still, it was amusing to watch from his perch on a stool just inside the doorway (which was as close to the baking as his mother allowed him to come) as the dough was patted and poked, squeezed and pulled, and finally teased into the proper shape, and then dropped into the heavily oiled pans. Before popping them into the oven, his mother used a fork to poke more holes in the top.
Now, Pippin stared at the neat row of loaves waiting their turn to bake and eyed the ones that had already come out of the oven. He knew better than to sneak in and try snatching one of the hot rolls Pearl was placing on the rack to cool, after brushing them with the freshly churned butter. His mother always discouraged his presence when she was preoccupied with such a large task and a very hot oven.
Pippin twitched, wondering if he might get away with it just this one time. The aroma was growing overwhelming, and just how much could one small hobbit take, after all? He placed one foot in front of the other, poised to step into the kitchen when he felt the insistent tap of a knitted hoof on his shoulder. He slanted an innocent glance at his friend.
Tulip shook her head in warning, reminding him he was not allowed in the kitchen right now. He heaved an exaggerated sigh. “Well, at least we can look forward to supper tonight.” Pippin’s mouth watered, imagining the hot buttered bread melting in his mouth, and Tulip winked in agreement.
“All right, let’s get away from this wonderful smell, then!” He darted out of a side door and headed for the barn. “I have a very big surprise,” Pippin told her, and trotted along faster in his excitement.
The door was ajar and he slipped in, hurrying to the back of the barn where bales of hay were piled high. Tulip cocked her head in wonder at the soft mewling drifting out of the corner. Pippin knelt in front of one of the bales. He grinned, pointing at the blanket that lay balled up in a pile of soft straw next to it. Tulip raised an eyebrow and demanded to know just what his good blanket was doing out here in the barn? Didn’t he know his mother was going to have something to say about it?
“I knew you’d say that. But, look!” Pippin continued to grin as he raised a corner of the blanket and proudly displayed a brand new litter of kittens curled up inside. Tulip’s knitted heart softened at the sight and her eyes shone. Pippin nodded enthusiastically.
“I knew you’d understand!” He placed her next to them so she could get a better look. “Hullo, Snowflake,” he greeted the mother cat. The name had been a jest, started by Merry when the cat had found her way to the farm recently. She was jet black with only a touch of white specks on her underbelly and a few white spots around her nose. Pippin had taken great delight with Merry’s suggestion and had called her Snowflake, much to his older cousin’s amusement.
He patted the mother cat on the head and pointed to the five kittens tucked into the pocket around her belly. “Look Tulip!” A single, pure white kitten with fluffy long hair snuggled amongst the nest of dark her dark littermates.
“That one’s my special kitty and I’m going to call her Lily.” Tulip had to agree the name was appropriate. The kitten was as bright as a delicate white lily set against a background of dark garden soil, or in this case, the kitten's littermates!
Pippin giggled at her comparison. “That’s right. Her fur is the same colour as the flowers Mum grows in her garden.” He stroked her with careful fingers. “And she feels as soft as she looks.” He settled down next to the kittens and laid his head on the edge of the blanket, placing Tulip next to his cheek. “I hope Mum doesn’t mind too awfully that I gave my new blanket to Lily,” he confided in a whisper.
“Lily Took,” he mumbled sleepily a few minutes later. “The newest member of our family.”
His eyelids grew heavy as the gently purring cat slowly lulled him to sleep. Tulip settled in for a much needed nap. Soon, both hobbit lad and knitted piglet snored gently in unison while Snowflake watched them as she nursed her offspring. She knew this was a very special pair of friends and the perfect home for her little family. Tulip stirred and opened one eye to study her young master fondly, then looked up at Snowflake and winked one bright green embroidered eye conspiratorially.
Indeed, the perfect home and an exceptional family. Snowflake’s purr grew loud with contentment as she closed her eyes and joined them in peaceful slumber.
An hour or so later, the door creaked open once more. Quiet footsteps made their way across the barn floor in the dim light.
“Hullo! What’s this?” Paladin stumbled and almost fell over his small son, who lay curled up in a ball with his toy piglet tucked under his chin. The new additions to the family were sleeping nearby, snug and sound on Pippin’s new coverlet. He stifled a sigh. Eglantine wasn’t going to be pleased to find the blanket she had spent hours making for Pippin was now a bed for a freshly birthed litter of kittens. Snowflake acknowledged his look with an extra loud purr and a chirp, and he couldn’t help but grin.
Paladin paused for a moment to appreciate the loving scene before gently scooping the sleepy lad into his arms.
“Lily Took,” Pippin mumbled and sighed contentedly. His father brushed the silky hair from the youngster’s brow with a smile.
“Who is Lily Took?”
Pippin opened one eye and gazed at his father, yawning widely. “My kitty.”
“Oh?” Paladin raised an eyebrow in mock concern. “Did your mother say you could have another cat?”
“Lily’s not a cat. She’s a kitten!” Pippin twisted around in his father’s arms and pointed to the floor. “Look!”
Setting Pippin on his feet, Paladin knelt next to the mother cat. “Ah, and so Snowflake has a brand new litter, does she? They must have arrived sometime during the night.”
Pippin bobbed his head. “Five babies!”
“But what’s this?” Paladin pointed at the layer of colourful wool the kittens rested upon. “Isn’t that the new blanket your mum made for you?”
Pippin frowned. “Maybe. . .”
“Maybe? Mercy, I wouldn’t want to be the one to explain that to her. Better you than me, lad.”
Pippin’s eyes widened. “Do you think she’ll be very upset with me?”
His father pretended to consider the dilemma carefully. “Well, perhaps she’ll be more understanding when you explain what a good use you had for your blanket. She might even be proud of you because you were so concerned about a new mama and her comfort.”
“Do you really think so?” Pippin fidgeted, shuffling Tulip from one hand to the other, fretful now. Tulip squealed at his inconsiderate treatment and he started in surprise. “Oops, sorry, my lass,” he soothed, tucking the piglet inside his shirt.
Paladin watched with wry amusement, wondering if he had ever been that fanciful with his own favourite toy, Sammy Lambie. He laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. “I think she might be a little displeased at first, but I think she’ll get over it quickly when you tell her about Snowflake.”
Pippin brightened. “Tulip’s very pleased about the kittens, Da. She told me so. She’s already started naming them, but I told her my special kitty is going to be called Lily, and she agreed.”
“Oh?” Paladin gave the toy a pat on her head before leaning over to have a closer look. He stroked the head of the nearest kitten with a gentle finger while Snowflake kept a watchful eye. The kitten was a lovely, dark striped tiger with just a smudge of white on the tips of each front paw. It reminded Paladin of the pet he’d had many years ago when his own father had run the farm and he had been a mere sprout like Pippin. “Looks a great deal like old Tommy,” he murmured and sat back on his heels. “So, my boy – which one is Lily?”
Pippin wrinkled his brow. “Can’t you guess, Da? And who’s old Tommy?”
“My kitty. When I was a lad of about your age. He was very special. This kitten reminds me of him.”
“Oh!” Pippin knew an opportunity when he saw one and a mischievous grin spread across his face. “Umm, can we keep them all?”
“What?” Paladin looked up in surprise. “There are five kittens here, Pip. Don’t you think we should share the wealth with others?”
Pippin shook his head. Paladin sighed. “Now, why didn’t I know you’d feel that way?”
“Perhaps Vinca would like to have one? And Pimpernel. Pearl too! And you could have a new Tommy?” Pippin pondered his idea briefly. “But, that wouldn’t leave one for Mum. . . I know! Pearl can share her kitten with Mum. Like I’m going to share Lily with Tulip. Then the whole family can stay together and not be separated. What do you think, Da?”
Paladin looked the litter over thoughtfully. “Well, we don’t know for sure that the new Tommy is a lad kitten. I’d have to have a lad in order to call him Tommy, ‘twouldn’t do, otherwise. Not many lasses would like to be called Tommy, I’ll wager.”
Pippin knelt next to his father and studied the kittens. “Well,” he ventured after several moments, “if they’re all lasses couldn’t you pick another name? The kitty could still make you think of old Tommy.”
“Hmm.” Paladin rubbed his chin, appearing to think this over. “I suppose that could be a possible solution to the problem. I didn’t have any choice about the matter when your mother kept having lasses herself, and I was the only lad in the house. That is, until you came along.” He slipped an affectionate arm around the youngster’s shoulders and squeezed.
“That’s true.” Pippin tilted his head. “But now you’re not the only lad, are you, Da? You have me!”
“Aye, you’re quite right, I do!”
“So, we can keep new Tommy, even is he turns out to be a lass?”
Paladin laughed. “I’ll think about it, Pippin.”
“And that’s the best you’re going to get from me at the moment. Come.” He stood and held out his hand. “Let’s go tell your mother about Snowflake and her babies. We’ll ease the blanket part in as we go, all right?”
Pippin took his father’s hand with a grin. “Yes! And then we can tell her we have a surprise for Pearl, and Pimpernel, and Pervinca!”
“Hmm, it sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.”
The pair started out of the barn, Pippin’s small hand clasped in his father’s larger, calloused one. “Mum and Pearl have been baking bread all day and I’m starving for some!”
“Me too! When I went by the kitchen a little while ago they were making strawberry jam to go with it.”
“My favourite!” Pippin hopped up and down as he skipped alongside. He pulled Tulip from his shirt. “Did you hear that, Tulip? Fresh bread and strawberry jam! Maybe even apple jelly and blackberry tarts!”
“Maybe,” Paladin agreed. “At the very least, plenty of fresh butter for those rolls! And I noticed a nice stew bubbling away on the stove.”
“Mmm! Did you hear that, Tulip?”
As they entered the farmhouse Pippin tugged on his father’s sleeve. Paladin bent low and Pippin whispered, “Lily is the only white kitty in Snowflake’s litter.”
“Oh? The only one, you say? I hadn’t noticed. I suppose I was simply too busy admiring my young Tommy the tiger.”
“Yes!” Pippin bobbed his head, with a grin. “You were, but that’s all right, Da. We’ll have fun naming the rest of them, too.” He slipped his hand back inside his father’s and squeezed it. He would get to keep all the kittens!
Paladin chuckled, and ruffled his son’s hair, knowing he’d allowed himself to be manipulated by the best. “Tell me – what makes you so certain that the white kitten is a lassie? Perhaps they’re all laddies, have you thought of that?”
Pippin shook his head emphatically. “Lily is a lass kitten.”
“You’re sure about that, eh? How do you know?”
Pippin shrugged. “I just do. That’s all.”
Paladin smiled down at the top of his son’s fair head. Well, and why not, he thought. After all, he’d known his kitty was a lad, all those years ago. He shook his head, laughing, and began preparing his argument for Eglantine to allow them to keep all the kittens. “Let’s go celebrate the new additions to the family with some of your mother’s excellent bread for our supper!”
Pippin shrieked with delight and ran into the kitchen, waving Tulip in the air. Paladin trailed after him, pondering the thought of five more cats in the barn. He had the feeling Eglantine would accept that idea much better than she would the news about Pippin’s new blanket. . .
Granny McClung’s Yeast-Raised Bread
3 heaping tablespoons Salt
3 heaping tablespoons Sugar
2 cakes yeast, melted in cup of warm water (or you can use 2 packets of dry yeast)
2 LB Crisco shortening (approximately – I start with a 3 lb can and use a portion to grease the big pan the bread rises in, and melt some to oil all of the baking pans. I set aside a one-quart sauce pan with melted Crisco.
Real Butter – I make sure to have a whole pound on hand because you’ll need it to brush the tops of all the loaves and rolls, and plenty to use on the hot bread when ready to eat!
Warm water – 10-12 cups or so, amount will vary
Approximately 12 – 14 regular-size loaf pans, and a large biscuit pan to make the rolls in. I use a variety of pan sizes, ranging from miniature to extra long, but the recipe makes around a dozen regular sized loafs and a pan or 24 large rolls.
Well-greased, large capacity pan with tall sides (bread needs plenty of room to rise!)
You’ll need a clean, large, flat surface to prepare the dough.
1. Start by sifting all 10 lbs of the flour into a large pan. Make a ‘crater’ in the center of the flour and sprinkle around the spoonfuls of salt and sugar. You can use your fingers to mix the dry ingredients together until well distributed. (Bread making is a true “hands-on” experience!)
2. Spoon approx. 2 lbs (or 2/3 of a 3 lb can) of Crisco into the center hole and gradually add some of the warm water. Use your hands to squash and mix the shortening and flour together, adding more water as you go.
3. Pour in the cup of melted yeast.
4. Continue using your hands to mix in the water, shortening and dry ingredients until you have a large mound of moist dough. The dough should be moist, but not dripping, wet enough so it sticks to your fingers.
5. Sift a very generous amount of flour onto your working surface, then tip the pan up and push all of the dough onto it. Cover the mound with another generous sifting of flour and get ready to work hard! This is the fun part!
6. Knead the dough, adding more flour as the dough gets sticky, until at last you have worked in enough flour to keep it from being sticky. This takes some time to do, as the dough will take quite a lot of flour to get to this stage.
7. Continue kneading the dough, always working it from the outside in, as if you were folding it into itself. As the dough becomes properly prepared it will grow heavier as you go and it will take some effort to continue kneading and pushing it into itself.
8. You will know the dough is ready when it begins to “break”, meaning that as you knead inward, always adding flour, the outer portion of the mound will start to crack open slightly. Continue kneading until the separating is obvious, then stop kneading and punch it down into a big ball. The dough will be quite heavy at this point.
9. Lift the dough into the kettle (the one you have already greased and set aside earlier) and work it down a bit until the top is fairly smooth. Use your hand to spread a light coating of the melted Crisco over the top.
10. Cover the kettle with a large cloth, carefully tucking it around the pan at the bottom. The dough should be kept warm while it rises, so it’s a good idea to place the kettle on a stovetop with the oven set to warm, low temperature.
11. Allow several hours for the dough to rise. This process will work better if you keep your kitchen warm. (A good time to build a wood fire if you happen to have a woodstove!)
12. When the dough has risen above the edges of the kettle it’s time to proceed. Dip your hands in some of the melted Crisco and lightly punch the dough down. The mound will ‘deflate’ and you can knead it in the pan, adding a little more oil as you work it into the bread.
13. Carefully pinch off the appropriate amount to fit in the bread pan and again, always working inward, pat, pull, knead the dough into the proper oblong shape. You will feel air bubbles as you do this and it’s a good thing to carefully squeeze as much of the air out as you can, or you will wind up with lots of tunnels in your loaves! (The gentle slapping and patting the dough down was what my granny always referred to as ‘spanking the bread’!)
14. Place each loaf in pan, spread a bit of the oil on top, and use a fork to poke some air holes in the tops (again, to lessen the amount of air bubbles).
15. Cover the loaves of bread with a big towel and place them on a warm surface. Again, allow them to rise. This generally takes about 2 hours in a warm kitchen.
16. After the loaves have risen to round over the edges of their pans, place up to 3 at a time in the oven with temperature set at450 degrees. The lower rack should be up one tier to prevent burning on the bottom, as this is a rather hot oven.
*Each batch of loaves will take around half an hour to bake. Remove them carefully and dump each loaf out onto a toweled surface (The old-fashioned tea towels work well for this purpose and are what my granny always used. They will become greasy and it’s good to keep a set of these towels solely for bread making.) Brush the tops with melted butter and allow to cool with tea towel draped lightly around to keep moist. Rolls are made in much the same way as loaves. Remember to knead them inward and place them in the pan so the edges are touching.
Brace yourself for the inevitable stampede into your kitchen, and be sure to have the melted butter ready for your eager family!
A/N: In loving memory of my beloved Granny, a southerner from Tennessee, who would have turned 104 today, April 27th. The process of making bread described in this story is much like it was in her big, bright, country kitchen of many years ago. I recall eagerly watching the process, appreciating the wonderful aroma of the bread and the merry crackling of the wood fire in the big cook stove, and waiting impatiently for the bread to bake, in the same way Pippin does. And, just like Pippin, I was full of curiosity and questions about the process and would listen for hours to her fanciful stories of cooking, baking, canning, and gardening. In addition to being an awesome cook, she was an even better storyteller, in the true, old Appalachian tradition. Finally, the results of her hard day’s work (and it WAS hard work!) were made perfect with the addition of her homemade strawberry, blackberry, and apple, preserves and jellies, served along with her own hand-churned butter – a wee taste of heaven on earth, and still one of my very best childhood memories. Perhaps this is one reason I identify so well with Hobbits?!!
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