Comfort Food by Lbilover

Originally written for the 2005 Shire Kitchen Recipe Challenge.


“Sam?”


Sam Gamgee looked up from the potato he was peeling as Frodo Baggins, the new Master of Bag End, entered the kitchen. Frodo was dressed for the outdoors in his heaviest jacket, and he held his walking stick in one hand; his expression was somber.


“Yes, Mr. Frodo?”



Sam couldn’t help but glance out the kitchen window. It was a cold, dreary day and the wind was blowing hard. He could hear it soughing in the chimney, and the shutters were rattling on their hinges. Although Frodo had a warm woolen muffler wound around his neck, Sam couldn’t see that he had either a hat or mittens. He bit his lip against the words that rushed up inside him. It weren’t his place to warn his master against being out in such weatherbare-headed, or to ask him what was troubling him so that he had to go walking on a day when any sensible hobbit would stay indoors, snug and warm. He’d tried similar words a time or two when he’d first come to work inside the smial, and been told in no uncertain terms not to fuss.


“All right, sir; I’ll have your tea ready and waiting for you when you get home,” was all Sam said in reply, though his heart ached for the sadness in his master’s face.


“Thank you, Sam. I’ll see you later then.”


Sam could hear the tap of Frodo’s walking stick echo as his footsteps receded down the hall.


Setting down his peeling knife, Sam hurried to the window. He watched Frodo struggle with the garden gate that wanted to buck in the wind like an unruly pony, before finally securing it behind him. Frodo set off down the Hill Lane at a brisk pace, his brown curls whipping about his head and the tail of his coat flying up in the breeze. Sam continued watching until his master was out of sight, then returned to his potato peeling with a worried frown.


He didn’t have to look far to find what was troubling Frodo: he missed Mr. Bilbo, gone these four months now. Sam dearly missed the old hobbit himself, so he could only imagine how Frodo must feel, alone in Bag End for the first time, with only Sam there to do for him during the day, and the occasional visits of his cousins and friends to provide him with company of an evening.


Sam thought hard while his hands deftly continued their work. There must be more he could do to help ease his master’s grief and loneliness. If it was a different season, he’d fill Bag End with flowers, but it was winter now and there was naught to be found in the garden that was bright and cheery.


Then a sudden, unbidden memory came into Sam’s mind: he was in the kitchen at Number Three with his mother, and she was cooking, kneading dough for a pie. He couldn’t have been more than seven years old, so he’d needed to stand on a stool at the counter in order to see what she was doing. He’d asked her what she was making.


“Comfort food, Sam,” Bell Gamgee had replied, smiling down at him.


“What’s that?” Sam had wanted to know. It sounded a strange name for a dish.


“Well, your dad had a hard day today, Sam, and he came home feeling a little low in his mind. So I’m making him comfort food to help him feel better.”


“Oh.” Sam had thought a bit. “What do you put in comfort food?” he had asked curiously.


“Comfort food can be anything you know the person likes best,” she had replied as she finished kneading the dough and reached for the rolling pin. “Your dad now, he fancies a nice roast chicken and apple pie more than anything, so that would be his comfort food.” She paused in her rolling and fixed Sam with a serious look. “But no matter what the dish, there’s one ingredient you always have to remember to put in comfort food, Sam. It’s asecret ingredient, and the most important one of all.”


“What is it, Mam?” Sam had demanded, anxious to know what this secret ingredient might be.


“Love, Sam. Comfort food has to be made with love. Don’t ever forget that.”


Sam placed the last potato in the bowl. He’d never forgotten her words, not really, for love was a part of everything he did for Frodo. Still, he set his chin in his hand and gazed with unseeing eyes into the fire on the hearth, thinking on what his mother had told him all those years ago, and trying to decide what comfort food he could make that would cheer his master best.


Another childhood memory, a memory of a cold winter day like this one, flashed into his mind, and Sam knew exactly what the comfort food should be.


***


When Frodo returned home, just in time for tea, Sam was waiting by the door to help him off with his coat. He noticed with concern that the tips of Frodo’s ears were bright red, and he was shivering slightly.


“Bless me, Mr. Frodo, you do look that cold!” Sam exclaimed, hanging the coat on a hook, and trying not to sound too anxious. “You go right along to your study. I’ve built up the fire so it’s nice and cozy, and left a blanket on the settle for you. I’ll bring you your food in there straight away.”


Frodo rubbed his hands briskly together and blew on his fingertips. “Thank you, Sam,” he replied through lips that had the faintest tinge of blue to them. “The fire sounds delightful. I confess I’ve been looking forward to little else this past half hour or more.” He gave Sam a warm look, one that held none of his usual reserve, and touched him briefly on the shoulder. “You take such good care of me, Sam. I’m a very fortunate hobbit indeed.”


The light touch of Frodo’s fingers seemed to linger as Sam followed his master down the hall.


When Sam entered the study a short time later, tray in hand, he found Frodo wrapped in the blanket and seated as close to the fire as possible. “Here’s your food, Mr. Frodo,” he said, setting the tray down on a table. As Frodo made to rise, Sam motioned to him to stay where he was. “I’ll just move this little table over by the settle; that way you won’t have to leave the fire.”


Frodo sank back down with a grateful look. “Mmm. Something smells quite delicious, Sam. What is it?” he asked, sniffing appreciatively.


Sam picked up the little table and set it down in front of Frodo. Close up, he was relieved to see that his master was no longer shivering, and the colour of his lips was now a soft rose pink. He couldn’t help but notice as well how brilliant Frodo’s blue eyes looked against his wind-reddened cheeks, and how fetching his dark curls looked tumbled about his brow. ButSam hastily averted his gaze, scolding himself; gawping at Frodo like that would not put warm food in his belly, now would it? He went to the tea tray and picked up a large mug and a plate, and carried them to Frodo.


“I’ve made you something special to drink today, Mr. Frodo, instead of tea,” he said, setting the food down on the table. “Hot apple cider with caramel and whipped cream, and I baked gingerbread to go with it.”


Frodo stared in some astonishment. “Why Sam,” he said, “you must be a mind reader! I was remembering on my way home how Bilbo used to have cider and gingerbread waiting for me when I’d come in from sledding or skating on a cold day. It’s been years since I’ve had them, but I don’t recall anything ever tasting so good!”


“I remember, Mr. Frodo. Happen you don’t recall, but Mr. Bilbo invited me in a time or two to share them with you, him being the kindest of hobbits.” Sam flushed slightly. “I thought maybe it would cheer you to taste them again.”


Frodo was still staring at him, almost as if he’d never seen Sam before. “It does cheer me, Sam,” he said slowly. “You’ve no idea how much. I can’t,” he paused to clear his throat, “I can’t believe you remembered, after all these years.”


Sam held Frodo’s gaze, flushing a bit redder under that intent stare. “I remember everything about you, Mr. Frodo,” he said simply. Some impulse of bravery, inspired perhaps by the look in Frodo’s eyes, allowed him to continue in a rush, “I know I can’t replace Mr. Bilbo, no one could, but I know you’re lonesome for him sometimes and if there’s aught I can do to help…” he trailed off, then ended in a whisper, “I’d do anything, Mr. Frodo, to see you happy and smiling again.”


There was a silence, while Sam trembled inside at his boldness and waited apprehensively for Frodo’s response. It wasn’t at all what he expected.


Without a word, Frodo picked up the slice of warm, spicy gingerbread and took a bite; he then reached for his mug and had a drink of the hot caramel cider that was topped with a froth of whipped cream and cinnamon. He closed his eyes for a long moment, clearly savouring the taste. When he opened them, his eyes were shining, and he was smiling, a smile such as Sam had not seen since the day Bilbo left: a happy smile.


“Dear Sam,” Frodo said, “this is simply wonderful, and exactly the way Bilbo used to make it. But,” he went on, looking quite serious, “a treat such as this was meant to be shared. Go fetch a mug and plate for yourself, and come back and join me.” He patted the empty space beside him on the settle, and smiled again. “There’ll be a place right here, waiting for you.”


~end~




HOT CARAMEL APPLE CIDER


Freshly whipped cream (prepare ahead of time)½ cup caramel ice cream topping2 tbs. brown sugar1 tbs. lemon juicepinch salt¼ tsp. cinnamon (or to taste)1 quart unsweetened cider


Pour caramel topping into heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and lemon juice. Add salt and cinnamon, and bring to a boil. Immediately add cider and stir mixture until caramel is dissolved. Bring cider almost to a boil and remove from heat. Pour into mugs and top with an inch or two of whipped cream. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Serves 4 to 8.



OLD FASHIONED GINGERBREAD


2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring1/3 cup sugar1 tsp. salt1/2 tsp. baking powder1 tsp. baking soda1 tsp. cinnamon1 1/2 tsps. ground ginger1/2 tsp. ground cloves1/2 cup melted butter1 cup molasses1 egg1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk (1 teaspoon vinegar and enough milk to make1/2 cup)1/4 cup hot waterPREPARATION:Preheat oven to 350°. Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices. Stir in melted butter, molasses, egg, and buttermilk or sour milk. Beat in hot water. Pour batter into a generously greased and floured 8-inch square pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until cake springs back when lightly touched with finger. Serve gingerbread with whipped cream or lemon sauce.