The Food of Love by Lbilover

Originally written for the 2006 Shire Kitchen Recipe Challenge.


“What are they, Mr. Pippin?” Sam Gamgee’s brow furrowed in puzzlement as he stared down into the wooden bucket that he and Pippin had just (with some difficulty, for it was a Man-sized bucket) hauled into the kitchen. The bucket was half-filled with brine, and the bottom was covered with a pile of very odd looking grayish objects. Sam had never seen the like before, for all the travelling he’d done over the past months and the many new and unusual things he’d encountered along the way.

Pippin Took gave a little shrug. “Gandalf called them ‘oysters’, Sam. They live in the sea, apparently, and grow on rocks near the shore. They’re supposed to be a rare delicacy.” But he sounded as dubious as Sam felt as he joined the other hobbit in contemplation of the peculiar sight.

”Well, let’s have a look, then.” Sam rolled up his shirtsleeve and reached cautiously into the cool water. It smelled strongly of salt, and felt strange on his skin. He gingerly removed one of the oysters from the bucket, as if it might bite, and examined it, turning it over and over in his wet fingers. It was fan-shaped and rough to the touch, with sharp edges and a hinge at one end. “Why, they’re hard, Mr. Pippin; they’ve got a sort of shell, like a turtle. What are you supposed to do with them?” he asked, flummoxed.

“According to Gandalf, you cut them open and eat the meat inside.”

“Raw?” exclaimed Sam with revulsion. “Like that Gollum would do? I ain’t serving Mr. Frodo nothing raw, Mr. Pippin, and that’s flat.”

“No, no, Sam,” Pippin hastened to reassure him. “Not raw, cooked. Look, Gandalf wrote the recipe down for us.” Pippin removed a piece of parchment from inside his tunic and unfolded it. “It’s a kind of stew.”

“A stew? Well, that’s something; makes ‘em almost proper hobbit food, you might say. But still, they seem a mighty queer thing to eat.” Shaking his head, Sam dropped the oyster back in the bucket and dried his hands on his trousers’ legs.

Pippin clapped Sam on the shoulder. “Give them a try, Sam. You were looking for something different to tempt Frodo’s appetite, weren’t you? I don’t think you’ll find anything more different than this.”

“You may be right, Mr. Pippin. But these oysters seem more like to turn him off his food, if you ask me,” Sam replied, sounding doubtful. “Still, there’s naught to lose by trying them, as you say, especially if Mr. Gandalf thinks Mr. Frodo will like them. He’s not been eating proper these ten days at least, and I’m that worried about him.” He sighed. “Let me see that recipe. I only hope we have all the ingredients it calls for.”

Pippin handed the parchment to Sam. “Don’t worry, Sam. If we don’t, I’ll send Bergil to hunt them down. He’s a handy lad and will find what’s needed.”

Sam consulted the recipe, written in Gandalf’s spidery script. “Milk, butter, flour, shallots, celery, cream, thyme, pepper …” he recited, ticking off each ingredient with a finger. “I’ve the herbs and flour and spices in the cupboard there; the rest will be in the cold cellar, or my little vegetable garden out back.” 

“Excellent. I’m anxious to try out this oyster stew on Merry. Frodo’s not the only one who’s been eating poorly lately. Merry’s been picking at his food, too, and I don’t have to tell you how unusual that is. But I can’t get him to tell me what’s wrong. He says he isn’t ill, but then what could be the matter with him?” Pippin’s green eyes were shadowed with worry.

“I wish I knew, Mr. Pippin. But if Mr. Merry won’t tell you, ‘tis not likely he’d confide in me.”

“Well, Gandalf assured me that Frodo and Merry will not only like the oyster stew, they will both feel much improved after eating it. Invigourated was the word he used. I do hope he’s right.” 

“Aye, and so do I, Mr. Pippin,” said Sam with feeling as he began moving around the kitchen, taking boxes and jars down from the shelves. “Mr. Frodo had another bad night last night: moaning in his sleep he was, as if he was in pain, and when I went to put my arms around him- just to comfort him, like I always do- he woke up and pulled away, all flustered-like. Turned his back on me and pretended he was asleep, but I could tell he weren’t.” 

His eyes teared up and he dashed his sleeve across them. “I wish I knew what was paining him so, and why he won’t confide in me no more. It fair breaks my heart to see him growing pale and thin again. Why, he’s only just built up his strength after the terrible cruel time he had in Mordor.” 

“Oh Sam, trust me, I can sympathise. Merry’s symptoms sound exactly the same as Frodo’s,” said Pippin, pacing restlessly around the kitchen after Sam. “Why, last night I sat on his bed for the longest time trying to get him to talk to me about what’s wrong, until he told me flat out to go away and stop being a nuisance. Me, a nuisance to Merry? I tell you, Sam, something is definitely amiss- with both my cousins.” He brightened. “But Gandalf doesn’t seem to think it’s serious, whatever is troubling them. I described the symptoms to him and he simply looked enigmatic in that way he has, and said not to worry, that the oyster stew would fix the problem. ”

“Well, oysters must have a right powerful healing virtue then- like kingsfoil maybe,” Sam mused. “But I hope they taste better than they look, or Mr. Frodo won’t touch them.”

“Gandalf rode all the way to Pelargir on Shadowfax to fetch them for you, Sam,” Pippin reminded him. “That’s got to mean something. Anyway, I expect they look more –um- appetising on the inside.” Pippin pushed up the sleeve of his tunic and removed one of the oysters from the bucket. “There’s only one way to find out,” he said. He drew his dagger from its sheath at his belt and started to push the tip of the blade into the hinge of the oyster where the two sides joined. 

He paused at Sam’s startled, “Mr. Pippin, what are you doing?”

“I’m shucking the oyster. At least I think Gandalf called it ‘shucking’. Anyway, there’s a trick to opening oyster shells, Sam. Watch.” Pippin screwed up his face in concentration. He drove in the dagger point and twisted it sharply; the oyster popped open. Pippin gave Sam a triumphant look and held the oyster aloft with a flourish. “See? Gandalf says it’s all in the wrist.”

“I see that you’d best put on your gauntlets whilst you do that, or Mr. Frodo won’t be the only hobbit missing a finger,” Sam said dryly. “And easy now, or you’ll spill the liquor and I need it for the recipe.” Sam grabbed a couple of bowls from the cupboard and handed one to the other hobbit. “Pour it in here.”

Pippin obediently tipped the juice from the shell into the bowl. He showed the oyster to Sam. “What do you think?”

Sam took the opened oyster and studied it. It did look more appetizing on the inside, he decided. The shell was pearlescent, and as smooth to the touch as the exterior was rough. The meat itself was cream-coloured and faintly glossy. He held it to his nose and smelled it. The scent was unusual: musky, and it put him in mind of- 

He went scarlet and thrust the oyster back at Pippin. “’Tis fine. I have to go down to the cold cellar, Mr. Pippin. You get on with that shucking, or whatever you call it. Mr. Merry and Mr. Frodo will be back soon and I want to have that stew ready for them.” He hurried away, still blushing furiously.

Pippin raised the oyster to his nose and took a hesitant sniff, wondering what had so embarrassed his friend. Certainly it smelled different: not like meat or fish at all. It was a musky smell, really, and reminded him of- 

Pippin began to laugh, picturing the look on Sam’s face. “Poor Sam,” he chortled, dropping the oyster in the other bowl. But he was rather red in the face himself as he pulled on his gauntlets and set to work shucking the remaining oysters.

***

“Here we go.” Sam set the steaming pot of oyster stew carefully down on the kitchen table. “Pass me them bowls, Mr. Merry, if you please.”

Merry did as requested, and Sam ladled generous portions of the stew into each bowl. He distributed them and took his place on the bench beside Frodo who, to Sam’s distress, edged slightly away, as if compelled to put a greater distance between them.

“What is this, Sam?” asked Merry curiously. “It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever eaten before.”

“Oyster stew, Mr. Merry,” replied Sam as he began to slice a loaf of crusty hot bread to go with the stew. “’Tis a rare delicacy, Mr. Gandalf says.”

Whilst Sam and Pippin looked on anxiously, Merry took a taste of the stew. His eyebrows shot up. “I have no idea what an oyster may be,” he said, “but I wish we had them in the Shire. This is delicious, Sam.” He quickly ate another bite. Pippin gave Sam a happy, conspiratorial grin.

Preparing the oyster stew had been a challenge and no mistake, thought Sam as he watched Merry and Pippin tuck into their meals. Not that the recipe was difficult, but working with them oysters… The very scent of them put such ideas into Sam’s brain as made him blush all over his body, and he could tell it was having a similar effect on Pippin. After sharing one embarrassed glance, neither of them had so much as dared look at the other as they prepared the meal and set the table. 

But even whilst he was blushing, a part of Sam had been wondering: what exactly had Gandalf meant when he told Pippin that the oyster stew would fix what was ailing Frodo? Did he know the sort of effect it had on a body? Did he expect it to have that very effect on Frodo and Merry? 

Oh, how Sam hoped for both his sake and Pippin’s that that was indeed what Gandalf expected. If the oyster stew could put such ideas in his master’s brain as had taken up lodging in Sam’s, then perhaps before the night was over… But best not to get his hopes too high. Still, the memory of those breathy moans had taken on an entirely new aspect, as had the feverish look in Frodo’s blue eyes when he wakened from his dreams. Maybe Mr. Frodo already had those ideas, but had been too shy to share them with Sam...

Heart beating fast with anticipation, Sam turned to Frodo, who was staring without enthusiasm at his own bowl. “Eat up now, Mr. Frodo,” he urged gently. “You don’t want your food getting cold.”

Frodo sighed. “All right, Sam.” Listlessly, he picked up his spoon and dipped it into the bowl. He raised it to his mouth and took a tentative taste whilst Sam held his breath. 

“Mmmm…” Frodo murmured, eyes opening wide with pleased surprise. “Merry is right; this is delicious. You’ve outdone yourself, my- that is, Sam. What did you say this is called again?” He inched a little closer to Sam as he spoke.

“Oyster stew, Mr. Frodo,” Sam replied, and thought that if Gandalf had been there, he would have jumped up and hugged the old wizard, maybe even danced him around the kitchen for good measure. 

An ecstatic Sam would have been content simply to sit and watch Frodo eat, but Frodo soon noticed that his gardener had not yet touched his own food. “But this won’t do, Sam dear,” he protested, inching even closer. “You must eat up. Why, this stew is positively invigourating. It will do you a world of good, I am certain.”

Obediently, Sam took a bite of the stew- his first, for though Sam (like every good cook) always tasted his dishes before serving them, this was one time he simply hadn’t dared. He’d been afraid that it might result in him, well, losing control of himself so to speak- and with Mr. Pippin, too. Not that he weren’t fond of the lad, of course, but there’d only ever been one hobbit for Samwise Gamgee, and it weren’t Peregrin Took. He was right certain Pippin shared his feelings on the perils of eating the stew too soon, for the food-loving Took had neither pestered Sam for a taste, nor tried to steal a bite when Sam’s back was turned.

Fortunately, even without the taste testing, the stew had turned out to be as delicious as Merry and Frodo had said: rich and creamy and flavourful. As it made its way down his throat and into his stomach, a tingling sort of sensation began to spread through Sam’s body, as if tiny sparks were shooting out and down his limbs. It was the very same feeling he got when he woke in the night and found Frodo curled up in his arms, all warm yielding flesh, his pale cheeks flushed with sleep, his soft dark curls tickling the base of Sam’s throat, his breaths dampening the skin over Sam’s collarbone… 

Oysters certainly did have a most wondrous virtue, Sam thought with fervour, and immediately took another bite, the better to enjoy the sensations coursing through him.

Save for the sound of spoons clinking on china, silence reigned in the kitchen as Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin concentrated on their meal with a dedication that was remarkable even for hobbits. But then Sam became aware that Frodo had finished his stew, and was mopping up the last bit of sauce with a piece of the bread. And he was watching Sam with an expression that caused the tingling sensation to spread from Sam’s fingers and toes to quite another place altogether. That feverish look was back, but Frodo wasn’t turning away to hide it from Sam now- quite the reverse.

“May I have some more stew please?” Frodo asked, holding out his empty bowl. Sam took the bowl, nearly dropping it as Frodo’s fingers lingered on his own. He clumsily filled it, the ladle shaking in his hand as if he was suffering from the ague. He handed the bowl back to Frodo, who smiled and lightly stroked his wrist. “Dear Sam,” he murmured, “how can I ever thank you for preparing this marvelous dish?”

Sam could think of any number of answers to that question.

It now dawned on Sam that Frodo’s arm and thigh were pressed up firmly against his own: how had that happened? A glance across the table showed that Merry and Pippin were sitting even closer together- practically in each other’s lap, in point of fact- and they were feeding each other pieces of bread dipped in the stew, and with their fingers no less.

Suddenly, Sam jumped in his seat like a scalded cat. What was that? He felt it again, a tickling sensation on his leg. Was it-? It was! Frodo was slowly running the top of his foot up and down the back of Sam’s calf; the feel of the silky-fine foot hair sliding sensuously against his bare skin was causing all sorts of pleasurable new sensations to streak like quicksilver through his body. Sam squirmed a little in his seat, his trousers suddenly feeling too tight. Sweat broke out on his forehead. One quick look at Frodo, and his mouth went dry. Oh glory…

Frodo had a spoonful of stew poised in the air. When he knew Sam was watching, he opened his rosy lips and, with agonising slowness, inserted the spoon between them. He closed his mouth around the spoon, and then withdrew it just as slowly; all the while his foot continued its deliberate journey: up and down, up and down Sam’s calf. Sam’s eyes became riveted to a small spot of creamy sauce on Frodo’s upper lip; Frodo licked it away, his pink tongue darting out provocatively. 

Sam felt like his entire body might go up in flames at any moment.

Well, the oyster stew certainly had made his master and Mr. Merry feel better, just as Gandalf had promised, he thought dazedly. In fact, if they kept on feeling better at the present rate, things would soon be happening that had no place in a respectable kitchen- although to be honest, at that moment Sam couldn’t really bring himself to care one jot about respectability.

Instead, with the greatest daring, he lifted his own foot and imitated Frodo’s gesture. Frodo gave Sam a sultry look and set a caressing hand on his thigh. Sam gasped, “Frodo!” just as Pippin squeaked loudly, “Me-rry!” Sam had a suspicion that Mr. Merry’s hands were doing some roaming of their own, but he didn’t look, couldn’t look, not with Frodo’s feverish blue eyes pinning his own, and his warm hand slowly inching its way toward-

A door banged loudly and Gimli’s gruff voice could be heard. “I’m telling you, Master Elf, that Gandalf doesn’t want the hobbits disturbed. He said we should spend the night at the Old Guesthouse.”

“But they have oysters, friend Gimli. Oysters! Surely they will not wish to keep such a gift from the Sea to themselves!”

The hobbits barely had time to disentangle their limbs, move apart and straighten their clothes before the kitchen door flew open.

***

Gimli was hard on Legolas’s heels as the Elf bounded exuberantly into the kitchen. But the Dwarf halted dead in his tracks when he saw that four pairs of exceedingly resentful hobbit eyes were fixed upon him and Legolas.

He had felt a warmer welcome on the Paths of the Dead.

“Legolas…” he began, tugging at the back of the Elf’s leather jerkin, and trying to get his attention. But his friend ignored him. 

“My dear hobbits, Gimli and I were informed that you are having oysters for supper, and we are most desirous of sharing your bounty. I hope you do not mind?” Legolas smiled serenely at the hobbits, completely oblivious to the chilly atmosphere.

“Leave my name out of it, Elf,” Gimli muttered, wondering that Legolas’s lifeless body was not sprawled in a heap on the floor, slain by the dagger looks being thrown his way. Legolas was spared that gruesome fate, however, for Frodo suddenly jumped to his feet.

“Not at all, Legolas,” said Frodo, placing a hand on his heart and bowing graciously, “You and Gimli are most welcome indeed. But I fear you must excuse us. Sam and I were about to go and, um, take a small nap. Yes, a nap, for we are very, um, tired and so, I expect, are Merry and Pippin. Very tired indeed. Yes. Well. We’ll leave you to it, then.” He held out his hand to Sam, who took it at once, wearing an expression on his face that caused Gimli’s bearded jaw to drop in astonishment. “Good evening.”

Gimli’s jaw dropped further as the two hobbits bolted from the kitchen with what could only be called indecent haste. Hardly had Frodo and Sam got out the door, when Merry and Pippin, hands clasped, were up and following, hurrying from the room without so much as a fare-thee-well.

Legolas raised one elegant eyebrow and surveyed the unfinished meal with wonder. “Have you ever known hobbits to leave the table before the last crumb was eaten, Gimli? I wonder what ails them. Still, that means more for us, does it not?” He sat down and pulled the hobbits’ bowls to him. “Come, sit and eat, my friend. Oysters are a rare treat indeed, one you should not miss.” 

When Gimli did not move, he continued, “You are not put off, I hope, by the strange tales Men tell of the aphrodisiacal effect of oysters? They are quite untrue, I assure you.” Legolas took a bite of stew and closed his eyes, an expression of most un-Elf-like bliss upon his face. 

Gimli looked thoughtfully from his friend to the door whence the hobbits had disappeared. “I’d like to join you, friend Legolas,” said he, “but I’m, ah, allergic to shellfish.”

~end~



Recipe notes: 1. Oysters have long been considered an aphrodisiac (Rudolph Valentino is rumored to have eaten 50 oysters every day...) Oysters are very high in zinc, which can help with libido. They also have a distinctive odor that is supposed to resemble a pheromone that has an, um, invigorating effect. 2. Of course, Gandalf would never have written Worcestershire sauce as one of the ingredients, but there are recipes for making your own WS that include ingredients Sam could probably have come up with in a pinch. 3. This is a recipe of my mom's and while I myself don't eat oysters, those who've tried this have enjoyed it very much (although not quite in the same way as the hobbits :)

OYSTER STEW

1 Pint oysters with their liquor
Bottled clam juice as needed
1 Quart whole milk heated to below boil
2 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. each minced shallots and celery
2 Rounded Tbs. flour
1 Tsp. each salt, ground thyme, paprika and celery seed
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 Cup heavy cream
Several dashes hot sauce

Strain oysters and set aside in separate containers. Add enough clam juice to make 1 cup liquid. Melt butter in heavy 3-quart saucepan. Add shallots and celery and cook over medium heat until soft. Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir until smooth. Add salt, thyme, paprika, celery seed and Worcestershire sauce and mix well. Gradually add about a cup of the hot milk, stirring until mixture is smooth and thickened. Slowly stir in remaining milk, oyster liquid and the cream. Add hot sauce and taste for desired zip. Just before serving add oysters to hot broth and cook just until they are no longer raw. Ladle into heated soup bowls and serve with common or oyster crackers or buttered toast points. Serves 4 to 6.