SUMMARY: According to The Hobbit, Bilbo and Gandalf spent the winter with Beorn, before heading home in the spring...
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
MARIGOLD'S CHALLENGE #31
YULE AMONG THE BEORNINGS
"…by mid-winter Gandalf and Bilbo had come all the way back, along both edges of the Forest, to the doors of Beorn's house; and there for a while they both stayed. Yule-tide was warm and merry there; and men came from far and wide to feast at Beorn's bidding."*
Bilbo sat on the bench in the veranda, swinging his legs, as he smoked his pipe thoughtfully. It was the dead of winter, of course, and no time to be wandering in the Wild, but in spite of being as well-fed and comfortable as he had ever been before on this journey, he *did* wish he was home today.
A shadow loomed over him, and a deep rumbly voice said, "And what is the matter today, Master Hobbit? You seem sad."
Bilbo glanced briefly at his host, and then shrugged. "It is of no importance, Beorn, and nothing to be done about it if it were."
"Still, I would like to know why one of my guests has such a long face? Is there something you are lacking?" In spite of himself, Beorn had grown quite fond of this unassuming and humble little creature, who seemed to have no idea that he was a true hero. Since the hobbit and Gandalf were staying with him through the winter, he had come to know Bilbo fairly well, and was used to seeing the cheerful round face, as the hobbit enjoyed every moment of the day.
"It's just-at home, today would be what we call first Yule-the turning of the year!" Bilbo sighed once more. "I suppose I am simply homesick. If I were in my cozy little hole of Bag End, well, I should have spent the morning hanging a bit of greenery about the hall, and then I should have been busy cooking in my own little kitchen, getting ready for my guests to arrive. My cousins on the Baggins side, you see-Cousin Polo and his wife Verbena-she was a Boffin, and their children Posco and Prisca. And Posco's pretty little bride Rosella, who was a Bunce. And my cousin Fosco and his children Dora, Drogo and Dudo. I'm very fond of Drogo, really a very bright and promising young hobbit. With luck, my Uncle Longo would have taken his family off to see his wife Camillia's Sackville relations-I have to say that Uncle Longo and I have never seen eye to eye about things-still he's Family, all said…" Bilbo's voice trailed off, and he was silent for a moment longer, before continuing. "But I do miss cooking. I would have made roast goose, and we would have had bashed neeps and roasted carrots and potatoes. And perhaps there would have been some cabbage still, in the cold cellar, to put with some apples and make a slaw. And I could have used some of the dried mushrooms to make a lovely soup, all fragrant with onions and rosemary. I would have roasted the goose to a turn, you see, all nice and golden-brown, and made a figgy pudding for afters, and perhaps a seedcake as well, and there would have been some nice hard cheese from Pincup or Michel Delving to aid in filling up the corners, and some Old Winyards…"
Beorn was not quite sure what to say to this wistful recital. He had listened to the hobbit enough by now to know that Bilbo could rhapsodize over food for hours. He spoke no word of remonstrance at the mention of roast goose-though he served no meat at his own table, he would not criticize his guest- and interrupted the flow of words.
"It is Yule here as well, Master Hobbit, and we shall be entertaining guests tonight I do believe. I've much baking yet to do. Would you care to join me in my kitchen?"
The look of sheer delight on the hobbit's face was reward enough, and Beorn found himself regretting that he had not invited his guest into his kitchen sooner, if he could be rewarded with such a smile.
Only a short while later, Bilbo found himself in Beorn's immense kitchen, looking about in curiosity. There were two dogs there, who seemed to help their master fetch and carry. Bilbo tied a dishtowel about his waist like an apron, and Beorn pulled up a chair to a large wooden table.
Bilbo felt as though he had been taken back in time, to when he was a faunt in his parents' kitchen, and his Mother or Father allowed him to help in the cooking and baking.
His mouth watered at the lovely smells wafting about the room-a stew thick with vegetables and mushrooms simmered on the hearth. The yeasty smell of rising bread and cakes teased his nose, and he grinned up at his host.
Beorn took out a large crockery bowl filled with the finest of flour, and began to scoop some of it into another smaller wooden bowl. One of the large grey dogs placed a basket of brown eggs upon the table, and another brought a crock of honey.
"Well, my friend, I am going to make honeycakes. Do you wish to help?" asked Beorn.
"Are they like the honeycakes you gave us for our journey?"
"They start out much the same, but those are twice-baked, in order to keep. These are much softer."
Bilbo nodded, and began to follow his host's directions. Soon he found himself kneading the dough, preparing it to rest and rise. "Who will be coming, then, as you say you are expecting guests?"
"My sons and their families will be here, as well as other Men from some of the outlying settlements."
Bilbo's brows rose at this. He had somehow not thought of his host as being one who normally welcomed many guests at a time. Perhaps it was only Dwarves that had made him suspicious. And he was quite astonished at the revelation that Beorn had a family.
What a surprise it was to discover that there were seven sons, all with wives and sons and daughters of their own, who would be visiting! But an incautious question as to their mother caused his host to give a quite terrifying growl.
"Goblins!" was all that he would say, and Beorn turned away, his eyes suspiciously moist, to remove a tray of new loaves from the huge stone oven.
Ah! thought Bilbo. That explained a good deal.
That afternoon the guests began to arrive: Beorn's sons, all tall men, big and sturdy, with black bushy beards much like their father's, though none of them were nearly so tall or so wide as their father. They brought with them their wives, merry young women some dark and some with flaxen hair, and a good many children, far too many for Bilbo to even begin to keep track of. Some of the children indeed, at first thought that Bilbo himself was another child, and wanted him to be their playmate.
He soon disabused them of that, but found himself seated by the hearth and surrounded by them, clamoring for him to tell them stories. He looked across the room, to see Gandalf watching him-the wizard's eyes were merry and twinkling as he enjoyed seeing Bilbo in his predicament.
However, though these children were as large as he was, they were children nonetheless, and soon Bilbo had enthralled them, as he told of the Dwarves coming to his home, and of their encounter with the trolls. He might have gone on to recount more of his journey, but suddenly, there was a baa-ing, and all of them scrambled up to watch Beorn's marvelous sheep coming in to lay the tables, as the ponies rolled in the logs to sit upon, and then the food was brought in.
Bilbo could not quite help a feeling of pride as one of the dogs bore in a great dish of mashed turnips and carrots, well seasoned with butter and cinnamon and honey, which he had himself prepared, as a thanks to his host. And he also felt a glow of accomplishment, as a platter of steaming honeycakes was brought in. He had helped with those-and he knew that he would make them again in his own kitchen at Bag End someday.
The company was merry, and ate and ate-not so much, of course, as hobbits would have on such an occasion-but still it was a lovely spread, and all the guests did justice to it.
And afterwards, there was singing. One of Beorn's sons had brought a harp, another had brought a flute, and still another had brought a great drum. They began to play, and the tables were moved back for dancing.
Bilbo did not know any of these dances, but some of the children pulled him in anyway, and he capered among them, feeling quite jolly, and as happy as he had ever felt since leaving his own home.
Gradually the younger children began to tire, and soon some were sleeping on the floor by the hearth, and the very youngest slept in their mother's arms.
Tired, but feeling very content, Bilbo wished his host good night, and found his own little sleeping chamber.
But as he drifted off, he could not help but wonder what kind of Yule they were having in the Shire…
* From The Hobbit, Chapter VII, "Queer Lodgings"
1/3 cup cream (or substitute evaporated milk)
¼ cup water
¼ cup honey
¼ cup butter
½ teaspoon salt
2 2/3 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons yeast
¼ cup raisins (or currants or other small dried fruit or berries
4 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons butter
Combine dough ingredients except for raisins. When well mixed to form a ball, turn out onto a floured surface. Add the raisins, and then knead into the dough. Knead for about 5 minutes. (Or if you have one, you can use a bread machine, set on the "dough only" setting.)
Let dough rest for about 30 minutes or so, and then divide into eight equal portions. Form into round flattened cakes, cover and let rise for about 45 minutes (or until doubled) in a warm draught-free place.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes. While baking, warm the honey and butter until the butter melts. Brush the glaze onto the warm cakes when they are done. If you want, you can let the first "brush on" set a few minutes and then brush on another coat.