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Recipes From Middle-Earth? Not very believable.
on February 18, 2003
I received Regional Cooking from Middle-Earth as a Yuletide gift, and was very excited to see it after having read a positive review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. However, after closely looking through the book, I'm sorry to say that I can only give it 1 star. It seems Stephanie Simmons (Emerald Took) had some fun in creating the book, but it's just not what I had in mind. Here are my main problems with it:
* The very title, Regional Cooking from Middle-Earth, is misleading with respect to the content. Most of the recipes (apart from a few exceptions, including interpretations of Ent Draught and Lembas) are pretty modern and commonplace, such as hamburgers, chili, three-bean-salad, deviled eggs, etc. There is nothing resembling Middle-Earth in these versions of typical American foods, and their banality is disguised by an exotic Elvish name.
* The recipes are supposed to reflect geographical regions, and I know that the author's intent was to leave many of them open to vegetarians and sometimes vegans (which is great), but she uses vegetable oil (something I can't imagine being widely available in Middle-Earth, except perhaps far South) as the fat in sweets such as cakes. It seems more likely that butter would be used instead. Speaking of not being widely available in Middle-Earth, I doubt Miracle Whip (which appears in recipes) existed there, either.
* It is self-published (spiral-bound). Spiral binding can be useful in a cookbook, but the unprofessional look of the text ends up being more annoying than charming. The font used throughout the book is presumably meant to look quaint, but unfortunately makes readability a problem. Also, the book is in need of a simple copy editor - there are several grammatical errors that would be easy to fix had someone just given it a second look.
* A personal quibble, but in the recipes, the author often calls for powdered herbs such as dried basil and dried parsley. Since the author extols the virtues of fresh and whole foods elsewhere in the book, why not extend this to herbs? Some are fine dried, such as rosemary, but dried parsley? It tastes like nothing!
To summarize, my expectations of Regional Cooking from Middle-Earth must have been far too high, or just off the mark. I apologize if this criticism sounds too harsh; it's just one opinion, after all. However, as a big fan of Tolkien as well as an advocate of cooking ethnic dishes and unprocessed foods of all kinds, I'd hoped to find a wonderful marriage of interesting, simple, and above all, original recipes which the author took care to match with the many regions of Middle Earth (for example, English countryside-style fare in the Shire). Instead, it's a fairly pedestrian American cookbook with the recipe names in Elvish, a handful of genuinely imaginative, Middle-Earth-inspired recipes, and some anecdotes (which admittedly are sweet and add a homey touch to the book). And although it is clearly an effort of love, and the book could have seemed like a charming endeavor within the author's close friends and family...to the rest of the world, it just seems perplexing what most of the content has to do with Middle Earth.
The Middle-Earth-inspired recipes could have been posted (or offered for sale) on one of the many Tolkien fan sites; the rest of them ought to have stayed in the author's kitchen. I hope it isn't true, but I can't help but wonder if, in composing this cookbook, the author wanted to capitalize a bit on Tolkien's recent popularity...