The Pumpkin of Erebor
The letter to The Shire was simple enough. To Drogo Baggins, all of Bag End, its possessions and wealth were left. Drogo’s first born, when he had a child, was to be named Bilbo’s heir, ensuring the home of the Baggins' would be kept within the family . The only things Bilbo requested from the Shire to be sent to him in his new home in Erebor were his beloved armchair and seeds. Seeds of every kind – fruit, vegetable, and herb. Anything and everything The Shire had to offer in the way of seeds.
Half a year later, an arm chair and a small trunk arrived for Bilbo from The Shire with a note of thanks from Drogo. In the trunk were dozens and dozens of linen bundles, each protecting precious life giving seeds. In the half year from when Bilbo had written the letter and the arrival of the trunk of seeds, Bilbo had not been idle. Upon moving into Erebor, Bilbo had discovered an enormous garden, highly overgrown, near the main kitchens. Thorin explained that while Erebor had never needed to do any farming, the head cooks of old had loved having access to fresh herbs, fruits and some vegetables to add into the foods they cooked.
The gardens were ingenious in their design. A complex set-up of polished glass bounced rays of sunshine from the outside, right into the mountain garden, flooding it with light and heat. Some of the glass had been broken in the hundred plus years of Smaug’s occupation, and so patches of the garden were dark.
Thorin gave the garden to Bilbo, as a gift, and Bilbo was thrilled. He had immediately set to work cleaning the garden and ridding it of all its over growth. Thorin promised to have the glass replaced as soon as possible, but Bilbo told him not to worry about it just yet. There was so much of Erebor to be cleaned up, replaced, stabilized and restored, Bilbo knew that his garden’s glass shouldn’t come too highly on Thorin’s clean up list. What light he had in the garden was a good start. Perhaps in a few years, once he had the main part of the garden established would he ask Thorin to replace the glass and give him his full garden.
Thorin rarely went into the garden. It wasn’t that he couldn’t. He was the king! Of course he could go into the garden. And it wasn’t that he wasn’t welcomed. Bilbo had made it very clear that Thorin was indeed welcomed to visit the garden, and Bilbo’s face would light up with delight one those rare occasions Thorin would visit.
No, the reason he had visited so few times was that he felt like he was intruding somewhere he didn’t belong. The garden was Bilbo’s pride and joy. It was his hobbity sanctuary of green and growing things in a world of dwarves and stone, and Thorin didn’t feel right invading the hobbit’s refuge with his large boots and dwarvishness.
Mid-summer's day had just passed and Thorin thought he'd make a visit to the gardens to see how well Bilbo was getting along. He couldn’t hide his surprise when he walked into the garden. The last time he had been here, the ground was dirt and Bilbo was planting seeds. Now, months later, those seeds had grown into lush plants. It was an explosion of light and color – green dominating most of the color. It was beautiful and there was a pleasant, earthy smell. In that first moment, Thorin felt like backing out of there as quickly as possible; he didn’t belong here.
But at the same time, he wanted to throw off his coats and kick off his boots and just wander the lush garden in his bare feet and soak up the peace that permeated the air.
“Hello, Thorin!” Bilbo waved a dirty hand at him.
Thorin walked over to where Bilbo knelt on the ground. Bilbo was grinning and he held up a small green plant.
“I’m just thinning the carrots,” Bilbo explained.
Thorin nodded, not entirely sure how one was meant to respond to the declaration of carrots being thinned. “Your garden is impressive. Last time I was here, you were just starting to plant and everything was bare.”
“Oh yes, it has changed a great deal, hasn’t it?” Bilbo clapped his hands together, knocking off a fair amount of dirt. He stood up.
Thorin saw the dark areas of the garden. Nothing grew there. “I’ll get those polished glasses installed as soon as I can.”
Bilbo noticed his gaze at the unlit spots of the garden. “No hurry this year,” Bilbo waved his hand casually. “I’ve got more than enough to keep me busy right now. This year is good. It’s giving me the chance to learn the soil here.
“You’ve decorated,” Thorin pointed to a line of sparkling stones that lined the walking pathways.
Bilbo blushed. “I do hope you don’t mind. I was out talking to Fili one day when this large supply of rocks came from the mountain and were being dumped. Fili said it was waste rock from the mines and not worth anything, but some of them sparkled in the light. I asked him if I could have some of the stone if they were truly waste rock. Fili assured me they were worthless and that I was welcome to the rock if I wanted it. I suppose I should have asked you.”
Thorin smiled. “If you have Fili’s permission, then you have mine." Thorin bent down to look at the stone. He picked one up and inspected it. "Yes, these stones have bits of calcite in them and are quite worthless to us. It’s the calcite that sparkles in the stone. I’m glad you have found use for them.”
Bilbo gave Thorin a tour of the garden, telling him about many of the plants. They were all useful plants – vegetables and herbs for eating, as well as herbs used for pipe weed and medicines. Apparently Oin was quite happy with Bilbo’s extensive herb garden as it was keeping him well stocked with medicinal herbs.
They reached a spot in the garden where huge arms of green ivy snaked across the ground. In the middle of the ivy was something massive and orange.
Thorin pointed at it. “What is that?”
Bilbo blinked a few times, his eyes grew wide. “It’s a pumpkin, Thorin,” he answered.
“Are you not familiar with pumpkins or squash?” Bilbo asked with interest.
“Master Baggins, what you have to remember is for the last century, we’ve been scrapping a life out of a mountain range that could support very few plants.”
“Ah, yes, right,” Bilbo’s fingers twitched slightly. “Forgive me. I tend to forget not everywhere is as fertile as the Shire. But truly, you have not seen a pumpkin or eaten pumpkin?”
“You can eat that?” Thorin asked looking at wonder at the large round thing growing in Bilbo's garden.
“Oh yes, and it is so very tasty. Just you wait,” Bilbo laughed at Thorin’s shocked expression. “When the time is right, I’ll make you all sorts of foods with this pumpkin and it will be so delicious.”
* * * *
“Come on Kili,” Bilbo held the door open for the young prince. "Careful now."
Gathered in the royal hall’s common room, was Thorin and his company. They sat together around a table and were speculating why their burglar had called them together like this. They watched Kili stagger in.
In Kili’s arms was a huge, round orange object. His long arms barely fit around the girth of the orange thing. Bilbo instructed Kili to gently set it down on the table. Kili did and stepped back. Bilbo looked around at his companions. All their eyes were on the large pumpkin.
“What is that thing?” Ori spoke up and asked the question that was on everyone’s mind, except Thorin’s.
“This, my dear friends, is a pumpkin. It's a type of squash,” Bilbo rubbed his hand lovingly over the smooth orange surface. The looks on his companion’s faces told him they had no idea what a squash was.
“A squash? Do you sit on it?” Nori asked.
Bilbo chuckled. “No. A pumpkin is a type of fruit.”
“That’s a fruit? Like an apple?” Fili looked at the pumpkin in horror.
Bilbo was aware of Fili’s unreasonable dislike of apples. “No, Fili, it is not like an apple.” He sighed in an amused way. Oh the joys of teaching dwarves about different kinds of edible plants. “Pumpkins grow on a vine on the ground. They have large seeds inside and are very tasty. Now, since none of you have seen a pumpkin, I’m going to teach you the joys of this amazing plant.”
The dwarves looked at each other skeptically. Bilbo retrieved a large, sharp knife. “We could just cut it right in half. That is certainly the easiest way to get the seeds out, but I think we’ll have a little fun, so I’m going to cut an opening at the top.” He stabbed the knife into the thick skinned pumpkin and carefully, but quickly cut a circular hole at the top. He lifted the top off and set it aside. Several dwarves leaned forward to see the inside. Bilbo set the knife down and pushed up his sleeves. He reached into the pumpkin and pulled up a handful of the slimy innards. Dwalin stepped back in some alarm.
“These white tear-drop shaped things are the seeds. I will save some of them to plant next year, but the rest we will roast to eat. I’ll just set this in a bowl.” He dropped the handful into a large ceramic bowl. “Now, who will be the first to brave the pumpkin and help pull out the seeds?”
Bilbo looked around. Kili stepped up. “I’ll do it!” He was never one to ignore a challenge. He stuck his hand in and immediately pulled is back. “It’s slimy! Is it suppose to be slimy?” he asked. Bilbo nodded. Kili grinned and stuck his hand back into the pumpkin. “It’s hard to get a handful. You’ve got to try this, Fili!” A moment later he pulled his hand back, a fistful of the pumpkin innards were in his hand. He gave it a squeeze and watched as the goo squished between his fingers. “No wonder it’s called a squash.”
Fili came up next and shove his hand in. He let out a laugh as he dug about for a few moments. He too deposited a fistful of the slimy seeds into the bowl. “That is a strange feeling. It’s cold and slimy,” Fili said. Kili nodded. They kept working at it.
“Now, if some of you don’t want to reach into the pumpkin, I do need the seeds to be separated from the rest of the stuff and then we can wash them before we roast them,” Bilbo said.
Dori looked at the bowl. He poked a finger into the goo and looked up at Bilbo in a scandalized way. “We’re going to eat this?”
“Just the seeds,” Bilbo answered.
Not surprisingly, Bombur was the one to take the bowl and start getting the seeds from it. He placed the seeds into another bowl that Bilbo had ready. Ori moved next to him and helped him. Bofur came and reached into the pumpkin. He grinned at the prince brothers. They both let out a knowing laugh.
Oin, Gloin, Balin and Thorin sat back and watched. Dwalin stood a ways off and kept a close eye on the proceedings. With Bilbo’s help, they got out all the goo and separated most of the seeds. Bombur took the seeds to be washed.
“Now,” Bilbo smiled at the group of sticky handed dwarves, “in the Shire, some of the youth enjoy carving a face into the side of the pumpkin.”
“Why would you do something like that?” Fili asked.
“For fun,” was Bilbo’s simple answer. He took the knife once again and stabbed it into the side of the pumpkin. Moments later, he had cut a large triangle out of the side. Then he carved another along next to it. He handed the knife to Fili. “See? I've made the eyes. Here, Fili. You’re turn. Give it a nose. Triangles are easiest.”
Fili’s tongue stuck out ever so slightly in concentration as he carved the triangular nose. Kili and Bofur laughed to see the face form in the pumpkin’s side. Bilbo took the knife again and very gently, drew a jagged outline for the mouth. Following the line Bilbo had traced, Bofur carved out half of the mouth and Ori finished it. While they worked on that, Bilbo went to Bombur. He picked out a dozen of the seeds and wrapped them in a linen bundle. He would save those to plant for next year. The rest were spread out on a baking pan. They sprinkled the seeds with salt and spices and then placed them on a grate over the fire.
When the carving was completed, Bilbo took a candle and placed it inside the pumpkin. Everyone watched with enormous interest. They had never seen the like. Bilbo lit the candle and put the lid back on. Laughter broke out among the company as they looked on at the glowing face in the pumpkin.
“So that’s what you do with a pumpkin?” Balin asked.
“It’s part of what you do with a pumpkin. I haven’t carved a face like that since I was in my twenties. Tomorrow, I’ll take the pumpkin and cook it. Once I scoop out all the fleshy insides, I’ll have a wonderful puree in which I will make you so many dishes. Pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake and of course, pumpkin pie.” He went over to the roasting seeds and removed them from the fire. "Careful, they’re still hot. Roasted seeds are a wonderful little snack. Perfect for munching while reading a book.” He picked up a few seeds and tossed them into his mouth. “Mmm,” he smiled. “Come on, you lot, try it.”
A few brave dwarves reached out and took a couple of seeds. They popped them into their mouth and started to chew.
Bombur loved them. Fili and Kili laughed at how hard they were to chew, being soft and crunchy. Finally, everyone tried them, except for Dwalin. Nothing anyone could say would convince Dwalin the seeds were indeed edible. They sat around for a long while, talking and enjoying the glowing face inside the pumpkin. Some singing eventually broke out and most of the seeds were eaten.
* * * *
Over the next few days, Bilbo worked on preparing the pumpkin. He made a delicious soup that included several vegetables from his garden. His personal taste tests of the soup were excellent and he was excited to share. He also made a pumpkin pie. The smell was heavenly. Aware that most of the dwarves probably wouldn’t like the soup, he made sure the meal would include a fair serving of meat.
Once again, the dwarves of Thorin’s company, gathered together in the common room. Bilbo had the table set. Bombur’s mouth watered and his eyes were wide in excited anticipation. Several of the others also expressed their approval of the smell of the meal.
Thorin had offered to get Bilbo some hired help, but Bilbo had absolutely refused. He was a hobbit, after all. He was host of this dinner party and in true Hobbit fashion, would be serving his guests himself. With a large tureen in one hand, Bilbo ladled out the soup into the bowls. He had asked that they all wait and not taste until everyone had been served and much to his amazement, they obeyed him.
Bilbo sat down near Thorin. “Alright everyone. Now you may try,” Bilbo picked up his spoon and was about to dig in, but he was the only one.
“Wait!” Dwalin shouted as Bombur finally picked up his spoon. All heads turned to Dwalin. “It’s orange!” Dwalin pointed out. “Orange plants are poisonous.”
Everyone looked in horror at their soup. Dori scooted back slightly.
“Oh, for goodness sake,” Bilbo rolled his eyes. “Not all things orange are poisonous. Carrots are not poisonous.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Dwalin growled. “Never touched one myself. Don’t trust anything orange.”
“We ate the seeds from the orange pumpkin,” Kili pointed out.
“I didn’t,” Dwalin said.
“But everyone else did and no one died,” Bilbo pointed out. The dwarves continued to eye their soup warily. “Do you really think I would poison you all? You, who are my dear friends, who I have fought alongside and bled alongside with. Do you really think I would want to poison you?”
“Of course not,” Dwalin spoke slightly uneasily, “Not on purpose.”
“Look. I’ll show you it’s safe.” Bilbo picked up his spoon and ate a large mouthful of the soup. It was delicious. He sighed happily. “See? I’m not dead.”
“Well, how do we know it’s not poisonous to dwarves?” Dwalin asked.
“Oh for the love of,” Bilbo sighed. “It’s not poisonous. It’s heavenly. Just try it.”
Thorin picked up his spoon and slowly dipped it into the orange soup. Dwalin stiffened as he watched his king put the poisonous looking concoction into his mouth.
Thorin was surprised by the flavor and texture. He let it sit on his tongue for a few moments as the taste filled his mouth. Every eye was on him. He wasn’t sure he liked the flavor much, but Bilbo had worked so hard on it and sharing this meant so much to him. He wouldn’t let his burglar down. He swallowed and nodded his head. There was a collective exhale from the group.
“It’s a most interesting taste. I’ve never had anything quite like it. It’s good, in its way,” the king said.
Bilbo smiled. It was more of a compliment than he ever expected from Thorin. The rest of the company, sans Dwalin, picked up their spoons and tasted their soup. Bombur thought it delicious. Fili and Kili eyed it oddly, but tried a few more spoonful’s.
Ori poked his spoon around in the soup and looked at the mixture. “Is there anything green in here?” he asked.
“No, Ori. It is pumpkin, potatoes and onions,” Bilbo assured him.
Dwalin refused to try the soup. He didn’t care if he hurt Bilbo’s feelings or not.
Bilbo only laughed. “Don’t worry, Dwalin, my friend. I didn’t expect everyone to love the soup. I have a nice roasted boar all ready for you.”
Dwalin smiled. Bilbo set out the meat, bread and other dishes and they ate with much merriment. Bilbo listened with great interest to Thorin’s report on how the cleanup was going in the areas surrounding the great hall that had held Smaug’s treasure hoard.
Dwalin continued to keep a close eye on his king. He half expected him to keel over and die from having eaten the orange soup.
As the meal came to an end, Bilbo had the dwarves take all their dishes to the large wash basin. They were quickly cleaned and neatly stacked. Bilbo announced a dessert and everyone eagerly sat down.
Bilbo produced a large, round, dark orange pie. It smelled of spices. Thorin took a deep breath. He wasn’t sure about the taste of pumpkin, but he knew this pie smelled incredible.
“This is a pumpkin pie. It is so sweet and delicious,” Bilbo began to slice the pie and plates were passed about.
Dori made a funny noise and everyone looked at him. His fork hung just out of his mouth. He let out an embarrassed smile. “It’s amazing.”
Kili eagerly dove into his slice. His face lit up with a grin.
Not to be outdone, Fili was next. “Oh,” Fili moaned happily. “Dwalin, you have to try this.”
With that, everyone dug into their pie and ooh’s and aah’s were heard across the table. Bilbo brought a plate to Dwalin and held it out. “Would you like to try?” Bilbo said. “I promise it is not going to kill you. You might even like it.”
Dwalin sighed and took the plate. He lifted it to his nose and smelled it. It smelled good. A forkful was brought to his lips and he gingerly ate the pie. He couldn’t help the smile that crossed his face.
Everyone cheered and Bilbo let out a relieved laugh. In the end, Dwalin had three helpings of the pie.
* * * *
“Bilbo,” Thorin called out quietly into the royal garden, “are you here?”
Bilbo’s head popped up. “Hello Thorin. I don’t know how many times I’ve told you, you don’t need to whisper in the garden.”
Thorin smiled. “I know, but this garden feels like it’s a place of peace and rest and such reverent places are to be respected.”
Bilbo smiled. “That’s one of the nicest ideas I’ve ever heard about a garden. I had a neighbor, back in the Shire, who swore that talking to her garden made the plants grow bigger. I don’t know if that’s true,” Bilbo laughed, “But there is something about a garden that brings peace of mind. I often find myself talking out loud while I work here.”
Thorin chuckled. “And what do you tell your plants?”
“Oh, I talk about the Shire, old friends, and I wonder how my cousin’s getting along in Bag End. And of course, I talk about my new friends and my new home. Sometimes, I'll tell myself stories and I often sing.”
“That must be why the pumpkin grew so incredibly large,” Thorin said.
Bilbo laughed. “Perhaps.”
“Will you be growing pumpkins again next year?” Thorin asked.
“Oh yes,” Bilbo assured him.
“Good. Dwalin is already asking for more pumpkin pie,” Thorin grinned.
Bilbo laughed. “Tell him not to worry. I still have some pumpkin left over from this year’s and I’ll make him pie again very soon.”
“He will be most pleased. Thank you, Bilbo, for sharing your garden with us.”
Bilbo smiled at the king. “It’s a Hobbit’s greatest pleasure to feed their friends good foods. Especially foods we have grown ourselves. Besides Thorin, it’s really your garden.”
“No Bilbo, it’s yours and anything you need to make this garden better, you just let me know. I’ll make sure to have those polished glasses in place next spring so you can grow a dozen pumpkins for Dwalin.”
Bilbo laughed and nodded. Next year's garden was going to be great.