“Now that’s what I call a proper cornbread stuffing,” Pippin said admiringly as Sam expertly fluffed the enormous bowl of dried cornbread crumbs and torn bread. But then he pursed his lips and, leaning over the bowl and sniffing delicately, said, “When are you going to put in the …” Pippin closed his mouth when Sam tightened his into a straight line, very unusual behavior for the cheerful Samwise Gamgee.
“And what might that be, Mr. Pippin?” he said. “It seems near perfect to me, as close to my Ma’s as I can make it and you can’t ask more than that, can you? It’s got good white bread and sweet cornbread I made myself in Elrond’s kitchen. I’ve added a handful of dried sage—good thing I packed a bit away in my pack before we left Hobbiton, you can smell it now so fresh like and all. Tomorrow I’ll cook up the chopped onion and celery in melted butter, lots of it, until they’re a little bit soft but not browned. A bit of chicken broth to moisten it before it goes into the bird.”
Pippin snorted. “It’s a big bird but not that big. It can’t take all that, you’ve got a mountain of the stuff. Right, Merry?”
Meriadoc, being wilier in the matter of acquiring his Thanksgiving vittles (not to mention having sampled Sam’s stuffing previously), diplomatically said, “I’m sure Sam has it all figured out.”
“Yes, but where are the raisins and the walnuts? Stuffing needs raisins and walnuts. That’s how we did it at home!”
“Well yes, raisins and walnuts are very fine in stuffing, we always had it at Brandy Hall, and sometimes dried cranberries and browned sausage and even sometimes … oh.”
Sam glared at Merry and Pippin, his arms crossed tight to his chest, and his lower lip pushed out. He jerked his chin but said nothing. Sam was a reasonable hobbit but when it came to stuffing a hobbit had to stand up for himself and his family traditions.
This is the scene that greeted Frodo when he entered the part of the vast kitchens set aside for the hobbits’ use, made with lower counters and stepstools and all. After all, Bilbo had lived there for years and not only enjoyed his vittles, he loved making them on occasion (and no Elf had ever turned down a slice of his seedcake).
Merry, Pippin and Sam were standing in silence before the biggest bowl of cornbread dressing crumbs Frodo had ever seen (and he’d eaten a lot of Sam’s stuffing over the years and Bell’s before Sam took over). They were all staring at the bowl in silence. The stuffing rose to a high peak in the middle of the bowl. At Frodo’s entrance, they turned and fixed their gazes on him, all eyes imploring for him to do … something.
“Oh, dear,” he thought to himself, wondering if this Thanksgiving feast had been a good idea after all. But aloud he merely said, “Hullo, hobbits! What have we here? Sam, I think you’ve outdone yourself.”
Pippin found his tongue first. “I just don’t know how he’s going to stuff the bird with all that. It’s just not that big.”
Sam unstuck his lower lip and snorted. “Beggin’ your pardon, Mr. Pippin, I was going to tell you before you and Mr. Merry started rattling on about raisins and walnuts going into my cornbread stuffing. Never heard of such a thing. Not in my stuffing. But be that as it may, haven’t you ever heard of inside stuffing and outside stuffing? I mean, the stuffing’s the best part, right?”
Pippin and Merry nodded violently in agreement. They both blurted, “Right you are, Sam! But it needs the sweetness of the raisins and the bite of the walnuts to make it just right … er … don’t you think?”
Sam said nothing for a long minute. Merry and Pippin subsided back into silence though all kept their eyes on the bowl of the now-disputed stuffing.
Frodo pondered the dilemma for a few minutes, keenly aware of the mounting tension crackling in the air. He’d originally thought it was a fine idea suggesting the hobbits have their traditional Thanksgiving celebration here in Rivendell as a way to sort of gather themselves before they had to leave their sanctuary, to steel themselves with memories of home and what is a better memory of home than the food they loved.
Apparently, though Frodo had never considered the situation, being a flagrant consumer of any and all types of stuffing (even ones with chestnuts in them that he once had at Overhill when he was stuck there in a snowstorm and took his Thanksgiving meal with the Boffins whose family tradition included chestnuts and a fine tradition it was, though he never admitted it to Sam, who’d been scandalized to hear it—“foreign,” he’d called it).
Pippin broke the silence, appropriately since he’d started the discussion. “It’s all right, Sam. It looks delicious.”
“And I’ve had Sam’s stuffing before, Pip, it really is the best. It’s all right, Sam. You keep going and we’ll eat it all up, no doubt.”
The Fellowship was seated around the table, all nine of them—Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gimli, Legolas, Boromir, Gandalf. Even Aragorn was there, having just returned from his journey searching for the remains of the Black Riders.
Sam had proudly carried in the turkey. Everyone’s mouths watered for its skin was roasted to a savory crispness and stuffing spilling out onto the platter. There were many other dishes, incuding at least three pans of outside stuffing.
Gandalf spoke first. “Aragorn and Boromir. Legolas and Gimli. You are in for a very fine feast, a hobbit feast of thanksgiving. I have been lucky enough to partake in the past. My advice is to loosen your breeches or robes for you will soon be as stuffed as that turkey.”
“Pippin, pass one of the stuffings around, will you?” Sam said. “And you, Merry, pass that other one around, that one’s yours.”
Pippin pulled one of the serving bowls toward him, stuck his spoon in and exclaimed, “Raisins! Walnuts!
Merry did the same with his. “Cranberries! Is that sausage?
“What’s in the third one?” Pippin asked, wrinkling his nose in pleasure as he dished up an enormous serving for himself.
“Oh, that’s for Mr. Frodo. Not that I hold with chestnuts going into a good plain Hobbiton stuffing but that’s what they do over in Overhill, or so I heard tell from Mr. Frodo. Right?”
“Oh, Sam,” Frodo said. “I didn’t fool you one bit, did I? But where is your stuffing without all the fripperies added in?”
Sam grinned and stuck a spoon into the stuffing spilling from the bird. “Right here in the inside stuffing.”
Frodo breathed a sigh of relief. “Dig in, everyone, there’s something for everyone.”
The next several minutes were devoted to careful passing of heavy serving platters and bowls and the occasional happy moan of anticipation. But then …
“Wait a minute,” Pippin said in a small, very small voice.
“What, Pip?” said Frodo, keeping his voice very calm.
“Where’s the green bean casserole? We always had …”
Afternote: While almost all variations of stuffing are delicious (even ones without cornbread crumbs), I'm in Sam's camp vis-a-vis the simplicity :-)