“So how are you enjoying your visit to Gondor?” Prince Imrahil enquired of Merry and Pippin. Imrahil and the Hobbits were sitting by the fire with Aragorn, Arwen, Faramir and Éowyn after a convivial dinner.
“It is very nice - that is, apart from the food,” said Merry.
“That grieves me to hear,” said Aragorn. “I instructed the cooks to prepare their finest dishes for you.”
“It is not good simple Hobbit cooking, though,” said Pippin. “All those fancy dishes smothered in sauce so you don’t know what you are eating hardly! And they never serve mushrooms! Don’t they grow them in Gondor, Strider?”
Imrahil raised his eyebrows at Pippin’s casual form of address to the King. He refrained from commenting, as Aragorn seemed not to notice. “Mushrooms, Sir Peregrin?” he said in a horrified tone. “No lord or lady of Gondor would eat such a common food! Poor peasants, who cannot afford to eat any better, gather them in the woods.”
“When I was a Ranger, it was a pleasure to come across some mushrooms and cook them for my supper,” said Aragorn. “Pippin is quite right. Mushrooms should be served at the King’s table.”
“Your guests would be shocked, my lord,” Imrahil cautioned. “You are King, though; your word is law.”
“When I was serving in Ithilien, my men introduced me to the delights of mushrooms. Éowyn often instructs our cook to prepare them in Emyn Arnen,” said Faramir. “My father would never have had them served at his table, though.”
“The people of the Mark enjoy mushrooms, too,” said Éowyn.” If our Kings can enjoy them, I cannot see why the lords of Gondor cannot!”
“It is hard to change the closed minds of Men, I fear. Unlike the Elves, they do not appreciate the fruits of Yavanna that grow wild when they have sufficient coin to buy those that are cultivated.”
“I believe it is because many of the City folk cannot distinguish a mushroom from a toadstool,” said Faramir. ”Therefore, rather than run the risk of being poisoned, our lords prefer not to eat them at all!”
The rest of the company nodded, thinking that Faramir had most likely explained the puzzle. The conversation moved to other matters.
A week later, the King’s birthday was celebrated with a State Banquet. All the highest ranked lords and ladies were invited, and the invitations were gladly accepted. As special friends of the King, Merry and Pippin were the guests of honour.
The guests enjoyed a appetizing creamy soup, which was followed by some sort of vegetable stuffed with crab and covered with breadcrumbs. The guests then partook of a stew, before feasting on a selection of desserts.
“What a delicious meal!” exclaimed Imrahil. “The cooks have surpassed themselves!”
“We made good use of the crabs you had sent from Dol Amroth,” said Arwen sweetly.
“I did not recognise the flavour of the soup nor the vegetable you served with the crab,” said the Prince of Dol Amroth. “It was most enjoyable though.”
Most of the lords and ladies murmured their enthusiastic agreement.
“We’re glad you liked our favourite mushroom recipes from the Shire,” said Pippin.
“The soup recipe has been in my grandmother’s family for ten generations,” Merry added.
“We have been eating mushrooms?” Imrahil looked aghast.
“From your words the other night, I surmised that you and the rest of the nobility had never eaten them,” said Aragorn. “Therefore, I asked Merry and Pippin to instruct my cooks in the best ways to prepare them. From now on, mushrooms will be served at the King’s table regularly. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed them until Merry and Pippin reminded me. Why should the lords shun a food, because the common folk enjoy it? If a food is good enough for my lowliest subjects, it should be good enough for their King, too.”
“I have learned a valuable lesson tonight,” said Imrahil. “It seems we all have much to teach each other.”
“ Indeed! We decided we liked the food here after all once we became accustomed to it,” said Merry.
“We would like to take some recipes from Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth home to the Shire,” said Pippin.
“I will send a message to my cook and request that he copy out my Household’s favourite dishes,” Imrahil told the Hobbits. “Perhaps you would allow my cook to sample some of your recipes too?”
“When we return home we will collect all our favourite recipes and despatch them to Gondor,” said Merry.
“Let us drink a toast to all our peoples and their culinary traditions,” said Aragorn. He smiled at the Hobbits, recalling a long ago birthday he had celebrated at an inn in Bree. The mushrooms had tasted as good then as they did today, despite the humble surroundings. He reminded himself that the simple pleasures of life were often the best.