Title: How Estella Bolger Learned to Bake
Theme: Potluck (Back to school)
Elements: Household skill
Summary: Rosamunda Bolger finds a way to comfort little Estella after she comes home in tears from being bullied by Merry and Freddy.
Author's Notes: I used this site for the recipe.
Word Count: 2325
The sound of laughter drifted through the open kitchen window and Rosamunda Bolger smiled to herself. So the children were getting along well, after all. Odovacar had taken the Brandybucks on a tour of Budgeford, eager to show off their quaint town to the Bucklanders who didn’t visit nearly enough. Their little Merry had stayed with Freddy and Estella, apparently orchestrating an effort to build a lopsided fort in the yard.
Content with the sight of the three playing so nicely, Rosamunda was ready to return to the dinner she was preparing. Most of it was actually done, with only the dessert remaining. But before she could even crack an egg, there came a screech from outside and she realized she’d counted her blessings too soon.
Running to the door, she now saw a red-faced and tear-streaked Estella come running towards the house. Behind her, Merry and Fredegar stood outside their makeshift playhouse, looking insolent as they shrugged and pretended not to know what the problem was. Rosamunda decided to focus on comforting her daughter rather than scolding the boys and led the little lass inside gently.
Out of sight of the boys, Estella latched onto her mother and sobbed into her apron.
“Hush now, dear heart,” said Rosamunda softly. “Tell Mummy what happened.”
Out of the nearly indecipherable garble of crying, she was able to somehow piece together a story. Apparently Estella had helped the boys build the fort, even carrying some of the lighter sticks they’d used. But when she wanted to decorate it at the end, Merry forbade her from doing so, claiming it would look garish and silly. Then when she tried to join them inside, he told her there wasn’t any space left, when there was clearly more than enough room. Estella tried arguing with them, but Merry was adamant and told her to, “Go make your girlish mud pies elsewhere and stay out!” Angered at such treatment and stubborn to the last minute, Estella forced her way in only to be quite physically thrown out. At which point she started screaming that she’d break their fort down and didn’t want to play with them anyway, when Rosamunda came into the picture.
“It was very cruel of them, but that is still no way for a young lady to behave,” said Rosamunda as she smoothed down Estella’s frazzled curls.
“I know Mummy, but you should have seen them,” said Estella with a sniffle, calming down at last. “They were both so awful about it. Merry was very mean, but Fatty didn’t even do anything to defend me. He never does. He’s such a coward!”
“You know I don’t like you calling your brother that,” said Rosamunda sternly.
“But he is a coward!” protested Estella.
“That wasn’t what I meant, but I’ll let it go for now,” said Rosamunda, cracking a slight smile. She could see that Estella didn’t find the mistake amusing from the way she continued to sulk, and she knew she had to right the situation somehow. “Sweetheart, I’m afraid that’s just the way lads are for a while. It isn’t fair, but that’s how it is. No use getting so worked up over it, though.”
“But I don’t even make mud pies anymore!” whined Estella. “I haven’t in at least a year!”
Rosamunda sighed, sensing it would take more than kind words and a cuddle to calm the child down. Then she suddenly got an idea.
“No, of course you don’t make mud pies anymore! You’re a big girl,” she said as she walked over to the kitchen table. “And since you’re such a big girl, how would you like to help me make a real pie?”
It was worth a shot. At eight years of age, Estella was certainly old enough to start learning her way around the kitchen. But not all hobbit children were initially eager to begin their culinary lessons (or any sort of lesson, for that matter). Freddy had picked up on it around the same age, though he didn’t become completely comfortable on his own until last year, so she wouldn’t be surprised if Estella would be disinterested. Fortunately, this was not the case, as the girl’s tear-stained face lit up immediately.
“Oh, please, could I really?” she exclaimed, clasping her hands together. “That would be the most marvelous thing! I promise I won’t burn anything!”
And like that she’d found the solution to her little conundrum, as well as the key to her daughter’s heart, apparently. Who knew she was so keen to start learning?
“Well, go wash your hands and then we may begin,” said Rosamunda as she began to measure flour. Estella quickly ran out to wash up and then ran back in, showing her mother her damp but clean hands.
“Now I’ve already prepared the ingredients,” she said gesturing at the spread before her. “Let’s start with the dough first. We have the flour in the bowl, so let’s add a bit of salt.”
Estella screwed up her face in disgust. “Salt in a pie? That doesn’t sound good at all!”
Rosamunda clucked as she added the salt. “But it’s only a little bit, you see? You won’t taste it at all when it’s ready, but it’s important.”
Estella nodded and watched her mother cut a large chunk of butter before sticking it into the bowl.
“Here, take this and mash the butter up,” said Rosamunda, handing Estella a fork. “Go on, now. Mix it with the flour until it forms little clumps.”
Estella followed the order as best as she could and was pleasantly surprised to find the somewhat pre-melted butter was mixing in very nicely. Her mother then took a pitcher of water and carefully poured a bit in.
“Keep mixing it. Very nice! That’s good, dear,” said Rosamunda as she took the fork away and pulled up a second smaller bowl of flour. “Now dip your hands in that and then start to knead the dough.”
“Knead it? How?” said Estella, looking up after she’d sufficiently covered her hands in flour.
“Yes, like a cat. Like this,” said Rosamunda as she demonstrated on the little girl’s shoulders and neck, causing her to giggle and wriggle away.
Estella promptly dug into the dough and attacked it very much like a hungry kitten accosting its owner. Rosamunda chuckled and poured a good portion of the remaining flour onto the surface of the counter.
“That’s enough,” she said once the dough appeared to be the right consistency. Then removing a chunk and putting it to the side, she added, “That’s for later. Now we’re going to roll the dough.”
Estella watched eagerly as her mother emptied the dough onto the floured counter and began to roll it flat. Rosamunda stopped after a while and handed Estella the rolling pin. This, too, she took to with vigor and surprisingly natural skill. Once the dough was as flat as a large pancake, Rosamunda placed it over the pie tin and cut away the rough edges.
“Now the rest requires a knife, so I just want you to watch and pay attention,” said Rosamunda. Estella stepped aside, but not without pouting mightily. Rosamunda smiled kindly and added, “You can stir the mix after I chop everything up, though.”
Estella cheered up and watched closely as Rosamunda peeled and sliced several large red apples. She dumped the cubes into another bowl and added sugar, cinnamon, a dash of lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. This she handed to Estella with a large wooden spoon.
“Now stir it up and I will see to the pie top,” said Rosamunda as she picked up the second ball of dough that she’d put aside earlier. Estella vigorously stirred the filling, but kept an eye on her mother as she rolled the dough flat and began to cut it into long thin slices.
“Now pour that into the pie tin. That’s a good girl. And now we’ll do one more thing before we cover it up.” Rosamunda put the knife away now and pulled out an egg. “Do you want to crack it open?”
Estella grinned and nodded furiously.
“Just hold it firmly and give it a good crack on the side of the counter,” said Rosamunda, miming the action. “Here, now you do it.”
Estella took the egg, holding it as her mother had, and after a moment’s hesitation, struck it lightly on the counter. The egg remained in tact.
“It’s not doing anything,” Estella said, disappointed.
“I said a ‘good crack’. You’re just tapping it. Come on, pretend it’s someone you don’t like.”
Rosamunda realized this wasn’t the smartest thing to say to a child who’d just been brought to tears by two other children, but the words slipped out before she could stop herself. Estella furrowed her brow, a look of determination (and quite possibly resentment) spreading over her sweet features. She brought the egg down hard and it cracked openly splendidly-- but without bursting and letting all the yolk spill out.
“I did it!” cried Estella gleefully. “That’ll show him,” she added in a dark undertone.
“Very good, dear,” said Rosamunda, pretending not to hear that last part. She took the egg deftly and emptied its contents into yet another bowl. Then after quickly beating it, she brushed the edges of the pie shell with the yellow goop.
“Do we get to cover it yet?” said Estella, wondering what could possibly be left.
“Precisely!” Rosamunda was impressed at her daughter’s learning ability; when she’d tried to teach Freddy how to bake a pie, she’d ended up with a stupendous mess on her hands and a rather disappointing pie to boot.
“It’s very simple,” said Rosamunda picking up the dough slices. “We’re just going to place these over the filling and weave them to look like the pretty lattice outside your window.”
This actually proved to be a little tricky, and though Estella was able to get the first row of strips down neatly, Rosamunda needed to fix several mistakes once the top row was added. It took some effort, but in the end the pattern came out just as nice as any of her normal pies.
“Just a few more steps and then into the oven,” said Rosamunda. Here she took some more of the egg and brushed it over the top of the lattice. “That’s to give the pie a lovely brown crust.”
Then she dusted the top with cinnamon and sugar and then... “There you are! Ready to go in!”
Estella watched excitedly as Rosamunda slowly placed the pie into the oven, already packed with several other dishes for later.
“Let’s tidy up now,” said Rosamunda as she removed her giant rose-colored oven mitts. “It should be ready by the time we finish.”
And so after fifteen minutes of cleaning up, the kitchen was returned to its pristine condition and the smell of warm apple pie was wafting out of the oven.
“Mummy, is it ready yet?” said Estella, pulling on her mother’s apron. Rosamunda checked the clock and nodded, causing Estella to clap her hands and dash over to the oven.
“Now, watch out, darling; it’s very hot,” said Rosamunda as she pulled the pie out, oven mitts back on. Estella backed away, but couldn’t keep from bouncing up and down. The pie looked gorgeous and smelled even better.
“Can we eat it now?” she squeaked as she hopped from foot to foot.
“Oh my, no!” said Rosamunda, placing the pie on the window sill. “It has to cool for about an hour first. You go wash up and change into something clean. Then maybe you can play with the boys...”
But Estella made such a grimace that Rosamunda quickly added, “Or with your dolls.”
Estella sighed and then skipped off. Rosamunda shook her head and wondered when the girl would shake off her bitterness. Eight years old was too young for a vendetta.
Fortunately after an hour passed, Estella returned to the kitchen, dressed smartly and smiling brightly.
“Has the pie cooled yet, Mum?” she asked, peering at the pie, which still sat on the window sill. Rosamunda nodded and showed her a small bowl with a white fluffy substance in it.
“I whipped some cream while you were playing. Would you like to spread it on?”
Estella nodded and took the bowl, then proceeded to adding the whipped cream-- carefully and precisely, though, so as to not spoil her clean dress.
“There,” she said once she finished. “It’s beautiful!”
“It certainly is,” said Rosamunda proudly.
“Can I show the boys?” said Estella suddenly. “Oh, I promise I won’t let them eat any. I just want them to see how pretty it is.”
Rosamunda gave Estella a pointed look. “I thought you were cross with them.”
“No, no, not anymore!” said Estella with a wide smile. “I swear I’m better now. I just want to show them what a pretty pie I made for them. Then we can be friends again.”
“Oh, isn’t that sweet?” said Rosamunda, her heart warmed by the display of innocent goodness. “Of course you may show them, dear. Just mind the rough ground and don’t drop it.”
Estella promised she wouldn’t and darted out the door, pie perched on her outstretched hands. Rosamunda looked from the doorway and sighed with relief. It was so nice when the children got along. There was Estella, skipping up to the fort. There were the boys, climbing out. She smiled as she watched them approach each other: the boys curious and intrigued, Estella gracious and forgiving. And then she gasped in horror.
There was Estella, raising the beautiful pie and shoving it into Merry’s face. There was Merry, blundering into Freddy and getting her son covered in pie, as well. There was Estella, running over to their fort and kicking it in. And there was the pie, lying crumpled on the ground, gone beyond all repair.