Field Cuisine in Antarctica

You’ve had a hard day in the field climbing mountains, collecting rocks. You're chilled to the core and your joints are aching. What’s for supper!? Come in, sit down, while I fire up the Coleman stove and start to make water by melting blocks of snow in the 10-quart pot. While you’re waiting, have a drink. There’s nothing better at the end of a day in the field than a stiff glass of whiskey poured over flakes of half-million-year-old ice. Beer and wine invariably freeze in the field, but spirits are just the thing to warm up the belly and numb the aching joints. Once the snow begins to melt you might also want to have a cuppa tea or bouillon to rehydrate while I prepare the meal.

Looks like you boys have had your butts kicked today. Take off your parkas, warm up, have a drink.

The Berg Field Center at McMurdo Station offers a wonderful range of food options for remote field parties, including canned, boxed, dehydrated, and frozen. Except for dried onion flakes for flavoring and powdered potatoes, I eschew dehydrated foods. Canned foods are a nuisance for having to extract the frozen contents, and then for having to carry the empty cans back to McMurdo for disposal (recycling.) When you are on the Frozen Continent, what better victuals than frozen ones? To start with meat, the choices include beef, pork, lamb, burger, and a variety of seafood. Chicken is also an option, but if it comes in a big block of frozen pieces, it can take an hour with a hammer and chisel just to free them from the block, and then there are bones to carry around with the garbage for the rest of the season. It is best if the meat is boneless and in steaks. I usually start it thawing in the cast-iron frying pan, then chunk it and make some sort of stew or gravy. For this, I always take a canister of flour into the field. Tonight let’s have a curry! Next, I always serve a big pot of carbs, either powdered potatoes with lots of butter, pasta of various sorts, or rice. Pasta wastes water, so I tend not to prepare it as often. For the curry, rice is the obvious choice. The range of frozen vegetables available at McMurdo is everything that you would find in the freezer section of your local supermarket. Tonight let’s add lima beans to the curry. Now that is a feast! For variations on the sauce theme, I like to take along a variety of herbs and spices, including paprika, cayenne, celery and garlic salt. Beef and chicken bouillon cubes are good for what they add. Once you’ve chowed down on dinner and cleaned the pots and dishes with a little hot water, wiped dry with a paper towel, nothing feels better than crawling into your sack and drifting off to sleep, as the caloric load spreads through your tired body. We seldom have desserts after a work day. However, during storms when there is time to kill, that’s when we pull out the Coleman oven and bake cakes and stir up some flapjacks on the skillet. We have the complete range of frozen fruits to choose from in McMurdo. Strawberries, peaches, razzleberries, it’s your choice.

Hot from the oven. Uuuumm, that looks good, Lyle.

For breakfast we usually have steak and mashed potatoes or porridge. These days sirloin steaks are the primary beef option, but in my early years the steaks were complete tenderloins lifted out of the back of the cow. They came in cases, product of New Zealand. We would saw them to the desired thickness with an ice saw and then fry them in the skillet. Because the steak thaws as it cooks, it is not possible to have nice seared meat with a pink, juicy center. One way that we found to somewhat get around this was to cut the steaks the night before and then hang them in a plastic bag at the top of the Scott tent where they would thaw by morning. Lunches when we are out doing field work are snack foods such as candy bars, energy bars, gorp, jerky, and/or cookies. Some folks like to carry a thermos of hot brew, either bullion or soup or tea, but I prefer not to carry the weight of a thermos bottle when climbing, so if I do take one into the field, I generally leave it on the snowmobile. Finally, I will end this post with one of my favorite field recipes, Stump’s Seafood Newberg. The seafood could be lobster, scallops, and/or freeze-dried shrimp. The flesh of freeze-dried shrimp is an amazing substance, in that it reconstitutes perfectly in about five minutes after adding water. The sauce is made from powdered cheese, the sort that comes in Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes, but in Antarctica comes in a #10 can. Mix it with a little powdered milk and water and lots of butter (I cook exclusively with butter in the field, no oils or shortening.) Add a couple tablespoons of whiskey for flavor, stir it all together, and serve over rice or noodles. Voila!

Gallery – McMurdo Cloud Effects

McMurdo Sation, at the end of Hut Point Peninsula, faces the Transantarctic Mountains across McMurdo Sound. When weather blows through, the cloud effects can be spectacular. Each of this week's gallery images were shot from various points around the end of Hut Point Peninsula looking toward Mt. Discovery, the conical volcanic peak, and Black Island, the dark, low bluffs to the left.