Friday, December 14, 2007

A little bit of seal meat.

December 14 …

The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) won the unofficial race to the South Pole on this day in 1911, to the profound disappointment of Robert Falcon Scott – “Scott of the Antarctic” – who died on the return journey.

There was no celebratory feast at the Pole – it was a matter of raising the flag and the getting back to base as quickly as possible: Amundsen and his team simply “contented ourselves with a little piece of seal meat each, and it tasted well and did us good”.

Provisioning for polar expeditions in those times was based on the assumption that large amounts of fresh meat in the form of seals (and penguins, in the case of the South Pole), and that these would not simply be a nice change from canned and dried food but would form a significant part of the diet. For forays beyond the camp, the expedition sledges were provisioned with concentrated foods such as pemmican, milk powder, chocolate, and hard biscuits, but at the main base a great deal of attention was given to preparing interesting meals – for reasons of morale as well as nutrition. The men of Amundsen’s expedition were lucky in their cook. Adolf Lindstrom was apparently a cheery soul willing to rise early and prepare a breakfast of such things as hot buckwheat cakes and wholemeal bread which “slipped down with fabulous rapidity” with quantities of whortleberry jam. Fresh seal meat was universally preferred to canned meat, and Lindstrom came up with all manner of pies, puddings and pastries to serve along with canned fruit, butter, cheese – and more whortleberry jam.

Whortleberries of one species or another occur in many parts of the world (the cooler parts that is), and go by many different names. I knew them as bilberries as a child in Yorkshire, but you may know them as blueberries, blaeberries, whinberries – and perhaps other names. They certainly grow well in Norway, and it seems that vast amounts were preserved and taken on this expedition.

No doubt Lindstrom used whortleberries in many ways – I fancy he must at least have taken the idea of whortleberry sauce as served with venison and boar in his homeland, and used it to vary the interminable seal steak in Antarctica. Here is a good whortleberry breakfast idea, from the prolific nineteenth century American, Miss Juliet Corson. I’m not sure how they would taste if fried in seal oil.

Whortleberry Fried Cakes.
Sift a heaping teaspoonful of baking-powder and a saltspoonful of salt with two cupfuls of flour. Carefully pick over one quart of whortleberries. Beat three eggs for five minutes; stir into the beaten eggs two cupfuls of sugar and one pint of milk; then add the berries and the flour, mixing all the ingredients lightly and quickly. The mixture should form a stiff batter; if more flour is needed, add it. Fry the cakes by the tablespoonful in smoking-hot fat, as directed in the recipe for old-fashioned doughnuts; or fry them in a hot frying-pan, with just enough fat to prevent sticking to the pan. Use them buttered for tea or luncheon.
[Miss Corson's Practical American Cookery and Household Management. 1886]

Monday’s Story …

An epicure, defined.

Quotation for the Day …

I always plan dinner first thing in the morning. That's the only way I can get through the day, having a specific meal to look forward to at night. Alan King.

1 comment:

Tana Butler said...

My gracious, when I am able to devote the time to read one of your lovely posts, it's just like reading Mark Twain, or someone else with the gift of description.

Thank you for your gift to this world.

From Soquel, California,