Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Balloon Dining.

In the late nineteenth century, the race to the North Pole gripped the imagination of the world. The Swedes and their king, anxious to get into the race, put their faith and money into an astonishing idea – a journey by hydrogen balloon.

Herr S.A. Andrée and his two companions Knut Fraenkel and Herr Nils Strindberg set off full of enthusiasm and nationalistic fervour from an island in the Salbard archipelago in the far north of Norway in July 1897. Andreé estimated that they would travel at 12 miles an hour, which with a fair wind in the right direction would have meant a 6-8 day journey. It was expected however that the journey would take nearer six weeks, the balloon travelling in slow circles, not a straight line.

What actually happened was that they crashed on the pack ice two days into their journey. The balloon was untested, and turned out to be leaky, it had no efficient steering mechanism, and they did not have accurate maps. The men were not equipped for an overland journey, and perished some time in early October . Their final camp was not found for 33 years, and the exact causes of the death remain controversial.

So – what did they eat on this trip? In spite of the inadequacy of many of the aspects of the preparation, a rather ingenious method of cooking had been invented. The New Zealand newspaper the Wanganui Herald reported:

“For cooking, an apparatus will be dropped down 16ft below the basket by means of a rope. It will be lighted by pulling a string, and when the cooking is done the fire will be put out by pulling another string. Then the food will be brought up to the basket and eaten. Those precautions are taken to obviate the danger of having a fire too near the gas of the balloon. This cooking apparatus is the invention of a Swedish engineer, devised purposely to meet M. Andree's requirements.”

The provisions they carried were not suitable for overland travel. They took huge amounts - including crates of champagne and beer, cans of pemmican and various other meats, cheeses and condensed milk – and much of it was dumped (from both the balloon and the sleds) to reduce weight when they started to get into trouble. It is known that they killed and ate seals, walruses, and polar bears during their final land journey.

So, what do you think – was the attempt heroic, or foolhardy?

Recipe for the Day.

I cannot give you a recipe suitable for balloon travel, but here is a nod to Sweden, in honour of these heroic fools.

Swedish Salad.
Wash and trim a pickled herring; cut it in small dice, and put it in a basin:
Take the same quantity of cold roast beef, boiled potatoes and beetroot, russet apples and 4 anchovies, previously steeped in water: cut the whole in small dice, and add it to the cut herring with:
1 tablespoon of well-drained capers,
1 tablespoon of chopped gherkins
1 hard boiled egg, chopped fine,
2 tablespoons of chopped chervil,
1 tablespoonof chopped tarragon,
20 turned olives:
Season with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar,
Mix and put the whole in a salad bowl, and lay 24 fresh oysters on top.
This salad should be highly seasoned.

The Royal Cookery Book, by Jules Gouffe, 1867.

Quotation for the Day.

All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.
Martin Buber


Anonymous said...

Svalbard, a typo on your part I'm sure. I used to live in Norway, so this caught my attention. I enjoy your posts everyday! :)

The Old Foodie said...

Oops, sorry Obermuda. I dont want to cause an international event, and after your gentle notice was tempted to go and edit the mistake, but I think my stupidity needs preserving.
Thankyou, and do keep on reading.