Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Birthday Dinner in Greenland in 1860.

We have an entirely different location for our birthday dinner party of the day today – a rather bleak and unforgiving one, about as far from the extravaganzas of yesterday as it is possible to get. The bill of fare turns out to be surprisingly interesting however, considering the circumstances. I hope you get some vicarious pleasure from the feast.

Our story comes from The Open Polar Sea: A Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery towards the North Pole, in the Schooner United States (1866), by Isaac Israel Hayes. Hayes was an American physician and adventurer who took part in several voyages in search of the “open Polar sea” which was believed to exist north of the 85th parallel, between Greenland and the North Pole. This, the 1860-61 expedition was Hayes’ second,  and on this occasion he acted as commander.

The glacier to which Hayes refers at the beginning of this extract from his account is “Brother John’s Glacier,” which lies in the Foulk Fjord in northwest Greenland. It was discovered in 1855 by Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, an American physician and explorer who took part in a number of Arctic expeditions, including two of those sent to find Sir John Franklin.

“October 21st … I purpose making a still further exploration of this glacier to-morrow, and will defer until then any further description of it.
During my absence the hunters have not been idle. Barnum has killed six deer; Jensen shot two and Hans nine; but the great event has been the sailing-master's birthday dinner; and I returned on board finding all hands eagerly awaiting my arrival to sit down to a sumptuous banquet.
I have inaugurated the rule that all birthdays shall be celebrated in this manner; and, when his birthday comes round, each individual is at liberty to call for the very best that my lockers and the steward's store-room can furnish ; and in this I take credit for some wisdom. I know by experience what the dark cloud is under which we are slowly drifting, and I know that my ingenuity will be fully taxed to pass through it with a cheerful household ; and I know still further, that, whether men live under the Pole Star or under the Equator, they can be made happy if they can be made full ; and furthermore, at some hour of the day, be it twelve or be it six, all men must dine;  for are they not a carnivorous production, requiring meals, — at least one meal a day ? They cannot live, like woodcock, upon suction; but, like the shark and tiger, must have prey. And hence they take kindly to venison and such like things, and they remember with satisfaction the advice of St. Paul to the gentle Timothy, to use a little wine for the stomach's sake.
McCormick was not only the subject to be honored on this occasion, but to do honor to himself. He has actually cooked his own dinner, and has done it well. My sailing-master is a very extraordinary person, and there seems to be no end to his accomplishments. Possessing a bright intellect, a good education, and a perfect magazine of nervous energy, he has, while knocking about the world, picked up a smattering of almost every thing known under the sun, from astronomy to cooking, and from seamanship to gold-digging. And he is something of a philosopher, for he declares that he will have all the comfort he can get when off duty, while he does not seem to regard any sort of exposure, and is quite careless of himself, when on duty; and besides, he appears to possess that highly useful faculty of being able to do for himself any thing that he may require to be done by others. He can handle a marline-spike as well as a sextant, and can play sailor, carpenter, blacksmith, cook, or gentleman with equal facility. So much for the man; now for his feast.
A day or so ago I found lying on my cabin-table a neat little missive which politely set forth, that "Mr. McCormick presents the compliments of the officers' mess to the Commander, and requests the honor of his company to dinner in their cabin, on the 21st instant, at six o'clock." And I have answered the summons, and have got back again into my own den overwhelmed with astonishment at the skill of my sailing-master in that art, the cultivation of which has made Lucullus immortal and Soyer famous, and highly gratified to see both officers and men so well pleased.
The bill of fare, "with some original illustrations by Radcliffe," set forth a very tempting invitation to a hungry man, and its provisions were generally fulfilled. There was a capital soup — jardiniere — nicely flavored, a boiled salmon wrapped in the daintiest of napkins, a roast haunch of venison weighing thirty pounds, and a brace of roast eider-ducks, with currant-jelly and apple-sauce, and a good variety of fresh vegetables; and after this a huge plum-pudding, imported from Boston, which came in with the flames of Otara flickering all around its rotund lusciousness; and then there was mince-pie and blanc-mange and nuts and raisins and olives and Yankee cheese and Boston crackers and coffee and cigars, and I don't know what else besides. There were a couple of carefully-treasured bottles of Moselle produced from the little receptacle under my bunk, and some madeira and sherry from the same place. The only dish that was purely local in its character was a mayonnaise of frozen venison (raw) thinly sliced and dressed in the open air. It was very crisp, but its merits were not duly appreciated.

As the recipe for the day, I could not resist giving you an iced pudding.

Iced Pudding.
Take one quart of good sweet milk or cream, and with a little of it moisten six ounces of rice flour, mix well together, put on the fire in a stew-pan, and stir till it boils for five minutes. Have the yolks of ten eggs beat up with six ounces of ground sugar, pour the boiling rice amongst it stirring all the time, put it on the fire again, and let it just come to the boil, then pour into a basin and stir occasionally till cold. Two hours before dinner beat up the whites of ten eggs to a snow, mince two ounces of citron peel very small, mix altogether into the freezer, and add one glass of brandy; then put it into a bucket of ice, two handfuls of salt, and keep stirring till frozen. Have the mould ornamented with angelica cut like diamonds, and placed among ice, put in the pudding allowing the iced water to come within two inches of the top, put on the lid, close up the bucket, and keep in a cool place till wanted. Turn out with pretty hot water.
Practice of Cookery and Pastry, Adapted to the Business of Everyday Life,

by Mrs. I.Williamson (Edinburgh, 1854)

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