MENTIONS OF FOOD IN BOOKS AND EXPEDITION ACCOUNTS
Launched: 27 December 2013. Last updated: 20 October 2021
"The Beagle's officers asked what culinary treat they would like after their dietary deprivations; they chose beer and any lunch with fresh potatoes."
Scotia Expedition. 1902-04.
Source: Harrison, John, Forgotten Footprints, p.237.
"A few crab-eater seals, a cream coloured seal that frequent the pack were shot for scientific purpose. We usually got the livers, which were very good fried with onions, much like pig's liver and not in the least fishy. The flesh, though dark in colour was not bad eating, a little strong and oily perhaps, but one soon went off it. We also ate penguins. They were not cooked as we could poultry, fillets were cut off the breast and fried in beef dripping, prepared this way it was quite nice. Care had to be taken to remove all the blubber from the fillets before cooking otherwise it tasked oily and rancid."
Terra Nova Expedition. 1910-12.
Source: Davies, Francis, With Scott Before the Mast, p.61.
"They ate a light lunch on the ice, but waited to get back to the tents for the highlight of the day: a mug of tea. 'How the thought of that hot tea kept us going all day! The recollection of it is the strongest I have of our camping-out experiences, how both hands having clasped the cup so as not to lose any heat, the warm glow gradually spread and spread, till at last even the toes felt warm ere the cup was drained. Truly it was a cup that cheered.' "
Scotia Expedition. 1902-04.
Source: Harrison, John, Forgotten Footprints, pp.233-34.
"Talk often gravitated to fantasies of their favourite foods, feasts they would eat when they got home. The cook Florence made a hit with seal heart stuffed with sage and onion, and mastered penguin cooking, browning then stewing the breasts to stop it being too fatty. Adelies were judged the best; two birds' breasts would feed twelve to fifteen men."
Scotia Expedition. 1902-04.
Source: Harrison, John, Forgotten Footprints, p.232.
"Food was vital not just for nutrition but for morale. When there is not much to do, meals give shape to the day and are something to look forward to. Ideally, de Gerlache only manages memorable humour when writing of the cook: 'If the provisions were not wanting, the same could not be said for the cook.' Michotte had been an Algerian missionary 'unwilling to tell me he was not possessed of a genius for cooking … imagination was not lacking, in so far as he was capable of putting together the most disparate of ingredients.' The only thing consistently good was the tomato soup because he could think of nothing to add to it. De Gerlache took charge and drew up a cycle of twenty-eight daily menus but the meals didn't quite arrive as planned. Dinner was seldom the item on the menu, but a melange of last two days' leftovers. However Michotte's enthusiasm bought forgiveness, especially since no one else thought they could do better.
The menus looked varied but most tinned meats and foods tasted the same, whatever it said on the label. The men first fantasised on what animals might be in the tin and then what they would do to the manufacturers. Tinned meat and fish with cream were the most despised and, top of the hate-list was Fiskabolla: Norwegian tinned fish balls. They were used in bets; the loser had to eat them. There was little fibre in their diet, and de Gerlache obliquely referred to the consequences: 'Our organs of secretion functioned with difficulty.' Sugar and milk were running out, and sorely missed. Living off the land did not enthuse anyone. Dr Cook diagnosed the problem: 'We have tried penguin and cormorants, but the majority have voted them unpalatable.' In fact de Gerlache had another, rather peculiar motive for not serving fresh meat. On 26 March they had shot many seals and caught penguins for food, but they did not appear on de Gerlache's menus. Five weeks later Lecointe asked where they were and de Gerlache replied he was worried what the press back home would say about killing and eating seals.
They concluded the sea was 'too deep' to fish, and penguins and seals were 'more plentiful than tasty.' They learned with relief that numbers of emperor and Adelie penguins would stay in the area all winter, the poor Adelies often tobogganing towards the hunter out of curiosity. Seal and penguin meats were both 'black and hard, very fat and oily but without the least taste of fish, as is commonly supposed.' It was just bad cooking. I have eaten seal which was as tender as fine beef, and richer. Grog was served only on Sunday nights and celebrations; otherwise spirits were banned. Every Sunday a 15cl glass of wine was drawn for each man."
Source: Harrison, John, Forgotten Footprints, pp.196-97.
"William's versatility even extended to the area of cooking. What might appear to be a relatively trivial skill took on much greater significance during field work in the Antarctic. Captain Scott wrote that a food break was a "moment to be lived for—one of the brief incidents of the day to which we can look forward with real pleasure. The hot food seems to give new life, its grateful warmth appears to run out to every limb, exhaustion vanishes, and gradually that demon within which has gripped so tightly for the past hour or two, is appeased'. It is understandable that someone who was efficient with the crude cooking implements and disciplined in the ekeing out of rations was respected by the men."
Source: Skinner, George and Valerie, The Life & Adventures of William Lashly, p.47.
"On one occasion William travelled with Herbert Ponting on a photographic expedition to Shackleton's hut. On arrival, Ponting recalls, 'Lashly soon had a welcome hot meal steaming on the galley'. And Evans tells of how his returning party, on expecting to arrive at a food depot, 'built wonderful castles in the air as to what luxuries Lashly, who was a famous cook, should prepare on our return to winter quarters … I set my heart on a steak and kidney pudding which my friend Lashly swore to make me'."
Source: Skinner, George and Valerie, The Life & Adventures of William Lashly, p.48.
"It was not exactly time to rejoice. They had only twelve days' half rations to get back to Depot E high on the Great Glacier, a trip that had taken them seventeen days on the way out. And they were still plagued by altitude, cold, a difficult surface, dehydration and lack of food. 'We were incredibly hungry, all our thoughts dreams & conversation seemed to be of food,' Wild wrote. 'One night I dreamt I was dining with the King of Sweden … I had a most delicious steak in front of me & how I longed to get at it. Etiquette forbade me commence before the King, and I woke up.' It was typical of their dreams and thoughts, sleeping and waking."
'All day long we cannot help thinking about food, and at night we dream about it,' Wild wrote at another point. 'I jolly well mean to make up for all of this.'
Source: Riffenburgh, Beau, Shackleton's Forgotten Expedition; The Voyage of the Nimrod, p.233.
First Wild quote (We were incredibly): Frank Wild Memoirs. Mitchell Library.
Second Wild quote (All day long): Frank Wild Diary, SPRI.
"After a week of reduced rations–broken only by New Year's Day dinner–they realised that their pulling power was waning, so they returned to regular portions. Even this did not stop the thoughts of foods that had begun constantly to enter their minds. 'We are now almost mad on discussing foods,' Mawson wrote, 'all varieties having a great attraction for us. We dote on what sprees we shall have on return–mostly run to sweet foods and farinaceous compounds.' On 12 January, during their halts, they planned two dinners to be arranged by David in Sydney, one a Scots meal for Mackay, the other the 'Yorkshire Empire Dinner'. That night, each carefully listed the entire meals, the nine-course Scots dinner including such items as 'Grouse baked on toast with toasted crumbs and bread sauce, chipped potatoes' and 'Sheep's head and trotters garnished with carrots, turnips, kale, onions, potatoes.' After his wine list, Mackay noted that 'It is wonderful what a lot we think and talk about our bellies. I could almost eat my Finnskoe.'
Source: Riffenburgh, Beau, Shackleton's Forgotten Expedition; The Voyage of the Nimrod, p.243.
We are now quote: Mawson diary, The Mawson Collection.
Grouse quote: Mawson diary, The Mawson Collection.
"S. privately forced upon me his one breakfast biscuit, and would have given me another tonight had I allowed him. I do not suppose that anyone else in the world can thoroughly realise how much generosity and sympathy was shown by this; I DO, and BY GOD I shall never forget. Thousands of pounds would not have bought that one biscuit."
Source: Riffenburgh, Beau, Shackleton's Forgotten Expedition; The Voyage of the Nimrod, p.257.
Frank Wild diary 31 Jan 1909, SPRI MS 944/1
The Christmas menu at South Pole Station
Smoked Scottish Salmon
Fresh Assorted New Zealand, French, and Dutch Cheeses
Brie en Croute
Muffaletta, Olive Relish
Sundried Tomato and Arugula Pesto Spread
Beef Wellington with house demi glace
Steamed Alaskan King Crab (or perhaps Spiny Lobster Tails)
Real Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Mixed Root Vegetables
Pumpkin, Apple, and Pecan Pies with Fresh Whipped Cream
Source: Jensen, Katy, The Antarctican Society Newsletter, Vol 04-05, December, No 3, p.5.
"On the march, for lunch, we used to have chocolate four days a week and cheese three days. We all much preferred the chocolate days, and greatly enjoyed our two sticks, which was our ration, and which we found highly nutritious. One point which struck us all was how man's attitude towards food alters as he goes South. At the beginning, a man might have been something of an epicure, but we found that before he got very far even raw horse-meat tasted very good."
Source: The James Caird Society Journal, No. 3, reproducing the July 3, 1909 issue of M.A.P. which has a two-page spread by Shackleton on "In the Days of my Youth; My First Success."
"Mawson helped cook a special meal to celebrate, with courses of soup, rabbit, blancmange and jam, nuts, and black coffee. It was a "fine feast," wrote Stillwell…"
Source: Day, David, Flaws in the Ice; In search of Douglas Mawson, p. 73.
"The diet continued to take its toll on the men. Mawson complained of being tired when they had to haul the sledge uphill, and on 23 December of being so hungry that he couldn't sleep. When he did sleep on Christmas Eve, the aching hunger prompted him to dream 'of a huge fancy cake ... amidst weird surroundings'. …
While Madigan's party was camped on the same glacier about 75 miles to the north, and was enjoying a dinner of fried Emperor penguin breast and an improvised plum pudding and whisky, Mawson's and Mertz's feast consisted of just 'two bits of biscuit' that Mawson had found in his bag. As they nibbled at the biscuit, they wished each other 'Merry Christmasses in the future: Along with a dinner of dog stew, this was the extent of their merriment that day. Anything more would have to await their return to the hut, which Mawson calculated was 158 miles away as the crow flew."
Source: Day, David, Flaws in the Ice; In search of Douglas Mawson, p. 165.
"There was no penguin or seal meat to provide the main course. The feast was made from double their normal rations, and composed solely of food that had been brought south by the Aurora. For an hors d'oeuvre, Hurley served up 'Angels on gliders', which was 'a raisin on top of a bar of chocolate, previously fried'.
Entrée was a biscuit fried in suet, while the Christmas roast was 'frizzled pemmican on fried biscuit'. For plum pudding, Hurley mixed three grated biscuits with butter, cocoa compound, butter scotch, Glaxo, sugar, seven raisins, a dollop of snow, and three drops of methylated spirit for flavouring. It was then shoved into an old food bag and boiled for five minutes, to the 'great satisfaction' of them all. They finished with toasts to the King and their fellow expeditioners, the drink being made by boiling five raisins in methylated spirit, and 'drunk in gulps by holding the nose and breath'. The feast finished with cigars. It buoyed them up so much that the following day they sledged most of the day and all through the night until they had covered 41-1/2 miles, establishing a new day's record for a man-hauled sledge."
Source: Day, David, Flaws in the Ice; In search of Douglas Mawson, p. 177.
"On 28 January, the final day of their outward journey, they were 26 miles from the hut, and built a mound of snow, on top of which they left a black flag and a bag of biscuits, sugar, chocolate, and three oranges. Then with the blizzard at their back, they raced for the hut."
Source: Day, David, Flaws in the Ice; In search of Douglas Mawson, p. 193.
"On the 12th, the men 'planned menus for dinner to be given by Prof to us on arrival in Sydney.' Mawson recorded those menus in the back pages of his diary. The delicacies included 'Jugged Hare with mashed potatoes, black currant jelly and champignons,' 'Omelet au Rhaum,' and 'Fried trout (Loch Leven preferred) in oatmeal and butter.'"
Source: Roberts, David, Alone on the Ice; the greatest survival story in the history of exploration., p. 69.