The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is a journey through one austral summer – the story of a Russian-Canadian environmental cleanup project on a small island 120 kilometres off the Antarctic Coast (62°02’s 58°21’w). It is also a look at the challenges of cooking in a makeshift kitchen during the long, white nights at the bottom of the world.
The first thing that comes to mind about Antarctica is not likely food. But if you are going to spend any time there, it should be the second.
In 1996, The VIEW Foundation, a Canadian organisation created by Carol Devine, led several volunteer groups to Bellingshausen, a Russian research station in Antarctica, for an environmental project organised with the Russian Antarctic Expedition. A total of 54 people from five countries paid to pick up 28 years of garbage during their holiday on a continent uniquely devoted to peace and science.
The 16 Russian scientists and support staff at Bellingshausen were hosts par excellence. Volunteers had the privilege of interacting with international scientists and support staff, playing the odd international soccer match and after a hard day’s work, feasting on fantastic meals by expedition cook and visual artist Wendy Trusler.
The book is a mosaic that unfolds in the style of Antarctic publications such as Sir Ernest Shackleton’s handmade Aurora Australis – through provision lists, menu plans, journals and letters. Woven throughout are historic and contemporary images, food notes, words of wisdom and vignettes from Antarctica’s relatively short human history.
The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning features 42 recipes developed by Wendy Trusler, based on the recipes collected from the Russians and international neighbours including Chilean, Uruguayan, Chinese and Brazilian scientific stations and study projects on King George Island. The novel convergence of dishes includes rosemary maple borscht, white bean and roasted garlic soup, pisco sour and chocolate crème. When language was a barrier, the most delicious icebreaker of all was honey oatmeal bread (‘Wendy bread’) that Wendy coached hungry guests to break with their hands.
Early explorers and scientists endured unimaginable conditions, surviving on penguin meat and even dog paw stew. The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is an ode to them and to the people we met who captured our hearts.
Whenever adventure beckons, an open mind and a full stomach are necessities.