Welcome to Gusto’s new Taste Canada author interview series!
(Top photo credit: Sandy Nicholson)
The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning
The authors make one thing clear from the beginning: food may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture Antarctica, but if you’re thinking about going it should be the second.
“It’s at the top of the pyramid of needs in Antarctica since you have to bring it with you across the most turbulent waters in the world to a place holding 90 per cent of the world’s ice,” says Carol Devine, who was the Executive Director of the Volunteer International Environmental Work (VIEW) Foundation that led the expedition.
“Apart from simply nourishing and bringing comfort to our volunteers after a long day, I knew from my years cooking for tree-planters in remote areas of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia that food and cooking would play an integral role in tempering morale during our expedition,” adds Wendy Trusler, an interdisciplinary visual artist, designer and food stylist.
“What I hadn’t planned on was the ice-breaking and team building power of food and the degree to which I relied upon food to help our teams coalesce.”
As Devine coordinated bringing 54 people from five countries to the most remote location fathomable in order to pick up and remove some of the garbage accumulated over 28 years, Trusler – the camp cook – faced the challenge of how to feed them.
The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is a delicious narrative of that time, complete with checklists, maps, journal entries, historical photos and letters.
It’s a cookbook, yes, but it’s also a detailed record of their journey: from the first planning phases and boat journey from Argentina to King George Island, to their last meal with the international researchers they lived among that summer – a feast of roast leg of pork, potatoes a la Volodya, honey oatmeal braids, and frozen chocolate cream.
Each recipe in the book tells a story : the “Cook’s Bread” that the Russian cook taught Trusler to make early in her stay through a series of mimes and exaggerated gestures, the “Fisherman’s Fish” that’s eaten without plates or forks, the “Cranberry Fool” inspired by the gallon jar Trusler had in her makeshift kitchen – they keep well and are an excellent source of vitamin C, she notes.
Many of the recipes are influenced by the Chilean, Uruguayan and Chinese bases within walking distance of “Canada House,” Trusler and Devine’s barracks, as well as the Russian research site they called home.
The recipes are fluid and encourage improvisation, a style Trusler describes as “pitch and toss.”
“I wanted them to move people to enjoy the dance of making food again. And of course I wanted them to be delicious.”
The most popular recipe by far, with both their volunteers and readers, is Trusler’s honey oatmeal bread – a doughy, sweet, braided bread you pull apart with your hands.
“The volunteers were wild for her bread, as were the Russians and Chileans who had the fortune to eat it,” Devine says.
While food is always at the forefront of The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning, the main character is Antarctica itself: beautiful yet dangerous; mysterious and fragile.
“We know less about Antarctica than we do about parts of the moon,” says Devine. “A big part of this is related to its remoteness.”
“Antarctica is full of lessons for us. Early explorers knew that, too. Lessons about the environment, adaptation, survival, collaboration, science and even, or most importantly, sharing food.”
History, geopolitics and the environment make up a large part of the book. Flipping the pages is a lesson in everything from the Antarctic Treaty and threat of global warming to how to make Chinese dumplings.
“Antarctica is a shining example of what’s possible,” adds Trusler.
“Living in a harsh environment with few resources to draw upon cultivates compassion, collaboration and camaraderie – the best in human nature.”
The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning Edition
Gusto: What’s the last thing you ate?
Wendy: Rice porridge with dates and bananas topped with roasted slivered almonds, almond milk and brown sugar.
Carol: Kale pesto on crackers before running to the Inuit Art Quarterly opening.
Gusto: You get to choose one last meal. What is it?
Wendy: Roast chicken seasoned with sage, rosemary and thyme. Roast root vegetables with whole garlic cloves and cranberries (added at the last 5 minutes). Mashed potatoes with gravy (made with gluten free flour and a good splash of dry vermouth). Salad of bitter greens with a lemon garlic vinaigrette. Honey Oatmeal Bread (but only if it’s a quick end. I have celiac disease now and wouldn’t want to live through a reaction in my final moments on this earth). Vanilla ice cream with maple syrup and toasted almonds ( I’m dairy free now too, but I’ll suck it up for this one last time—YUM).
Carol: For fun, and in honour of Sir Robert Falcon Scott who perished upon return from the pole, not far from a food cache. Hypothetically, and assuming I was in Antarctica, I’d have this meal, recorded in his journal in 1911:
Midwinter meal at Cape Evans, 1911
- Seal soup (substitute ocean-friendly fish)
- Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding
- Fried potatoes and Brussels sprouts
- Flaming plum pudding and mince pies
- Anchovy and cod roe
- Burnt almonds, crystallised fruits, chocolates
Gusto: What spice or seasoning would you be?
Wendy: It’s a tall order, but would it be that I could be garlic. It’s versatile, travels and keeps well and is found in many cultures. It can be relied on to give a necessary kick or round out flavours and roasted whole it is lovely and mellow. It is also valued as a tonic.
Carol: Borage. Edible purple flowers.