Christmas lunch in Antarctica


At the Australian Casey station Michelin-trained chef Justin and his team are busy preparing a mouth-watering banquet that will include all of the traditional roasted Christmas fare, alongside more contemporary offerings like smoked salmon, prawns, and even sushi.

“This will be my take on an Aussie Christmas in Queensland, light and balanced,” he said.

“And of course there will be plum pudding with custard and brandy sauce, pavlova for the sugar and cream, nuts, plus heaps of other fancy and deserving treats to fill a few tables.”

What a load of sissies! Here’s what was on the menu in the good old days: 

We had four courses. The first, pemmican, full of whack, with slices of horse meat flavoured with onion and curry powder and thickened with biscuit, then an arrowroot, cocoa and biscuit hoosh sweetened; then a plum pudding; then cocoa with raisins, and finally a dessert of caramels and ginger. After the feast it was difficult to move. Wilson and I couldn’t finish our share of plum pudding. (Scott)

Later there was a really splendid dinner, consisting of turtle soup, whitebait, jugged hare, Christmas pudding, mince pies, dates, figs and crystallized fruits, with rum and stout as drink. (Shackleton 1914)

Anchovies in oil, baked beans, and jugged hare made a glorious mixture such as we have not dreamed of since our school days. (Shackleton 1915)

All crumbs of biscuit were carefully collected by Wisting, the cook, for the day, and put into a bag.  This was taken into the tent and vigorously beaten and kneaded, the result was pulverised biscuit. With this product and a sausage of dried milk, Wisting succeeded in making a capital dish of Christmas porridge. (Amundsen)

And here are various treats from the Christmases of Mawson’s 1911-1915 expedition:

An ounce each of butter was served out from our small stock to give a festive touch to the dog-stew.

Hurley’s pièce de résistance was an improvised plum pudding, boiled in a sock. Hurley recorded in his diary that it was prepared by grating some biscuits with a saw, adding sugar, a few raisins, a dollop of snow and three drops of methylated spirits, allegedly for flavour. The dubious festive creation is said to have turned out “very satisfactorily”.

Anyhow, we had a pretty good tuck-in. Dinner consisted of pemmican, biscuits, chocolate éclair, pony meat, plum pudding and crystallized ginger and four caramels each. We none of us could hardly move.

We’re putting this menu up in plenty of time for you to get in supplies of pemmican and methylated spirits. Ho Ho Ho!

10 thoughts on “Christmas lunch in Antarctica

  1. And a lot of biscuits — they seem to be an essential ingredient in most of the meals. I’m sending this to Deke and Regina to compare to the meals they got in Antarctica. Probably no jugged hare in their meals.

    I also note — no penguins? Just dogs and ponies? Penguins apparently are a snap, especially if you have a cornet: “. . . .described by Cook. (h/t Food and Think) At meal time, a cornet is used to call the men together, and the penguins, it seems, also like the music; for when they hear it they make directly for the ship, and remain as long as the music lasts, but leave once it ceases. In this manner we have only to wait and seize our visitor to obtain penguin steaks, which are, just at present, the prize of the menu.” Gramophones were also good (gramophones? On Antarctic expeditions?)

    1. Poor old penguins. I imagine they would be simultaneously tough and very oily. As to the gramophone, explorers used to take the most amazing stuff with them, e.g Burke and Wills: ” a cedar-topped oak camp table with two chairs, rockets, flags and a Chinese gong; the equipment all together weighed as much as 20 tonnes.”

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