Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine

Hoosh: Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine

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by Jason C. Anthony

Antarctica, the last place on Earth, is not famous for its cuisine. Yet it is famous for stories of heroic expeditions in which hunger was the one spice everyone carried. At the dawn of Antarctic cuisine, cooks improvised under inconceivable hardships, castaways ate seal blubber and penguin breasts while fantasizing about illustrious feasts, and men seeking the

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Antarctica, the last place on Earth, is not famous for its cuisine. Yet it is famous for stories of heroic expeditions in which hunger was the one spice everyone carried. At the dawn of Antarctic cuisine, cooks improvised under inconceivable hardships, castaways ate seal blubber and penguin breasts while fantasizing about illustrious feasts, and men seeking the South Pole stretched their rations to the breaking point. Today, Antarctica’s kitchens still wait for provisions at the far end of the planet’s longest supply chain. Scientific research stations serve up cafeteria fare that often offers more sustenance than style. Jason C. Anthony, a veteran of eight seasons in the U.S. Antarctic Program, offers a rare workaday look at the importance of food in Antarctic history and culture.
Anthony’s tour of Antarctic cuisine takes us from hoosh (a porridge of meat, fat, and melted snow, often thickened with crushed biscuit) and the scurvy-ridden expeditions of Shackleton and Scott through the twentieth century to his own preplanned three hundred meals (plus snacks) for a two-person camp in the Transantarctic Mountains. The stories in Hoosh are linked by the ingenuity, good humor, and indifference to gruel that make Anthony’s tale as entertaining as it is enlightening.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
What ultimately ensures this unlikely book's appeal to a larger audience than armchair Antarctophiles and demented foodies is that Anthony is a fine, visceral writer and a witty observer. He paints his cast of questers with a Monty-Pythonesque brush, but balances the telling with a refusal to sneer or giggle. He demonstrates genuine respect, compassion and a kind of hopeless love for his quixotic subjects and their grandiose, miserable hungers.
—Rebecca P. Sinkler
New York Times Book Review

"What ultimately ensures this unlikely book's appeal to a larger audience than armchair Antarctophiles and demented foodies is that Anthony is a fine, visceral writer and a witty observer. He paints his cast of questers with a Monty-Pythonesque brush, but balances the telling with a refusal to sneer or giggle. He demonstrates genuine respect, compassion and a kind of hopeless love for his quixotic subjects and their grandiose, miserable hungers."—Rebecca P. Sinkler, New York Times Book Review

— Rebecca P. Sinkler

New York Times Book Review - Rebecca P. Sinkler

"What ultimately ensures this unlikely book's appeal to a larger audience than armchair Antarctophiles and demented foodies is that Anthony is a fine, visceral writer and a witty observer. He paints his cast of questers with a Monty-Pythonesque brush, but balances the telling with a refusal to sneer or giggle. He demonstrates genuine respect, compassion and a kind of hopeless love for his quixotic subjects and their grandiose, miserable hungers."—Rebecca P. Sinkler, New York Times Book Review
Portland Pheonix - Jeff Inglis

"Beyond his own experience, Anthony's knowledge and research is deep, detailing the role of food in historic expeditions both well known . . . and not, including Japanese and Scottish efforts that have rarely been noticed. He also reviews the mid-20th-century adventures of Byrd, Ellsworth, Ronne, and others. Viewing each expedition through the lens of food offers great insight into the people who were really the most important members of those groups: not the leaders whose names we know well, but the cooks, about whom the public knows next to nothing."—Jeff Inglis, Portland Pheonix
Ross MacPhee
“Historical writing, well presented, is supposed to be delicious, but in this brilliant, insightful book you will find many essential nutrients that tend to be missing from standard treatments of Antarctic exploration. This is a delightfully balanced reflection on human involvement in the Last Place on Earth, from earliest times to the modern day, presented with much gusto and the added sauce of firsthand experience.”—Ross MacPhee, curator of the American Museum of Natural History and author of Race to The End: Amundsen, Scott, and the Attainment of the South Pole
Fergus Henderson
“Some years ago a friend who worked on a nature program told me a tale of desperate penguin-killing (concluding with an ice pick) that left me with a fascination of how to feed yourself in the Antarctic. Jason Anthony’s book has rekindled my appetite for Antarctic gastronomic thoughts.”—Fergus Henderson, chef and co-owner of St. John Restaurant (London) and author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating
Matthew Frank
“Anthony is an exemplary translator, imparting a collection of otherworldly experiences to the rest of us in precise and deft, but no less astonishing language and narrative technique. The concluding recipes, like so much of the book, carefully fuse the hilarious and the harrowing.”—Matthew Frank, author of Barolo
Orion - Peter Andrey Smith

"What distinguishes Anthony's perceptive retelling of Antartic tales—besides the obvious focus on food—is his ability to seamlessly weave details drawn from his own experience into heroic-age tales."—Peter Andrey Smith, Orion
Australian - Stephen Downes

"[Hoosh is] a jaunty history of Antarctic exploration and personal experience from a food perspective."—Stephen Downes, Australian
London Independent - Christopher Hirst

"One of the most enthralling studies of gastronomy ever published."—Christopher Hirst, London Independent
Kirkus Reviews
Anthony's debut--named after the "meat stew of the ravenous"--traces hardships during Antarctic expeditions and the sometimes disconcerting fare borne of isolation. From blubber to penguin meat, and on infamous occasions, sled dogs and horses, supplemented by canned foods as well as pemmican (a concentrated mixture of fat and protein, the "perfect endurance food used by Native Americans for millennia"), polar cuisine has always had a storied history. The author discusses a variety of Antarctic-related topics, including problems and shortages during the journeys of Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson, Robert Scott and Richard E. Byrd; some of history's lesser-known expeditions and their cooks; changes brought by researchers and staff during the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958); the U.S. Navy galley at McMurdo; and the exploration efforts of later independent parties. He reveals the resourcefulness and hubris needed to curtail scurvy as well as deprivation in the name of discovery and how initial hurdles gave way to improvements, including cargo transport of fresh goods from New Zealand and better nutritional knowledge. Still, he writes, "Antarctic cuisine has always made prisoners out of residents. The higher someone's culinary expectations were, the darker the prison they found." Anthony enlivens historical facts with a knack for choice anecdotes; one man's minted peas created with toothpaste stand out as much as unexpectedly hotel-worthy midwinter celebrations. In later, thought-provoking chapters, the author considers the environmental toll created by food waste and inefficient management. Anthony concludes with his own experience as support staff. A singular, engrossing take on a region that until now has been mostly documented from a scientific angle or romanticized by adventurers.

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Product Details

UNP - Nebraska Paperback
Publication date:
At Table
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.80(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author

Jason C. Anthony’s essays have appeared in Orion, VQR, Alimentum, the Missouri Review, and in the Best American Travel Writing 2007.

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Copyright © 2012 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8032-2666-1

Chapter One


"Where she bound for?," said one, addressing himself to one of his companions. "Don't ye know?" said the other, "Why to the South Pole o'course!" "Bah!" said the first speaker, "She'll not come back agen," and he dug his hands deep down into his ragged pockets and spat on the ground contemptuously.

—Louis Bernacchi, in Janet Crawford's That First Antarctic Winter

Our food lies ahead, and death stalks us from behind.

—Sir Ernest Shackleton, The Heart of the Antarctic

MY DINING COMPANION ON THE ODELL GLACIER would be Julian Ridley, another Antarctic veteran. Julian had worked in the U.S. Antarctic Program off and on since 1988, but unlike me hadn't made a life of it. Instead, every few years or so, Julian would quit a software job in California and find a summer gig in McMurdo or at Palmer Station, the small American base on the Antarctic Peninsula. He helped lay the foundation for the Crary Lab, McMurdo's world-class science facility, spent another summer transporting liquid nitrogen to the South Pole, and he entertained himself at Palmer by waterskiing through ice chunks and slush. Julian honored the Antarctic experience so much that he refused to turn it into a mere job. While I returned yearly like a yo-yo, Julian made the journey south only when it felt like a new adventure.

As the date of our departure to the Odell approached, we worked closely to plan and pack our gear and food supplies and were both deeply grateful for the gift of Rob's bread. We each had several years' experience on the ice and could each speak to the unpredictability of our meals in far-flung places.

We were also both well versed in the historic Antarctic tales of hungry triumph, hungrier incompetence, and starving tragedy. Julian, in fact, is a living reminder of that history, being a direct descendant of Lieut. William Colbeck, member of the 1898–1900 Southern Cross expedition, the first to spend a year on the Antarctic continent.

Only a small fraction of the Antarctic coast (and none of the interior) had been mapped, yet the Southern Cross set ten men and their hut on the desolate shoreline of Cape Adare, on the edge of the Ross Sea, before sailing away through the ice. With no guarantee that the ship would return safely a year later, and no communication beyond the windswept beach they occupied, the men of the Southern Cross expedition were perhaps the most isolated on Earth as the new century dawned. William Colbeck soon tasted the dark emptiness of Antarctic seclusion where, unlike the Arctic, it is nearly impossible to live off the stark and mesmerizing land. His companions (Norwegian, Sámi, and British) were his entire world.

As it turned out, pleasant companionship and alcohol were in short supply during the depths of winter for the Southern Cross expedition. Its leader, Carsten Borchgrevink, who surreptitiously drank much of their liquor, transmogrified through the dark winter months from odd duck into infuriating tyrant. Trapped with him on the darkened edge of the Earth, his stressed group of young men put up with random declarations of power and a demand for oaths of loyalty. While admitting no fault, Borchgrevink felt the stress too: "We were getting sick of each other's company," he wrote. "We knew each line in each other's faces." Worse, as gales, anxiety, and resentment shook their small hut on the barren gravel of Cape Adare, Colbeck's meals alternated with the sad regularity of a metronome: porridge with buttered bread and bacon or ham at breakfast, dinners of milk soup or sweet soup, pressed/tinned meat or dry fish, and tinned or dry vegetables. Meals "lasted, on great occasions, ten minutes; often less than five minutes on ordinary occasions," admitted Borchgrevink. Each bland tin of food could only remind them of their own confinement.

Borchgrevink tried his hand at the oven, making an apparently inedible loaf of bread to be set aside as emergency food. Colbeck's comrade Louis Bernacchi wrote afterward that no one touched it and that, in fact, "it is still in the Antarctic regions on the left hand top corner of the shelf inside the hut." On some days, expedition members merely lay in their bunks through their waking hours. Bernacchi described them listening to a Sámi companion singing "in the most sepulchral tones. One 'sucks' melancholy from these songs as a weasel sucks eggs."

One hundred and one years later, with such history in mind, Colbeck's great-grandson and I made our preparations to camp together deep in Antarctica's otherworldly landscape. Julian began a journal that he titled "100 Days after 100 Years." We each sensed what might go wrong—disagreements or misunderstandings intensified by close quarters—in a two-person camp over a long Antarctic summer. Coincidentally, like most of the men of the Southern Cross expedition, Julian and I began our journey as strangers, having met just two weeks earlier. The friend I had hired dropped out at the last minute, and Julian, on the recommendation of a mutual acquaintance, was able to fill in. Julian lived in New Zealand then, and quit his computing job to meet me at a bar in Christchurch on my way south.

Born English, but a Californian since childhood, Julian is a well-mannered gentleman with a passion for surfing. He smiles at least once in every conversation and manages to wear even puffy insulated Antarctic clothing like a pressed suit. At six feet five inches, Julian is four inches taller than I am and has a slight tall-man's stoop that gives the impression that he bows gently when speaking. In our first pleasant, careful meeting over Christchurch microbrews, we laid the groundwork for the diplomacy and adventure before us. We smiled, talked of mutual acquaintances and our ice histories, listened closely to each other's answers, but did not talk business. Rather, we genially toasted our future success. Neither of us had done as long or as isolated an Antarctic journey as we had before us, and we were both excited. I left for McMurdo the next day and Julian followed a week later.

Out on the Odell, we'd have two goals: first, to build and maintain an emergency runway for planes weathered out of landing in McMurdo and too short on fuel to go anyplace else. The New York Air National Guard (NYANG)—who fly the USAP's cargo in large LC-130 Hercules aircraft from New Zealand to McMurdo and then distribute it to sites around the continent—wanted an alternate landing site. Many times each summer, storm or fog make landing in McMurdo dangerous. Julian and I would be in charge of their Last Chance landing field.

Our other goal: to be good company, with only each other to look at for ninety days.

Sanity in an Antarctic field camp starts with good food or, failing that, a good attitude toward the food you've got. Luckily, Julian and I would have access to the best supplies in the USAP and, more importantly, a similar approach to cooking: start with dessert, keep meals simple, and keep the food coming.

Unlike the Southern Cross expedition, we were not bringing a ton of compressed potatoes or butter in hundredweights. Nor were we packing chartreuse, champagne, or twenty-eight tons of Spratt's dog biscuits. We would be well supplied, however, with provisions generally familiar to Julian's great-grandfather: a modern mix of carbs, fats, sweets, and yes, plenty of cans. We had no intention of ending like so many historic Antarctic journeys: overzealous, underfed, scurvy-ridden, and chewing on their dogs. Chewing on our snowmobiles would be of little use, in any event, so we padded our food lists and considered praying to the ghost of Sir Ernest Shackleton to see us through.


Though he was a legendary leader, Shackleton actually struggled and starved his way through three major expeditions and died without his Christmas dinner at the start of his fourth, and so may not be the most auspicious saint of Antarctic cuisine. On his first journey—as a secondary figure on Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery expedition—he was invalided home after a bout with scurvy during an abortive sledging trip across the Ross Ice Shelf. (The captain of the resupply ship that brought Shackleton home was none other than William Colbeck who, despite his dark year with Borchgrevink, still craved the Antarctic experience.) But whatever the odds, Shackleton was a survivor. Of all his remarkable narratives, I prefer that of the last weeks of his 1907–9 Nimrod expedition. He and his three companions—Jameson Adams, Dr. Eric Marshall, and Frank Wild—were trudging back to McMurdo Sound after a remarkably stoic attempt to reach the South Pole, each day stretching their rations and bringing the men to the brink of starvation. In four months, they had only one full meal. During the climax of this drama, Shackleton scrawled very brief diary entries that always noted his group's overpowering hunger:

February 7, 1909: "Blowing hard blizzard. Kept going till 6 p.m. Adams and Marshall renewed dysentery. Dead tired. Short food; very weak."

February 8: "Started from camp in blizzard. Adams and Marshall still dysentery; Wild and I all right. Feel starving for food. Talk of it all day. Anyhow, getting north, thank God. Sixty-nine miles to Chinaman [pony meat] depot."

February 9: "Strong following blizzard, and did 14½ miles to north. Adams not fit yet. All thinking and talking of food."

February 10: "Strong following wind. Did 20 miles 300 yards. Temperature plus 22 degrees Fahr. All thinking and talking of food."

The group's thin hooshes of pemmican, crushed biscuit, pony fodder, and rancid pony meat could not compensate for the thousands of calories burned daily while hauling their heavy sledge. When each man was down to a ration of just four "miserably thin" biscuits per day, Shackleton gave one of his to the dysentery-weakened Frank Wild. "I do not suppose that anyone else in the world," wrote Wild in his diary, "can thoroughly realize how much generosity and sympathy was shown by this. I DO by GOD I shall never forget it." Wild was less generous in his comments on Adams and Marshall, who he called "those two grub-scoffing, useless beggars." Marshall in particular "does not pull the weight of his food, the big, hulking, lazy hog," though it was Marshall who found the strength to reach a depot when the other men had collapsed after forty starving hours. Marshall had earlier handed out cocaine-based Forced March tablets from the med kit when the food ran out, but to little avail. Shackleton understood how close they all were to the edge: "Our food lies ahead," he scribbled with a frostbitten hand, "and death stalks us from behind."

By the end, their limbs clumsy with cold, Shackleton's team was a collection of shivering vital organs moving desperately forward. They had wagered their lives on the idea that they could sustain themselves with the skimpy depots of food and fuel they had cached at intervals between the Pole and home.

"We could not joke about food," Shackleton said, but he and his companions schemed and argued about it daily and dreamt about it at night. On the march, they described previous feasts and fantasized about the banquets they would lay out for each other if they reached civilization. One fantasy included a day of feasting at home with six huge, elaborate meals—upon waking, then at 8:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., 3:45 p.m., and 6:00 p.m.—and then at midnight

a really big meal, just before we go to bed. There will be melon, grilled trout and butter-sauce, roast chicken with plenty of livers, a proper salad wiTheggs and very thick dressing, green peas and new potatoes, a saddle of mutton, fried suet pudding, peaches a la Melba, egg curry, plum pudding and sauce, Welsh rarebit, Queen's pudding, angels on horseback, cream cheese and celery, fruit, nuts, port wine, milk and cocoa.

They kept up this very serious fantasizing for hours throughout the day, and for days throughout the death march. They tightened their belts and looked forward, sitting down at each meal not to angels on horseback (oysters wrapped in bacon) but to small portions of hoosh with stringy, dysentery-inducing pieces of a pony named, appropriately enough, Grisi.

The long marches were also spent inventing new courses for the others to appreciate or critique. "No French chef ever devoted more thought to the invention of new dishes than we did," Shackleton later wrote. At "the high-water mark of gastronomic luxury" was Frank Wild's "Wild roll": a generous portion of mincemeat wrapped in rashers of fat bacon, set into a thick pastry, and fried in a pan full of fat. Shackleton's personal best, "which I must admit I put forward with a good deal of pride as we marched over the snow," was a sardine pasty made with at least ten tins of sardines.

Shackleton later admitted that they forgot about Antarctica in their suffering. The "glory of the high mountains" and the "majesty of the enormous glaciers," which they were the first humans to see, did not excite them. Instead, in the final days of the Nimrod expedition, their calorie-starved bellies grumbled their daily prayers amid the wilderness of ice.


I know, however, that most armchair Antarcticans prefer the high drama of Shackleton's 1914–17 Endurance expedition, a tale of shipwreck, castaways, desperate rescue journeys and superb leadership. Few published adventures can compare. Leaving aside that the expedition never actually made it to the continent, and that Shackleton's Endurance saga really has more in common with the long and noble history of Arctic shipwrecks than Antarctic terrestrial exploration, it is a good thing to honor the story. Julian and I would be wise to emulate the expedition's greatest survival tools: boundless patience and relentless optimism. That the Endurance crew all survived is the stuff of legend; how they survived is food for thought.

With the ambitious goal of crossing the Antarctic continent, Shackleton left England at the onset of World War I. When the Endurance arrived at the whaling station on the subantarctic island of South Georgia, the venerable, hard-bitten Norwegian sailors there told Shackleton that the ice of the Weddell Sea was too extensive, too dangerous that year. But with the now-or-never realities of an indebted expedition, Shackleton drove his ship south regardless. The ice opened to the Endurance, then closed around it just sixty miles away from the continent. By the following summer, all that remained was a pile of magnificent splinters sent to the bottom of the Weddell Sea. Their last meal on board was eaten in silence as the ship's great timbers broke beneath them.

The greatest endurance shown in the Endurance expedition was not in the arduous moments of crisis—though there were plenty of those—but rather in the long, hungry months of waiting, initially on the broken ice floes of the Weddell Sea. It is hard for us today to imagine true disconnect from the world, but place yourself among the encampment of these sailors and scientists on the shifting, snow-covered sea ice, over a thousand miles from the nearest humans, several thousand feet above the sea floor, with no method of communication beyond their thin voices (a wireless radio on the ship had failed). The fragmented gyre of Weddell Sea pack ice they occupied was like a flat white Europe in demented motion, not unlike the World War I landscape they had left behind. As they rotated slowly through the Antarctic summer, the men sat, slept, and fought fear and boredom on a slushy, transient surface.

The soft, often ruptured ice made travel impossible. One sailor wrote in his journal that it was a "hard, rough, jolly life, this marching and camping ... working as hard as the human physique is capable of on a minimum of food." When Shackleton ordered the crew to "manhaul"—stepping into harness like beasts of burden—their boats toward the Antarctic Peninsula, they managed a mere seven and a half miles after seven days of extreme effort. Thus they stopped, and awaited their fate for the next 103 days in the aptly named Patience Camp, where an average day's food consisted of half a pound of seal with three-quarters pint of tea for breakfast, one four-ounce bannock [unleavened flat bread] with milk for lunch, and three-quarters pint of seal hoosh for supper. Seal blubber was eaten raw, fried, and boiled. Shackleton kept his men's spirits up by planning slightly different menus each week, and by occasionally mixing in one of the remaining treats saved from the ship—jam, or anchovies in oil, for example. At Christmas, he broke out canned peaches, cold mutton, curried prawns, jam, figs, and onions. Still, men were hungry. Some combed the snow for crumbs, others fantasized aloud about food, and eventually Shackleton ordered the last of the sled dogs killed and butchered. The last of the cocoa was drunk, and old seal flippers and heads were dug out of the slush for their remnants of rancid fat.


Excerpted from HOOSH by JASON C. ANTHONY Copyright © 2012 by Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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