“one of the most enthralling studies of gastronomy ever published”

One of the best reviews of Hoosh has been all but invisible. Since the day it came out in the UK’s The Independent (2/4/13), the review by Christopher Hirst has been locked away in pay-for-access online archives. It’s difficult to find even on an intensive Google search. At the risk of a cease-and-desist order, I reproduce it for you here…

“How curious that a book about frozen food should be one of the most enthralling studies of gastronomy ever published. You should know, however, that Birdseye does not get a mention. This is the story of the food that sustained or, often, failed to sustain adventurers in the natural deep-freeze of the Antarctic. Written by a man addicted to the white continent (Anthony has spent eight “summers” there), the book begins in the “heroic age” of exploration when an item called hoosh was the main form of sustenance.

Though this porridge made from melted snow and pemmican (dried fatty meat) thickened with crushed biscuit scarcely sounds the most luxurious of foods, you would never know it from the ecstatic response of some consumers. The albatross-enriched hoosh that saved members of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition was “remembered for the rest of their lives”. Other local additions included crabeater seal blubber, imaginatively described as “reminiscent of melon”, and frozen seal blood, which produced a hoosh thick enough “to stand a spoon upright”. Fried seal brains were the great gourmet treat of Antarctica (they should be “fresh and free of blood clots”).

Anthony reveals that the knowledge gained about scurvy by the Royal Navy in the 18th century had been pretty much lost by the early 20th century. It afflicted some explorers so badly they had to support their warped legs with bamboo splints. The pemmican packed by the Scott expedition lacked any antiscorbutic element while the more experienced Amundsen ensured his party had pemmican containing dried vegetables and seal-meat rations rich in vitamin C. But the main reason that the British perished is that their trek was too late in the year and took too long for the quantity of food they carried. A daily deficit of 2,000 calories meant that Scott probably lost 40 per cent of his body weight before he died.

Later expeditions were better provisioned though Antarctic nutrition retained its distinctive quality. During a 1949 expedition, an attempt to make the Portuguese salt cod stew known as bacalhau with the stock-fish supplied to sledge dogs was “an ammonia-scented failure because the fish had been repeatedly scent-marked by the huskies”. Today, the world’s most southerly cuisine is considerably improved, even enviable, especially at the French base where a midwinter feast of 19 courses took four hours to consume. Even at the US McMurdo Station, Anthony was the recipient of a dozen “illicitly-made olive, sweet potato and sourdough loaves”. But his inclusion of nine recipes from the heroic era suggests a lingering desire for jugged shag and seal tournedos.”

Comments

  1. Hoosh is one of the most enjoyable books that I’ve read in a long time. I spend much of my time reading polar history, and your book has all the hallmarks of the classics in the genre — brilliant anecdotes, perceptive analysis, a brilliant evocation of time and space … and taste. I relished every page. Congratulations on all the well-deserved awards!

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