At 6pm on March 6 Wednesday Jason C. Anthony author of "Hoosh," will be the guest on "Open Book," join us for a fascinating lively discussion.
Wednesday March 6 on "Open Book," with long time veteran host, Johnny Kosnow...the guest to be interviewed is the author of, "Hoosh, roast penquin, scurvy day, and other Antarctic Cuisine." This program is sponsored by Rock City Cafe and Roasters.
‘Hoosh,’ by Jason C. Anthony
By REBECCA P. SINKLER
Published: November 30, 2012
“I am not dead,” exclaimed an astonished Capt. Georges Lecointe on awaking one morning circa 1897. Or perhaps we should say “complained.” In the throes of scurvy, his ship trapped in the ice in the black Antarctic winter, one of the leaders of the first major scientific expedition of the heroic age had been saved from death by a “last meal”: penguin that tasted like “beef, odiferous cod fish and a canvas-backed duck, roasted together in a pot with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce.” The poor man might have welcomed death.
Photograph by Frank Wild, courtesy of the National Library of Australia
Seal slayers: Frank Wild and M. H. Moyes kill their dinner.
Roast Penguin, Scurvy Day, and Other Stories of Antarctic Cuisine
By Jason C. Anthony
Illustrated. 286 pp. University of Nebraska Press. Paper, $26.95.
To greet another dawn (or lack thereof) in the early days of Antarctic exploration meant facing unimaginably brutal conditions. Perhaps you were in a sleeping bag sodden with your own urine — the result of cold-induced incontinence — lying atop a bare stone bed, your extremities frostbitten, your stomach lurching between constipation and diarrhea, your scurvy-infested gums bleeding, your eyes snow-blinded, your lungs clogged with the cooking gases trapped in your miserable tent, your mind gripped by delirium and/or an otherworldly depression.
And then there was the hunger, the persistent, maddening, gut-cramping hunger. You thought, dreamed and talked of little but food. Forget that other primal urge. The closest you got to sex was eyeballing the woman on the Land O’Lakes butter box. You would have slaughtered your favorite dog and gladly eaten it. And you would have happily devoured hoosh — a mix of dried meat, ground biscuits and whatever else was on hand, usually watered down into a revolting stew. As Jason C. Anthony puts it in the prologue to “Hoosh,” “cold, isolation and a lack of worldly alternatives have conspired to make Antarctica’s captive inhabitants desperate for generally lousy food.”
Anthony’s book is a paean to lousy food and an elegy to the animals that provided it. Survival required slaughter, be it of pony, puppy or penguin. Imagine a culinary Matryoshka of seal fed to sled dog, dog fed to horse, horse fed to man. Happily it stopped there.
Anthony’s central insight is that an expedition, like an army, marches on its stomach, allowing him to approach a somewhat timeworn subject in a fresh way. “Hoosh” is not a cookbook, though it does have recipes (Savory Seal Brains on Toast). It’s not a history, though Anthony retells with gusto the never-stale stories of Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott, Byrd and all the other crazies who pursued knowledge to the last place in the world at the price of sanity, health and life itself. And “Hoosh” is certainly not another hymn to the heroic age.
For one thing, Anthony brings us up to the present, with visions of the bustling science stations established along the continent’s coasts and at the pole itself. Here admirable feats of cooperation among nations are topped only by the awe-inspiring logistics required to satisfy the culinary quirks of all nations, not to mention their temperamental cooks.
Anthony, who spent eight recent seasons with the United States Antarctic Program, also furnishes us with some delicious stereotypes — the pragmatic, rightfully smug Norwegians, who usually got everywhere first, and in better shape, with enough surplus food to throw a feast; the pigheaded, tragically patriotic Brits, especially Scott, who arrived at the pole only to find that Amundsen had beaten him, and whose entire party starved to death on the return trip; the larky Yanks, who, at Prohibition-era Little America, concocted a brew of medicinal alcohol with anti-scurvy meds, which they christened “Blowtorch.” And of course the French, whose chef on a 1903 expedition managed to bake “bread three times a week and perfect croissants on Friday and Sunday” — and whip up a mean crème brûlée out of cormorant eggs. Predictably, the French refused to die hungry.
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, a former editor of the Book Review, retired shortly after a trip to Antarctica.