food

Start of winter by Jerry Gillham

Midwinter, the biggest celebration in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic, is almost upon us. Everyone has been spending the last few weeks (if not longer) working on their gifts, trying to tie up odd jobs so they can enjoy some time off, and trying to make the most of the start of winter. 

May was a pretty quiet month. With the toothfish ships at sea and the krill ships not arriving until next week (probably right in the middle of our celebrations) the boats have been off the water for a bit of maintenance. A few pairs of people have been off on holidays and on station we've been counting everything. Our annual indents cover all the field kit, stationary, comms, computing, domestic, cleaning, food & catering goods. Sometimes you can work with a few other people to get big chores done, other times you just put some music on and start looking through draws, making piles of pens.

Here's a few random photos from the last couple of months that haven't fitted into any other blogs:

One of the tasks we had in March / April was supporting a party doing asbestos and oil assessments of the old whaling stations at Husvik, Stromness and, pictured here, the largest one at Leith. These sites are fascinating but prohibitively unsafe so we're not allowed to get much closer than this.

Young rebels, Bob (mechanic) and Dave (electrician) having ridden their bikes round to Grytviken to consult with builder and former BAS technician Andy. It's only about a kilometre around the track between King Edward Point and Grytviken but it can be the longest part of any long walk and if you're doing it repeatedly it's nice to be able to mix it up a bit with the bike.

A day out exploring Repeater Ridge and making a try of Mount Spencer started with a walk over to Maiviken. Fraser (doctor), Vicki (fisheries scientist) and Bob looking at the route ahead, with Fraser preserving his energy by not wasting time turning round.

A steep ascent up the scree left us sweating and panting but gave great views down on Maiviken, the study bay for the gentoo penguins and fur seals.

We didn't get to the peak of Mount Spencer as the ridge pretty soon got quite technical - a bit too much for flaky rock and no kit. Still found it a challenge to traverse around the edge.

Another day out and exploring the edge of our travel limits with Fraser, Matthew & Paddy (boating officers). We are restricted to a few small peninsulas but it still makes a very expansive area - you'd have to be here a good few years to experience it all. This direction we found another technical ridge marking the end of our day's walk. From here we got a great alternative view down to Upper Hamberg Lake, the glacier above it and the peak at the back is Mount Sugartop.

A decent bit of snow on the ground, but a grey day so Vicki, Dave, Paddy, Kieran (zoologist) and I went off to do a short hike up the small, local Brown Mountain. It turned out to be a great day for some ice axe training that quickly turned into a sledging competition.

"Now, this is where we keep all of our meat. You got 15 rib roasts, 30 ten-pound bags of hamburger. We got 12 turkeys, about 40 chickens, 50 sirloin steaks, two dozen of pork roasts, and 20 legs of lamb."

Today. We had this big dump of snow earlier in the week but today was the first time I've got out in it. Partly because of work but mainly because that slope at the other side of the bay is above the only track out of King Edward Point and is rather prone to avalanches, so I let it settle a bit first.

It's still deep, fluffy snow so I opted for the board rather than the skis. Turns out it's still too deep. I got a couple of good runs down when sticking in a rigidly straight line but pretty much every time I tried to turn, which I'm not very good at anyway, it dug into the deep snow too much and threw me on my arse. Still, it's not a bad way to spend a lunchtime.

Food and how we eat it by Jerry

Continuing my theme of updating the day-to-day normality of life on a sub-Antarctic research station, here's a blog all about our food.

Bird Island has no permanent chef, instead we take it in turns to cook. We try to make Saturday nights formal (or dressing up) with a three-course meal. Other trends develop through the year too; Sunday roasts, Friday chip shop night, snacks for film nights.

We have limited fresh produce, only arriving when the ships come by, so may be as few as three times a year. And by fresh I mean may have been at sea for a month. So we tend to go for long-lasting root vegetables, chopping and freezing them as needed. Thankfully the ship chefs often take pity on us and send over a box of crunchy, fresh stuff.

Fresh tomatoes! Sian and Lucy can't hide their excitement (photo by Alastair Wilson).

All fresh produce has to undergo a rigorous bio-security check, searching leaves for any invading alien species. Broccoli and lettuce, veg with lots of hiding places, has recently been banned from our order list.

The cool shed that serves as our vegetable cupboard. Everything is checked on a weekly basis for mould. It's amazing how long eggs will last if they're turned over each week (so long as you don't look back into the shell after breaking it).

Everything else that comes in is either frozen, dried or tinned. As it's just after resupply our shelves are full so here's a few pics and notes:

Tea, coffee, milk powder (you get used to it) and jaffa cakes. Yeah, essentials.

A whole shelf of herbs and spices for livening up any meal.

Poppadaums, pickles and coconut milk. Starting point for one of our many epic curry nights.

Fruit juice, pasta, crisps and huge amounts of flour.

Freezer 1. Cheese, butter and loads of veggie foods.

Freezer 2. Non-veggie stuff. We do have another freezer almost exclusively full of frozen veg, and a small area of ice cream.

The kitchen is not huge but easily big enough for one or two people to work in and is very well stocked with everything one could possibly need to whip up an exciting meal.

Tim, hard at work peeling potatoes, modelling the kitchen.

Amongst the well-stocking is a super bread-mixer. Baking bread is a duty of the daily chef and coming in to fresh bread is one of the joys of living here. People take great pride in their bread, whether it's the consistent quality of theirs or a specific recipe they use (I like making one with a bit of apple, sultanas, pistachio nuts, ginger and cinnamon in it).

Ordering food is a difficult task for the winter station leader. You'll always run low on something, whether because you don't order enough or you get a tech that eats an unexpectedly large amount of ketchup. We had to ration certain things in each of my winters - jars of olives, fruit juice concentrate, tins of tomatoes. It can make cooking interesting when you have to start improvising and working in so many substitutes a simple recipe becomes something completely different. One of my more successful experiments was blitzing and tin of baked beans in the blender to make a tomato topping for pizzas.

It's always pleasing seeing the efforts people go to with their cooking, whether they're confident and trying something extravagant or hating the whole process but unwilling to let people down. And every meal concludes with a round of thanks for the chef, who then has the joy of watching everyone else doing the washing up and tidying away.

Wine, beer and gin.