Bake off in Antarctica

The latest blog to come from Pine Island Glacier has been written by Isabel Nias, a PhD geography student from the University of Bristol. She describes the challenges of cooking up a feast for the iSTAR participants:


While the reason we are here on Pine Island Glacier is to do science, a major operation each day is to keep everyone fed and watered (AKA “happy”) and essential household chores taken care of. This critical role, known as “GASH duty”, is given to one person each day, on a pseudo rota devised by James, depending on what science is going on.

My first experience of GASH duty saw me shivering in the Caboose at 6:15am, with frozen water pipes to deal with. Luckily Rob was up as well, so while I got the kettle boiling for tea and porridge (with the water retrieved from outside by hand from the melt water tank), Rob located the blowtorch and got about defrosting the pipes. Slowly the temperature inside the Caboose rose from -3˚C to positive numbers, keeping out the -26˚C cold from outside.


One of the mountain tents in front of the caboose

Once everyone was fed porridge and had drunk enough tea and coffee (if that is indeed possible with these folk), I got about doing the general bits of cleaning. It is amazing how much hair accumulates on every surface of the caboose. Things I spent a large proportion of the day doing: boiling water, opening tins, baking bread, boiling even more water.

The caboose has a pretty well equipped kitchen. It feels slightly strange to be using something as domestic as a bread maker in one of the remotest part of Antarctica. Having said this, it strikes me that bread makers are an essential piece of field kit (I’ve previously had one on fieldwork in Greenland as well). There is also a stove and a recently acquired oven. The only thing we are missing is a fridge and freezer. But seeing as we have the world’s largest freezer just outside, that would be somewhat redundant.

Most of our food supplies come out of military 10 person/one day ration boxes. These boxes consist of numerous tins, sachets of powder (soup, milk, flavourings and eggs) and packets of carbohydrates and snacks. The more interesting items include tinned bacon (better than the real stuff in my opinion); “Chicken in its Own Juice”; and the legendary “Sausages in Lard” (yes, it says exactly that on the tins).


Chef Isabel dishes up pudding inside the caboose

Most meals consist of some form of slop and carbohydrate. On this occasion I opted to cook an oriental chicken slop with noodles. There is a certain amount of competition between us, especially when it comes to pudding. We have surplus tinned fruit and loads of powdered custard, so most puddings are based around these items. I made a pineapple upside down pudding, but we have also had peach crumble, bread and butter pudding, fruit and chocolate sauce, ginger cake, and perhaps less successfully, rice pudding. It’s impressive the kind of things people can come up with, using limited ingredients, while everyone else is busy outside. It took Tim two days to clean out the rice pudding pot.

There is debate as to whether GASH duty is better when everyone is hanging round the caboose during a day of poor weather (pros: you have company; cons: the constant demand for tea and coffee) or when everyone is out busy working (pros: no one gets under your feet in your very small kitchen; cons: lonely). However, I think there is something we can all agree on, and that is GASH day is NOT a day off.

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