Tuesday, October 14, 2008

South Pole Cooking

There was an injury among the galley staff the other day (nothing serious, don't worry), so they're a little short staffed in the kitchen at the moment. I've been meaning to cook more, and agreed to help out by making desert a couple of nights this week. It turns out that there are a couple of fairly fundamental problems with cooking down here:

First, we haven't had any fresh food or ingredients delivered since station close back in February. We're completely out of just about everything, so you sort of have to tailor meals to what's available.

Second, we're very high up, and nothing bakes quite right at altitude. Technically, we're just over 9,000 feet above sea level, but because of the earth's rotation, the atmosphere gets squished away from the poles and toward the equator. The air here is equivalent to anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 feet, depending on the weather.

All that taken into consideration, I decided to try making a couple of cheesecakes. They're supposed to be relatively stable at high altitude, and I knew we had cream cheese, so it seemed like a likely possibility. After a quick recipe search, I thought I had found something we could do, and went to work.

Unfortunately, I hadn't inspected our stores since June, and most of what I needed was long gone. For example, we have no graham crackers - the only way I could make crust was by scavenging some "crust mix" from a pile of expired no-bake Jello cheesecake mixes. (They turned out to be "chocolate" flavor, though you'd never know by eating them.) Having resigned myself to a rather questionable crust, I went to tackle the main cake part.

Much to my chagrin, cream cheese separates when frozen. Not just into liquids and solids, but into about 5 different components. You have to take the package, scoop all the various chunks and juices into a food processor and blend it all back together. From there, things sort of went downhill.

Our eggs recently ran out, so I had to use a carton of rather chunky and unappetizing "frozen egg product". Egg yolks were replaced by a bag of thick orange goop. For cream, I resorted to reconstituted milk. Even the lemon juice has run out, and after a bit of searching, sweetened lime juice from the bar subbed in.

Oh, also, the springform pans were the wrong size - too short by an inch.

Anyway, after substituting more than half the ingredients on the recipe, it was time to bake. Things were a little tense at first, as both pies rose dangerously above the edges of their pans, but eventually things settled down and ended up looking - much to everyone's surprise - pretty much like cheesecakes. Even more surprising, they were not only edible, but quite good!

Cooking at pole this late in the season is an exercise in both creativity and ingenuity; I have no idea how the cooks do it day in and day out. I will say, though, that it's quite fun, and surprisingly gratifying when, after what appears to be a complete debacle, everything mysteriously works out.


ExMember said...

No pictures?

Keith said...

Sorry, no - I'm kind of burnt out taking pictures down here, so it never occurred to me at the time. Now it's too late - they've both been eaten...

Lisa said...

Tom always says you make good cheesecake.

Troy Neilson said...

Wow... that was quite an adventure... Makes me feel like I should appreciate the availability of stuff here, and cook more often :)

Kareem said...

mmmmmmm deepfried cheesecake - remember the DF Amareto cheesecake with won ton wrappers? Ohhhhhh yeah... 2k9 baby, just you wait!