Next time you’re stressed cooking a Sunday roast, consider Charles Green, the cook on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s disastrous attempt to cross the Antarctic in 1914 (An Antarctic Chef, Radio 4, 18 September, 12.30pm).
Shackleton’s boat got trapped in the ice, forcing the 28-man crew to camp out on icebergs. It was minus 30 and the wind blew at 55 knots. Even the British would balk at a BBQ in that sort of weather, though they’d probably have the conversation. But Green had no choice, cooking dead penguins on an ‘oven’ heated by burning blubber. He was once asked if he got any complaints about the food. “No, no complaints,” he replied. “Just the opposite.”
British people never complain about their food when asked, but under the circumstances I’d force down a hot penguin burger and say thank you. And eventually the men decamped to Elephant Island, described as a “sheer cliff of rock” where Green “prepared meals that were savoury and satisfying”.
Green also got creative, squeezing krill out of a penguin’s intestines to cook with seaweed - he called it prawn salad. Meanwhile, “one teaspoon of meths, in a pint of hot water, flavoured with ginger and sugar, reminded some of cocktails”.
Still, after two years, the men were driven mad by hunger. One day they cut cards to see who would be killed first and eaten the next day. If Green thought cooking a penguin was bad, imagine his thoughts on gutting the crew. Fortunately, the very next morning they were all saved, two years after getting stuck. Fascinating stuff.