Christmas Greetings from the North Pole!

14 December 2018

Cultural Studies | Empire and Globalism | History

Photo from [Ziegler Polar Expedition: Christmas Dinner], 1904, © The Explorers Club. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

The Adam Matthew Christmas party is imminent, with alcohol flowing, plenty of mingling and, of course, an abundance of food. Feeling festive, I decided to venture around AM Explorer, reflecting on Christmas parties and dinners over time and the difference between celebrations now and in times gone by. During this search, a rather unusual Christmas Day menu caught my eye from the Age of Exploration collection, for the crew on the Ziegler Polar Expedition, 1904. Let’s just say that the delicacies of pigs in blankets and roast potatoes are a far cry from the rather extraordinary menu that was on offer to the crew that evening on Crown Prince Rudolph Island.

Photo from [Ziegler Polar Expedition: Christmas Dinner], 1904, © The Explorers Club. Further reproduction prohibited without permission

While the small, folded menu would not usually catch the eye, the food within is anything but bland. The opening course is bouillon, a form of broth, with olives, cherries in brandy and salted almonds, followed by creamed cod roe served with fried potatoes and asparagus. The roe is a caviar paste that is sold in IKEA today (though I doubt their sales of this in Croydon are high). Both courses are rather unusual. The third course is guillemot patties (a guillemot being a seabird), with carciofini salad (an artichoke-based salad with parmesan and olive oil) and piccalilli, washed down with “Prince Rudolf” Bock Beer. Again, I don’t imagine this would ignite lingering looks from your five-year-old cousins and would probably give twitchers a heart attack. 

Following this is the strangest part of the menu. Roman punch with roast polar bear , served with cream potatoes and cranberry sauce. Polar bear appears to be the jewel in the crown of this menu, the turkey to our modern tables, though I imagine it to be David Attenborough’s worst nightmare. Pudding is a more familiar affair: ice cream and strawberries with cake, raisins, biscuits, Roquefort cheese and coffee.

For all my comments, however, the menu does reveal something of an explorer’s life. The nature of the bizarre mix of ingredients, cobbled together on a formal paper menu, shows how being on cold and unfriendly territories for so long required a need to use what was available and what could be preserved. That this Christmas meal was a welcome relief from the harsh reality of living in the freezing temperate of the northern hemisphere. That for Christmas, even in the far stretches of the Earth, there was reason to celebrate amongst good company. The menu might be unusual, but the sentiment of the shared table for Christmas dinner remains.


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About the Author

Sophie Seddon

Sophie Seddon

I joined the Editorial Team at Adam Matthew in September 2018 as an Assistant Development Editor. My background is in English Literature and History with a focus on gender and social history, fashion and travel writing.