SANAE IV research station is located on a small nunatak called Vesleskarvet, in Western Dronning Maud Land. Although the building its self is rather impressive, it is but a tiny spec on the immense landscape of the Antarctic.
It is this landscape that I have been privileged enough to be working in for the last few months and where I go, my trusty triple motion crank follows.
Although when I first headed South, I had high hopes of numerous ice-cream adventures, sadly, this did not happen. Seeing as Antarctica is the â€˜land of the midnight sunâ€™, it is also the â€˜land of the midnight field workâ€™ and for most of my stay in Antarctica the days were a blur of skidoos, helicopters, remote field sites and then frantic lab work. So it was not until the day of the â€˜take-overâ€™ function (where the base is officially handed over from the previous overwintering team to the next) that I had time and opportunity to make ice-cream.
I was fully expecting this to go smoothly. After all, I was surrounded by ice and the ambient temperature at the base was -10 degrees â€“ more than enough to freeze the ice-cream all by its self. However, I was wrong. Making ice-cream in the land of ice turned out to be more epic than I had anticipated…
The first challenge came with ingredients. Cows are not abundant in Antarctica and fresh cream is as rare as rocking horse droppings. Instead I was left with â€˜Creamoâ€™, a powdered alternative to cream. I studied the fat and protein content of the packet and mixed up something that had approximately the same properties as real cream. As other ingredients were also in short supply, I went for an old favourite â€“ whisky and honey.
- 300g honey
- 2 eggs
- 2 packets of Creamo = 400ml double cream
- 4 tablespoons of 18-year old Caol Ila whisky
Once the mix was made it was outside into the rather inclement weather to crank. Then things started to go wrong. The first calamity was that due to the cold and dry conditions in Antarctica (it is officially a desert after all) the wood in the bucket had contracted and it leaked like a sieve. Not a big problem bit it did lead to the outside of base being coated with brine and some very cold hands while we lined the bucket with a plastic bag. The second problem came with the choice of â€˜iceâ€™. When making ice-cream back home the idea is usually to crush the ice in to a â€˜snowâ€™ so it has a high surface area. I decided to save myself the effort of all that crushing and just use the plentiful supply of real snow. I am not quite sure why this did not work but instead of the required freezing brine a coldish slush formed that would just not freeze the ice cream mix in the churn. After nearly 40 minutes the handle felt no stiffer and the crankers were in serious danger of loosing digits so we headed inside to come up with a plan B (or was that C, maybe even D, or E…..)
It was clear that new thinking was not working in this instance so we went back to tried and tested methods. We got ice out of the ice maker (yes they do have those on Antarctic stations believe it or not), lined the bucket with plastic, grabbed salt and water and for good measure took the whole think into the deep freeze which at SANAE is a walk in room about 6 x 10 m and sits at a steady -20 degrees.
After some while, the mix did eventually freeze and produced a passable, but not great batch of ice cream. Thankfully, although the ice-cream was mediocre, the view while eating it more than made up.
In the inevitable post mortem, I identified two key problems with our method.
1)Â Â Â Â Â Â Creamo and cream may sound similar â€“ but they are not the same! The Creamo mix was out of date (as most food at SANAE Â is) and although had the right fat and protein concentration seemed to have way too much air and maybe some extra preservatives/emulsifiers that got in the way. I think in the future, sorbet is the way to go!
2)Â Â Â Â Â As discussed before, using honey in ice-cream is risky as it is tough to get an exact measurement. As the honey I was using was rather cold, I probably used a bit too much, making freezing problematic.
My biggest regret was that after the take-over the pace of life speeded up again and I did not get the chance to have another go at ice-cream in the ice….guess I will just have to go back again next year…..