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Antarctic Sledging Biscuits Recipe
Food from the Deep South

Sledging biscuits in Antarctica are one of the two foods that Antarctic exploration was built on, they are still in use today, eaten by people who are working away from bases in Antarctica as a dietary staple. They are descended from hardtack or ships biscuits, a simple, physically resilient, nutritious, long lasting, compact food stuff that is easy to make. It takes the place of bread as the standard carbohydrate source when away from base.

There are a surprising number or ways you can vary the recipe for this simple food, the recipe I used would be similar to that used by Captain Scott on his journey to the South Pole. I can't say it's exactly the same as I can't find a recipe for what he used, in fact recipes for basics such as sledging biscuits and pemmican were sometimes regarded as secrets known to the expedition physician and suppliers  of the food only. It wasn't really so important exactly what the recipe was, more so that it was a secret which added to the aura of the expedition.

The Recipe (or rather, A recipe)

Dough ready to be cut

Pricking the biscuits, I think this helps keep them flat as they cook

Sledging biscuit, butter and marmite (on one of my wife's favourite willow pattern plates)

Sledging biscuit, butter and cheese

Sledging biscuit and chunky pesto
150g plain white flour
˝tsp baking soda
˝tsp salt
30g butter
(not nearly-butter, or butter substitute)
50ml cold water

Rub the butter and flour together so that it forms a fine consistent crumb, add the baking soda and salt and mix well. Add a little of the water and knead the mixture to a soft pliable dough, adding a little water at a time to get the right consistency, you may not need all of the water and while you can add more, you can't remove it.

Place the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it out to around 1cm or just under half an inch thick and cut into rectangles. I got 8 approx. 5cm x 7.5cm (2" x 3") biscuits from this amount.

Prick the surface of the biscuits lightly with a fork (this stops them ballooning up) and place on a baking tray, I put foil on mine first as I wasn't sure how non-stick or otherwise it would be.

Place in a pre-heated oven at 190°C. The assorted instructions I amalgamated to make these biscuits said for 15 mins and that they should be turning golden in colour. After 15 mins I thought they needed a bit more cooking, so gave them another 3 mins, then I gave them another 5, at each of these three points they looked almost identical, so it seems cooking time is not critical and 15-23 mins makes little difference! Just don't let them get too dark, they should be quite pale and remember I used white flour for these if comparing them to yours.

Take them out of the oven and let them cool.

There are two traditional ways to eat them, firstly with lots of butter (more than you're probably used to or are even comfortable with) and maybe marmite (or vegemite) or cheese, and secondly crumbled into a stew with pemmican and water and anything else you might have to flavour it (like melted snow) to make Hoosh.

I hadn't made pemmican at the time so I had it with butter, butter + marmite, butter + cheese, and the less traditional fresh parsley, garlic and bean pesto which I had in the fridge from the day before (this experiment didn't take place in Antarctica).

The purpose of sledging biscuits is to top up with energy during and after a hard day in the field, even today, people who travel and camp in Antarctica often come back having lost weight. The high fat of this recipe, especially with extra fat toppings may be a bit of a surprise today as we worry so much about what we eat (though eat more unhealthily than ever). If you are outdoors in the cold working hard every day and camping out, you really burn through the calories.

Authenticity and taste test

A more authentic place to eat sledging biscuits
Well they looked authentic enough, though the baking soda made them rise a little, whereas I remember sledging biscuits I ate in Antarctica as being thinner and harder.

These that I made were better than I remember, probably as a result of being fresh and not already a year or more (or 5) old by the time I ate them. They were actually very nice considering what they were made of, though sledging biscuits have always been functional rather than consumed by choice. There is only one person I remember in Antarctica who claimed to really like them and would eat one with relish when they were around, though never sought them out when they weren't and no-one believed him anyway. In Antarctica sledging biscuits tend to come in small packs which are individually packaged so they are quite expensive for what they are, they are reserved for use off base.

The true authentic experience for me came when I had butter and marmite on a biscuit and unexpectedly, especially as I was sitting out in my English country garden in August, was taken immediately back to sitting in a tent in Antarctica at the end of an exhausting day wrapped up snug in a sleeping bag, propped up on one elbow with the Tilley lamp glowing and hissing overhead and the Primus making another brew of tea for us.

Recipe variations

Hardtack has no butter, and so the first sledging biscuits were probably similar, basically flat biscuits of flour and salt, shaped with a little water and baked.

By the time Antarctic exploration began, extra fat was added for extra energy, and recipes started to vary.

Roald Amundsen for instance used wholemeal flour and added oats to make his sledging biscuits much better nutritionally than Scott's, he also omitted baking soda which may actively reduce the levels of some vitamins in the other ingredients.

Skimmed milk powder was  also sometimes added to increase the protein, vitamin and mineral levels.

Lesson plan suggestions

Such a simple recipe and important foodstuff for a particular circumstance lends itself to use in teaching especially as it is also so easy to make. It took me about 15mins from getting the stuff out of the cupboard to having the biscuits on the tray ready to go in the oven.

You could get different students to make different recipes and then do a taste-test comparison as an introduction, then look at the ingredients in more detail, bearing in mind that when away from base for months on end, minerals and vitamins become more critical in all foods eaten as the variety is much less. Roald Amundsen  took just 4 foodstuffs, sledging biscuits, pemmican, dried milk and chocolate when he went to the South Pole in 1911, a return journey that took over 3 months. Vitamins weren't known about at the time, the first one, vitamin A wasn't discovered until 1913 with others found over the next two decades.

Here's some suggestions of combinations you could put together, the biscuits must have some sort of flour and always have salt, there are 16 possible combinations in the table below. I'd suggest the recipe further up the page as it is, the same with wholemeal flour and the same with wholemeal flour and added oats as being the most palatable and authentic. If you want to be especially authentic, you could compare these biscuits to hardtack with just flour and salt.

Each horizontal line is a possible alternative combination of ingredients.

Flour + Salt Baking soda Butter Other
white yes yes oats (30g)
white yes no oats (30g)
white yes yes no
white yes no no
white no yes oats (30g)
white no no oats (30g)
white no yes no
white no no no
wholemeal yes yes oats (30g)
wholemeal yes no oats (30g)
wholemeal yes yes no
wholemeal yes no no
wholemeal no yes oats (30g)
wholemeal no no oats (30g)
wholemeal no yes no
wholemeal no no no
Colours are for ease of reading only

Have you tried making this? If so, please email and let me know how it went, any pics I can publish here would be good too :o)

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