It was once thought that penguins were the least evolved of birds — that they were the closest thing we had to living remnants of dinosaurs. You might think to yourself that’s a bit of a stretch, but this was back when penguins and dinosaurs were both novelties. The reason men of Science thought this was because the penguin seemed such a useless, odd and mysterious bird. It didn’t fly; it had scale-like feathers; it left the fathers to sit on the eggs for months at a time, and they conducted a great deal of their lives in the most inhospitable place on Earth — Antarctica.
The Emperor penguin, in particular, was the subject of much speculation, as it nested in 24-hour darkness in the middle of the Antarctic winter, where temperatures regularly dip to 70 below. Scientists speculated that if they could only get their hands on an egg which contained a penguin embryo, they could prove the link that had eluded them ever since enormous bones started showing up buried in sandy rocks.
Thus did three intrepid explorers set out in the winter of 1911 to trek from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier, where the penguin rookery was known to be. Edward Wilson, Birdie Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard set out with wooden sledges and woolen clothes in the total darkness and encountered conditions no man had ever experienced, let alone survived. Cherry-Garrard later memorialized these five weeks of hell in his book The Worst Journey In The World. He was not one to mince words. He was only 24 at the time and it was so cold his teeth cracked. They returned with three penguin eggs which, when first presented to the Natural History Museum by Cherry-Garrard — by then the Crozier journey’s only survivor — were scoffed at. Now they are among its most treasured possessions.
It turns out that penguins are not the “missing link” between dinosaurs and birds after all. They just conduct their lives outside the sphere of mankind’s influence. Penguins don’t taste great and mate for life. They build nests out of rocks. That Cherry-Garrard's masterpiece of adventure literature was published by penguin books is one of publishing's most delicious ironies.
This one has been lovingly recreated in hard boiled egg and black olive as a decorative garnish for a plate of cheese sticks rolled up in slices of ham.
Fast and Fancy Cookbook, Fawcett Publications, Inc., 1969
Also from this book: Spot The Recipe