Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Balut-y Hell

The Emperor Penguin eggs

Oates, Scott, Evans
Bowers, Wilson
100 years ago today, Captain Robert F. Scott and his four companions reached the South Pole, only to find they’d been beaten to the goal by Roald Amundsen, 33 days earlier. The photographs taken that day to memorialize the achievement for the record show five very dejected men, all of whom were to die on their return journey. The photographs were taken by Birdie Bowers, pulling the shutter with a string. Birdie Bowers is the unsung hero of Scott’s expedition — intensely loyal, with a superhuman ability to withstand the cold, he was in charge of navigation and stores — that is to say, the food. He was also the only member of the party who had to walk to the South Pole, because he didn’t have a pair of skis.

Along with Birdie Bowers was Edward Wilson, the expedition's chief scientist and Scott’s best friend. Bowers and Wilson had previously survived The Worst Journey In The World, a five-week trek in the middle of the Antarctic winter in total darkness and temperatures of -40c to recover Emperor penguin eggs. The other member of their three-man team, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, was the one who lived to write the book. It was so cold his teeth shattered.

Bowers, Wilson and Cherry-Garrard the night they set out
Wilson, Bowers and Cherry-Garrard the night they returned
Their trek to Cape Crozier, the nesting colony of the Emperor penguin, was one of the more rigorous feats of scientific pursuit ever attempted by man, and it was all in aid of what people claim was the real purpose of the expedition — to advance science (rather than claiming the Pole, though that’s what it’s remembered for). They found, to their dismay, far less penguins than expected, and some of the eggs they carried back with them broke along the way. Only three survived. It was hoped that the embryos inside would prove the missing link between dinosaurs and birds, the Emperor penguin being considered the most primitive bird at the time (due to its ability to survive such inhospitable conditions).

When Cherry-Garrard finally delivered them in person to the Natural History Museum upon his return to civilization, he was told to wait in a corridor. No-one was interested in the eggs. He was told to just leave them at the desk. They weren’t even going to give him a receipt for this treasure that had cost him the lives of his friends, his sanity, and his teeth. As you can imagine, he blew a fuse.

Today, the Natural History Museum feels rather differently. In order to celebrate the centenary of Scott’s death, they are presenting a grand exhibition on him, featuring hundreds of artifacts for the public to gaze upon with wonder — and at the heart of it, something the Museum considers one of its greatest treasures — the Emperor penguin eggs.

Yuckylicious would also like to mark the occasion with a recipe made with eggs. Specifically, the national dish of the Philippines, Balut — duck embryo.

It is worth noting that, generally speaking, any food the locals claim to be an aphrodisiac that improves a man’s “sex stamina” has developed this reputation not because it works, but as an incentive to put it in one’s mouth in the first place. 

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