Catering Your Next Space-Themed Party…

When I present talks about space for various groups, I am frequently asked about what might be served to set the mood. Unfortunately there aren’t a whole lot of choices – from the American program one might feature cups of  Tang, chunks of freeze-dried ice cream that most people will try one nibble of, and a fruitcake that was developed in 1968 and is actually pretty good. As far as I can tell, no recipes were ever released for foods developed for the Soviet or Russian programs. This is probably because the objective there was to give cosmonauts a diet as much like they ate at home as possible, so even if they were eating from a tube, what was inside was something they already liked.

This would seem to make it difficult to have a party where you recreate the experience of living in a Soviet space station, but a company called Biryulevsky Experimental Factory has come to your rescue. In February of this year they started selling these:SpacefoodTubesThose are tubes of borshcht, the Russian cabbage soup called shchi, kharcho beef and walnut stew, pickle soup (rassolnik), marinated mutton, pork with vegetables, and meat pate.  For dessert they offer cottage cheese with sea buckthorn, apricot, apple and black currant purees). Here’s a link to an article about them… Unfortunately as far as I can tell the tubes of space food are only sold in Moscow, but if I find out otherwise I’ll post here.

If you do host a space station themed party before these become available, you may just have to make your own Russian food; I suppose you could put it into squeeze bottles if you went, but it will taste better if you don’t. Remember to attach some of your furniture to the walls and ceiling to set the right mood…



How History Feels, Smells, and Tastes…

There’s a stereotype of a historian as someone who spends their lives in archives and libraries, prowling through stacks of tattered manuscripts for a previously unseen description of some famous event. That’s not a hundred percent wrong – if a researcher doesn’t feel a certain thrill when finding some obscure primary source, they’re probably in the wrong business. Archives are far from the only resource, though, and many historians write with personal experience of the subjects of their study.

This might mean that a scholar who focuses on the Napoleonic Wars has taken a long hike carrying a pack, cartridge bandolier, and rifle, so that they can appreciate the lives of French soldiers who marched for hundreds of miles through wilderness on their way to invade Russia. They don’t necessarily have to do it in subzero weather to get an idea of what it was like on the way back from Moscow, though I’m sure it would help make their writing on the subject more vivid.

More to the point of my own studies, I’d like to see that Napoleonic historian get together with a group of friends and try making a meal using pots and utensils that they had carried all day. To do it right they should incorporate ingredients that they had foraged, and do their cooking over a fire of green wood that they lit using flint and tinder. A military historian who recreates cooking while on campaign will understand what it meant when so many of the Grand Armee’s wagons were lost while crossing rivers. Not only were the rations lost, but the pots to cook them and the dry fuel. Veterans would have known instantly that food was going to be a problem, and soon.

This isn’t limited to military history, or to food. I have great respect for historians like Elizabeth Wayland Barber, who learned a variety of Neolithic skills so she could write “Women’s Work: The First 10,000 Years.” Her knowledge of spinning and weaving allowed her to identify tools that had puzzled male archaeologists. The shipwrights at Roskilde Fjord in Denmark who built and sailed ships exactly like the Viking knarrs they were excavating learned a lot more than just boatbuilding and sailing. They discovered the actual cargo capacity of those vessels, the speed of nautical trade in the era, and much more.

My own studies of history have been informed by the time spent in my garden and kitchen, and I have joined a forager to find food in a forest in which I would have starved. When cooking I usually allow myself the use of modern technology like a stove and refrigerator, but try to keep those advantages in mind when coming to conclusions. I have been known to grind my wheat for bread by hand, use a mortar and pestle instead of a spice mill, and hand-chop large quantities of vegetables just to learn how long it takes, all of which have given me a new appreciation of my food processor and stand mixer. I have a tripod and chains that hold a cookpot over the fire pit in the back yard, and on a larger scale have helped another historian pit roast whole sides of beef for a party of 120 people.

As for ingredients, at the moment I am growing tomatoes, onions, garlic chives, chard, beets, kale, sorrel, asparagus, eggplant, celery, asparagus, Jamaican tree spinach, radishes, melons, tea geranium, strawberries, oregano, rosemary, two types of basil, and mint. This is along with my apple, lemon, avocado, and orange trees and two types of grapevines, and I’m clearing space for more trees.

No, I do not expect the trombone to produce little trombone seedlings. Thanks for asking.

No, I do not expect the trombone to produce little trombone seedlings. Thanks for asking. This isn’t all of it, but it’s all I can get in one shot.

I have learned much from the growing and the eating, and have developed great respect for anyone who manages to live on what they grow. I know the anguish when an unexpected cold snap or sudden unseasonable rains destroy a whole area of seedlings. I can only imagine what it would be like if the sight of those lost plants meant I knew that I’d go hungry later, instead of having to spend a little more money at the store.

How long could I last eating just what I grow? Not long. My yard is small, my skills at gardening and harvesting those of an amateur. I am content that there is something from my yard in almost every meal I create, and that my guests can enjoy the flavors of the very freshest produce. I don’t expect to need most of the skills I have learned to survive, but learning them has made me just a bit better at what I do.