In 1960 I was a participant of a summer polar expedition of the Polish Academy of Science located on West Spitsbergen island, the biggest in the archipelago of Svalbard situated beyond the Arctic circle. At that time our expedition was working in pioneering conditions, not much different from the time of conquest of the Arctic in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It concerned living conditions, transport, food and so on. Helicopters, snowmobiles or dog sledges were the things which we could have only dreamt about. The predominant elements of the diet, especially for all-terrain groups working on glaciers, were rolled oats watered by sweet or unsweeted condensed milk, pasta, powder eggs or canned pork meat. Regarding canned meat, there was a wide range of choice but reluctantly made, because of the weight and the fact that we had to carry it on our backs or pull on the sledges to the place of fieldwork. In such high humidity conditions of air and temperature oscillating from plus to minus 5 Celsius Degree frozen or dried meat went bad very quickly.
At the end of the way back to the base of the expedition, Fritz Moravec - Austrian alpinist and Himalayst - came on board of Governor's ship. His aim was to reach the highest mountain in Spitsberg- Hornsundtind (1431 m npm). He was waiting for his friend, who was to arrive by a different ship. Unfortunately, he did not appear in time. It turned out that the ship, which Fritz wanted to come back to Europe with, wouldn't come. The Polish expedition leader offered him a place in the base camp. In consequence, he could use our food resources. Fritz Moravec appreciated the invitation. He became a full participant of the Polish Expedition. Regarding his alpine experience, he was very helpful during the fieldwork on glaciers and in the Spitsbergen's mountains.
However, he was very incredulous about our combat ration consisting of canned meat. He offered his food supplies. It was surprising because his “food supplies” were in two little transport bags. Our doubts quickly turned into amazement and admiration, when Fritz pulled out of the bag tightly closed boxes and plastic bags, of which he spilled a coarse-grained powder pouring it by cold water. After half an hour the powder started changing into pieces of carrot, cucumber, tomato and even lettuce. They looked and tasted like natural products. In the Fritz's combat rations there were fruits, steaks and also poultry made in the same way. It was the first time when I ate freeze-dried food, that is free of water by evaporation; because of that it is very light and only a little deprived of original flavor and nutrition.
I reckon, since that time the production food technology has moved ahead. Thanks to this, it became indispensable in tourism, alpine sports, space travel and so on.
Jerzy Pruchnicki is trained as a hydraulic engineering, hydrologist and meteorologist. He participated in polar expeditions organized by the Polish Academy of Science on Spitsbergen between 1957-1962. Since 1958 he was the operator and technical manager. In the next few years Jerzy Pruchnicki worked as lecturer in Warsaw University of Technology, in the Institute of Meteorology and Water Management and finally in The World Meteorological Organization in Geneva. He is retired since 2002.
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Back from two months of adventures on the new continent full of powdery snow and bloody cracks.