By Lesley Parilla, Cataloger, Field Book Project
|The man who would make dumplings: William Healey Dall, wearing his expedition uniform, July 9 1865. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 6, Folder, 42. SIA2006-18833.|
Winter has made its appearance. Daylight is shorter; days are colder. At least in DC, this is the weather that defines the need for “comfort food.” The field books documenting work in places like the Arctic take on a special meaning. What might comfort food be in the Arctic?
This question came about while I was searching the text of transcribed field books. I stumbled upon an enty in the diary of William Healey Dall, recorded during 1866-1867 while he completed field work in Alaska. He wrote, “Make flapjacks & bread with saleratus & cream of Tartar & they both prove rather a failure.”
William Healey Dall was the leader of the Western Telegraph Expedition. He assumed the position at the age of 20, after the untimely passing of his colleague, Robert Kennicott. The winter of 1866-1867 was unique in that the expedition decided to remain in Alaska, instead of wintering in the mainland United States. The young Dall was newly appointed head of the expedition and was spending his first winter in the Arctic.
This first winter would be the first of many. Dall became an expert in the geology and wildlife of Alaska. I was intrigued how he dealt with his first winter, and what his choice of language and topic might tell me.
In my imagination, I figured that as winter came on, and daylightdecreased, he would be able to little fieldwork. Most of his time would be preparing for when the weather was better, keeping expedition participants in line, and perhaps spending time with locals. Several of our researchers have become quite descriptive about their food in similar challenging circumstances. Would Dall do the same?
I decided to search his diary for the word “make”. He used this term in both cases where he stated the food was a failure. The word shows up over a hundred times in the diary. As you might expect most of them refer to “making” sketches, or equipment for the work. Then winter comes, and the entries change. Entries are shorter, and almost each reference to “making something” involved food.
December 1 --Make Flapjacks for dinner.
December 13 -- Make flapjacks & bread with saleratus & cream of Tartar & they both prove rather a failure.
December 23 -- Make some gingerbread and get some fish from the fish trap where there is a good deal today.
December 25 -- Up early in the morning. After breakfast set to work and make gingerbread, apple dumplings and sauce, which takes nearly all day.
January 14 -- Whymper makes an abortive attempt to steam some dried apples.
February 2 -- Morning. Cold and disagreeable. Make up some brandy out of alcohol & fixens and the Captain gets the Russians drunk. These miserable dogs are the veriest beasts I ever saw. Make some pies. Ennis is probably off for Port Clarence. My letter was delivered. He has drawn all the powder & grub from the redoubt and 3000 lbs flour from Stepanoff.
February 3 -- Make some dumplings.
February 10 -- Make dumplings which are a failure and give old Ivan a parkie. Got all my crew for the up trip.
February 14 -- Make some biscuits & Whymper makes a pie.
February 19 -- Morning. Clear and fine. Go down to the lower point of the Nulato river to take angles for a chart. Come back and make some good gingerbread.
February 21 – Morning snowing & warm. +10. Make some soup which unfortunately gets burnt.
February 22 -- Morning. warm and cloudy. bath day & get a good hot bath Dyer makes some bread & gingercakes & Whymper burns them. Have some pea soup. Write to father on a long letter begun sometime ago. Two birds brough
February 23 -- Morning. a little colder. Writing to father. and getting out trading goods. Evening. put away some specimens & skin two birds. Make up some liquor for the Captain who gives Antoshka a drink and rather fuddles him.
February 24 -- Morning. Warm & windy. Dyer makes bread.
March 3 -- Morning. Clean out and take up the deerskin mats. Get out goods for trip. Make dumplings & sauce for dinner.
March 6 -- Morning. Kurill brings in four birds. Peetka pays me a sable for dressing his hand since he hurt it. Make a huckleberry pudding & sauce. Afternoon take some angles. feed the dogs. write out report for C
March 17 -- Morning. Set to work to copy my meteorological observations for the past six months and spend all day at it. Whymper makes some pies.
Clearly, a challenging first winter away from the normal supplies and comforts! However, it seemed that the expedition made the best of it, specializing in flapjacks, pies, gingercakes, bread, soup, dumplings, puddings, and inevitably, a sip or two of liquor. How do your winter plans compare?