Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Space food: recreating an authentic space experience on Earth. A review of The Astronaut's Cookbook.

I've had an ongoing interest in Space Food Sticks, which have quietly vanished from Australian supermarket shelves in the last few years, despite the fact that they seemed to have a healthy export market in the US. So when I learnt of Springer's recently launched The Astronaut's Cookbook:  Tales, Recipes, and More, by Charles T. Bourland and Gregory L. Vogt, I was curious to see what it might have to say about them.

The space food stick was created by Pillsbury in a form that could be inserted into a helmet port - but of course that was never going to work with the pressure differential.  Despite this, the originally caramel-flavoured sticks were part of the Apollo menu. Bourland and Vogt imply that sales of the Pillsbury space food stick were disappointing and the product never took off, so to speak (Bourland and Vogt 2010:32).

This is interesting as they certainly took off in Australia!  They were manufactured by White Wings, a company owned by Uncle Ben's (I think). I remember them as being chocolate, not caramel, although there was a caramel version available.  In later years the box featured a picture of a BMX bike rather than a spacecraft.  Perhaps there was a subtle safety message in this:  "astronauts wear helmets, so it's cool to wear a bike helmet".  Assuming that the callow youth thought astronauts were cool, of course.

When I held a symposium about the history and heritage of Woomera a few years ago, I bought many boxes and put an individually wrapped stick in each delegate's bag of symposium stuff.  A year or so later, I wanted to buy some to take to the Centre Spatial Guyanais, and was unable to find them anywhere.  (Perhaps, in retrospect, the intended recipients in French Guiana may have reason to be grateful for that).

USA peanut butter flavoured space food stick box.
Image courtesy of Mojowski 77

Australian chocolate space food sticks.  Author's image.

While Bourland and Vogt don't have much more to say about space food sticks, they do offer a recipe for Bacon Bars (2010:35):

Bacon Bars
1 lb cooked bacon

1. Fry the bacon until golden brown
2.  Place the warm bacon into a hamburger press
3.  Exert 3000 lbs of pressure for 10 seconds
4.  Remove the compressed bacon and let cool.
Yield:  more than you would want.
After samping the bar - so that you can say that you tried it - give the rest to the family dog. One nibble, and Fido will prance around the house barking [Translation:  "It's BACON!").

While I don't own a hamburger press, or have a dog, I confess I am very tempted to try making some version of this. Hell - it's BACON!

I was also amused by this recipe:

Breakfast cereal
1 cup of your favourite cold cereal*
1/3 cup of powdered milk
2 tsp of sugar or 1 packet artificial sweetener
1/2 cup cold water
1 resealable plastic sandwich bag
*Frosted cereals stay crisper longer than unfrosted cereals.

1.  Put all the ingredients in the bag.
2. When ready to eat, add water and reseal the bag.
3.  Shake the bag to dissolve the milk and sugar.
4. Open the bag and eat immediately with a spoon.
5.  Write a note to yourself to never do that again unless you become an astronaut.
Yield:  1 serving.

I think this recipe may reflect the US palate, much sweeter than the Australian, as I can't imagine any adult would actually add sugar to an already frosted cereal, let alone 2 teaspoons.  But perhaps things have to be sweeter in space.  (Hmmm.  This might not be too bad with Froot Loops ......).  If you want to try this one, I think the first step should read "Put all the ingredients in the bag EXCEPT the water".  There is an art to writing recipes that is often overlooked.  Or perhaps I mean a logic.

So you can see this is a very quirky and entertaining book, and may even have some recipes worth trying at home in it, as well as the historical and scientific background to space cuisine. (They include Russian space food as well).  I like the idea that we can be space tourists at home by recreating space experiences, in the same way that space food attempts to replicate the tastes and experience of being at home on Earth. The snippets offered here are from the promotional download, available at the Springer website,

I don't yet have my own copy.  And Christmas is not far away ...........

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