29 Jan 2013

SNOWPOCALYPSE aka How to cook (on) an engine

Sharon Endacotte 'reviews' Manifold Destiny and how it is possible to survive, snowbound, with less tools than you might imagine

The UK is, in case you hadn’t noticed from all the ‘SNOWPOCALYPSE: WORLD ABOUT TO END’ headlines, having a touch of wintery weather at the moment. It’s just a tad nippy, and quite a lot of placed have had a bit of the white stuff fall from the sky. It’s at times like this that we’re all very pleased that someone invented central heating and cookers and kettles, and all that malarkey.

Of course, at times like this, proof of the arrival of Armageddon is generally found in the form of stories about remote villages where the weight of snow has caused the local substation to turn its toes to the sky and the power lines to collapse, cutting off the power for days and leaving the locals shivering and in need of a decent hot meal. A Millets camping stove is only any good for as long as you’ve enough gas to fuel it, and anyway, it’s hard to cook a proper meal on a single ring.

Cries and Alarums! What can you do if you’ve a brace of kids complaining that they don’t want cold baked beans on un-toast for dinner again?

Well, you probably have the solution parked outside.

You could, of course, pack everyone into the car and drive to the nearest restaurant, cafĂ© or motorway services, then come home to your cold house and repeat until either the snow melts or the electricity board pulls their finger out, but where’s the fun in that? Anyway, what about all the food you’ve had to remove from the freezer and bury in the snow to stop it going off?

Where, in short, is your sense of adventure?

The Petrolhead Survival Solution is, if not simple, then at least suitably silly, and requires only two things in addition to food and a car. One is a large pack of good quality cooking foil, and the other is a book. That book is Manifold Destiny, by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller. It might sound like it should be filled with philosophical ponderings in much the same vein as Robert M. Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but in a crisis, it’s much more useful than that.

Manifold Destiny is the seminal (and possibly only) work dedicated to the art of cooking real meals on your car’s engine. It gives cooking time in miles and occasionally in traffic conditions, and temperature settings are based on which bits of the engine get hottest.

So should you find yourself stranded in a snowy village in the Highlands with a rapidly defrosting fridge and a hungry family for company, why not try wrapping some ingredients with foil, shoving them in a suitably hot bit of the engine bay (avoiding anything that needs to move, breathe or be otherwise unobstructed), pile the family in the car and go out for a (careful) drive, enjoying the scenery and the warmth of the heater. When you get home, you’ll still have to sit in your freezing , huddled around a candle until the power comes back on, but you could have anything from hot ham and cheese sandwiches to sausages and beans in 30 or so miles to the a la Kart delight of Cruise Control Pork Tenderloin, if you fancy a 250 mile round trip (given today’s fuel prices, it might be cheaper to just drive to the nearest McDonalds than attempt that one) to keep you warm on the inside. Even a basic stew can be knocked up in a mere 85 miles. OK, so these days you’ll probably have to remove the irritating plastic cover from your engine bay, and cooking on your engine may well invalidate your warranty, and get it wrong and you could wipe out your entire family with botulism, but hey, it beats raw eggs and uncooked spaghetti.

All joking aside, however, Manifold Destiny has become something of a cult classic, containing as it does over forty extremely varied recipes that can be cooked outdoors without the aid of a barbeque. It certainly contains some inspiring ideas for a picnic, and some potential alternatives to the Little Chef next time you’re blasting along the A303. Imagine dining on a home cooked meal, fresh from the heat of the engine, in the shadow of Stonehenge on a beautiful summer day…

It is worth bearing in mind, however, that this book was written for the American market, which means those of us on this side of the pond might need to substitute a few things (such as Graham crackers or Corvette Stingrays), and there are a few differences in terminology you might need to Google.

Oh, and if you’re a big wuss – and not in the middle of a power failure – you can actually cook these things in a kitchen.