The blinding sun glanced off the ermine blanket of new powder snow like a mirror, belying the decided nip in the air. In fact, with the wind-chill factor, it was 78 degrees below zero on the summit of this highest peak in the Northeast. Nippy, but not as bad as April of '34 when the winds roared around 231 m.p.h. -- the highest ever recorded anywhere on Earth.
``The worst day I remember was -46 degrees F. with winds about 180 m.p.h.,'' said Greg Gordon, as he stretched a pair of rainbow-striped suspenders over his shoulders and snapped them to the front of his blue snow-mobile pants.
Greg was preparing to climb the 6,288-foot peak to the weather observatory this numbing January morning, because, as he said without so much as a grin, ``I need the exercise.''
For the past nine years, Greg has been full-time official staff photographer for the Mt. Washington Observatory, and part-time cook.
``Actually, we all take turns cooking up there, but, let's face it, some of us are better than others. I know what people like, I'm consistent and I serve food steaming hot,'' he says with just a pinch of modesty.
The main food shopping is done twice a year, once in the spring, once in the autumn. ``That's when the weather is best, and we can truck up all our tons of dry and canned goods,'' Greg adds.
Fresh produce is brought up weekly in a large red tractor-type vehicle that groans its way to the summit in about 21/2 hours -- weather permitting.
There are always at least two men year-round manning the weather station and sometimes three or four in the summer, plus any adventurous overnighters or those unfortunates who get stranded on top and end up paying $45 room and board until they can make it down.
On a clear day you may not see forever, but you can see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean -- a view P. T. Barnum referred to as the ``Second Greatest Show on Earth.''
Nouvelle cuisine may have peaked in the lowlands, but it's never made it to the top of this mountain. This is not your kiwi and quiche crowd. ``The food is simple and hearty and there's lots of it,'' Greg says. ``No fussy eaters here. Everyone eats everything. We do a lot of roasts like lamb, pork, beef, and chicken. You just have to pop a roast in the oven and forget it.''
Meat scraps, if there are any, are tossed to a flock of carnivorous black ravens that add a certain Poe-like atmosphere to this bleak, bald, granite peak.
Greg says he doesn't get fancy in the kitchen but does serve up an occasional Chicken Divan or Beef Bourguignonne. And some of the fish can be as esoteric as shark and monkfish.
Thin air and high altitude create a few minor inconveniences. Water, for instance, boils at 200 rather than 212 degrees F. And, as Greg lamented, ``It's hard to get cakes to keep from falling. You usually lose about one-quarter of the volume.''
So how do you handle a hungry mountain man? One way Greg does it is to cook up a batch of his own curried turkey. He makes it, three-gallon batches at a time, and freezes whatever is left after the first serving. ``It's easier to make three gallons at once than one gallon three times,'' he says.
He kindly whittled the recipe down to serve 8. Eight powerful-hungry mountain men, I suspect.
Greg also makes his own curry powder. ``I use the same ingredients that are on the can of Durkee's Curry Powder, equal parts of each spice except for the cayenne. I use about half as much of that. But you can make it to your own taste.'' Curry Powder 1 tablespoon each of coriander, fenugreek, turmeric, cumin, ginger, salt, black pepper, clove, celery seed, allspice, caraway seed, mace, and garlic powder 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Grind and mix all ingredients thoroughly. Store in tightly covered jar. Turkey Curry Torchy 1/2 pound bacon, diced 3 large onions, chopped 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons parsley flakes 4 tablespoons curry powder 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 5 tablespoons flour 1 quart water 1 large box rasins 3 pounds cooked turkey, cubed
In a large skillet, saut'e bacon. When fairly crisp, remove from pan and set aside.
In bacon fat, fry onions with salt, pepper, and parsley flakes until golden brown. Add curry powder and cayenne.
Mix flour with 1 quart cold water in large kettle. Add onion mixture, bacon, raisins, and turkey. Cook uncovered over low heat about 2 hours. Add more water if necessary, but stew should be quite thick. Serves 8.