a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
Foreword to the 2419 edition of Neela Jarcho’s How to Cook a Space Wolf
A Martian cricket leads a dreadful life. But despite the personal experience of a sole camel cricket residing in the keet towers of Meridiani, these magnificent little creatures are nothing less than the basis of all extraterrestrial human habitation. So there’s that.
In effect, civilization itself may be viewed as a symptom, a side effect of some other creature—such as wheat, corn, or rice—having persuaded humans into a bargain: you scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours. Humanity’s very presence on Mars is really a contemporary analog of the agreements made with beans, maize, and barley some twelve thousand years ago. Now it’s the crickets’ turn.
It is fitting that the creatures that instigated the earliest terrestrial civilizations were plants. Bound to earth and slaves to the sun, they molded human civilization in their own sedentary image. But now look at us, bounding between worlds, skipping through space, lifted up and out of Earth’s gravity well on the back of our humble savior: the cricket.
Every school child can recite the virtues of our most populous neighbor. Two times the protein of beef, more vitamin B than salmon, more iron than spinach. Plus, martian varieties breed prolifically in low light, low temperatures, and low gravity. New varieties like the massive wetapunga (affectionately known as “Big Reds” by connoisseurs) and the tiny spicy biohacked mok’ati sanika, as well as other more humble successes of cricket husbandry, guarantee that there is more culinary adventure to come.
And while not all the recipes in Jarcho’s How to Cook a Space Wolf employ cricket as the center-of-the-plate-protein, every locally-sourced ingredient is somehow indebted to our little friend. Tons of fresh cricket frass fertilize every acre of the vertical farms at Pavonis and each grow-pillow in private chili gardens from the lava tube homesteads of Arsia Mons to the myriad apartments in our greatest dome town, New Austin. The strong nutty aroma of roasted cricket powder colors many of our printed favorites. Who hasn’t enjoyed the pleasure of printed flatbread from Hellas Planitia (pg. 49)? Or the extruded noodles and savory broths of the famous Martian holiday hot pot feasts (pgs. 67-77)? Classics all, and each 100% reliant on the toil of Martian cricket ranchers in calderas around the world.
Of course, crickets do, at times, take center stage. Big Red Key Wat Stew (pg. 49) is a personal favorite. This pressure-cooked stew yields the most tender 100 gram Watepungas, each with the perfect exoskeletal crunch and that anticipated juicy pop. Jarcho’s recipe also benefits from the berbere spice blend from the space elevator town Ascension at Arabia Terra. Being so close to the docks that ferry fresh spice cultivated in the Earth’s orbital export gardens, the Ascension berbere is gilt with imported whole turmeric (pg. 120). Good stuff! Alas, the rest of us must be content with the more paprika-and-mushroom-forward standard Martian berbere (pg. 121). An oldy, but a goody.
Speaking of spice blends, anyone can appreciate the completist approach to Martian harissa displayed in How to Cook a Space Wolf. Jarcho really did her homework here. She personally travelled to every elevator port and major city on Mars, and even a few of the remote Intangible Centers on the high slopes of Olympus Mons. At each spot, she collected local approaches to harissa, curating and compiling the many regional dimensions of this emblematic Martian condiment. Of course, these all display a common denominator: heat.
As Jarcho so deftly explains, the wolf at our door is a vast adversary. The wolf that is space, the vacuum, Hoover the Wolf, will eat you in a second. Just crack the door a mere millionth of a millimeter and he’s in, boiling your blood and emptying your lungs forever. In response, we must lock up, stay indoors—or in suit—at all times always. Martian life is, if anything, buttoned up very tight. Regardless if you reside in a humble Flux Collective tunnel commune at Medusae Fossae or a resplendent dome dwelling at Utopia Planitia, you breathe the same recycled air, obey the same 30% Earth gravity, eat the same ubiquitous red dust that follows us in from the cold. As every extraterrestrial person knows, these conditions take a toll on your sinuses, your senses, and your sanity. If not careful, a Martian can succumb to the constant habitat-induced head cold and crushing mood malaise that is Dome Flu. And while it is fun to watch tourists suffer thusly, it is no way to live.
Martian cuisine has adapted the perfect means to cook this wolf: spicy food. Very spicy food. Heat gets the sinuses flushed; it wakes up the senses. A Mars harissa will flush your air-tired eyes with hot tears and muster your mind to attention. Good, strong spice can awaken that duende at the heart of every Martian. The heat also does well to brighten the sometimes monotonous aspect of everyday staples like printed cricket teff flatbread (pg. 5) and Garam Masala mushroom sous vide (pg. 6). The collection of Martian folk harissas (pgs. 7-27) in Jarcho’s masterpiece is the meanest, most flavorful batch of edible fire in all human history. If you can get your hands on some lime juice, the Guethling’s Gauntlet Harissa from Elysium Center (pg. 19) is really something, especially in spiced Meridiani lentils (pg. 32). Wow. Now THAT’s how you cook a space wolf.
Just as the cricket both enables and signifies our leap to Mars, another being at once allows and symbolizes our life off-Earth. The mushroom. These little colonists thrive in the dark places; mushrooms hug destruction, feeding on the rot and, and like our own brave endeavor, transform regolith into soil, stone into nutriment, Mars into home. We all win when the Black Trumpet mushrooms are harvested for New Years every September. Every family’s festival feast features the traditional Squash and Smoke Soup (pg. 101). The squash is orbital butternut, the smoke is the mighty Martian Black Trumpet. Jarcho’s suggestion of the tiny cricket mok’ati sanika garnish lends a brilliant bite. Vat-born beefsteak, a relatively new and, in this critic’s opinion, yet to be perfected protein, always benefits from the hot umami of Syrtis Chanterelle Harissa (pg. 14).
While not a culinary experience per se, I would be remiss if I did not dwell for a moment on the other, more spiritual, utility of the Martian mushroom. The internal experience gifted by the “Dark Star” Psilocybe mangala mushroom is central to the coming-of-age ceremonies for every native of Mars. Cultivated in the rich soil beds at the Pollan tube complex, these pale creatures are dried, pounded into a powder, and ingested via the ceremonial (and flavorful!) beet sugar slurry (pg. 110) traditionally consumed when we reach 18, 35, 50, 70, and 110. And while we are discouraged from divulging the details of our ceremonial Mangala journeys, I feel confident saying that this mushroom provides a nutriment as essential as those found in any Earth-imported vitamin supplement or red romaine salad with strawberry vinaigrette and monster chives (pg. 36).
Ah, our strawberry. This enormous and hardy fruit is the basis of almost every Martian dessert, or at least all the good ones (pgs. 180-185). However, my favorite appearance of strawberry in How to Cook a Space Wolf is not in a confectionary context. Rather, it is in the famous strawberry wines of Mars. The First Farmers made quick work of fermenting their engineered Fragaria x ananassa with herbs, peppers, and a handful of beet sugar. Today’s wine is still aged in the 350 litre regolith amphorae, some well over 100 years old. The wine suggestions (pgs. 200-210) and Strawberry moonshine recipes (pgs. 211-215) in Space Wolf are good ones. But of course, there is not room in Jarcho’s wine section to discuss the long pedigree and full complexity our wines. For that, I suggest S. Persen’s thorough and beautifully illustrated volume Bacchus on Mars. This classic book all but ensures that wealthy Earthlings will be ordering cases of Martian Red for some time to come.
But what of wealthy Martians? Primarily a collection of more common recipes, Jarcho’s masterpiece does include some preparations for Mars’ elite. Chief among these is the infamous Milk Powder Burfi with Terra Cane Sugar (pg. 182). Trucking orbital saffron from a lunar grow station to a Martian elevator is already decadent; this is no match, however, for the insane amount of energy (and money) required to lift milk powder and cane sugar out of earth orbit. But I’ve sampled this Burfi and if you happen to have the means of a Southern grow-light importer, it’s well worth the expense. It may also be the world’s most dangerous dessert; Jarcho reminds us that just last year, the murderous Skillfram space trucker cartel was caught smuggling milk powder to their criminal counterparts in Ascension. Reports claim they also possessed thirty kilos of cocoa powder, a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a live trout. The ensuing battle with law enforcement threatened the physical structure of the elevator itself. 79 police were killed. No arrests were made. Bon appétit!
On the opposite end of the dionysian spectrum is the humble but essential collection of fermented delights (pgs. 200-211). As any tourist or immigrant knows, life on Mars eventually wreaks havoc on one’s intestinal microbiome. The space wolf is clever in this regard—he reaches right into your gut and kills the little guys inside you with radiation, weak gravity, and your own canned air. But “adapt or die” as the 21st century settlers used to say. So how can we adapt, how do we cook this wolf? We cook him with kimchi. Martian kimchi is as delicious as it is varied. Also, it is the daily probiotic punch that allows us to live on this beautiful world with a minimum of unfortunate flatulence. Hand-made clay vessels in just about every home contain slowly wilting family preparations of cricket, cabbage, and radish kimchi. The mineral bite of Martian salt is particularly savory, and the resulting kimchi is simply amazing. Of course, every family has their own (guarded!) melange of cricket powder, spice, and herbs. The classics in Space Wolf include giant Daikon kimchi (pg. 201) and “sunstroke” kimchi, favored by the ice miners up at Korolev Crater (pg. 203). Given the success and scale of the Colonial vertical cabbage patches at the Arsia Mons tower farms, cabbage will remain a free resource for all Martian citizens forever. Take that, space wolf.
Many readers will no doubt delight on the final entry in this great book. The recipe for Sweet Spiraling Martian Moss Gel (pg, 301) marks a truly monumental moment in the history of all human eating. Discovered growing in the craggy Northern ice lands, the spiralem brachium Martis, or Spiraling Martian Moss, is the first extraterrestrial life form ever discovered. And the first extraterrestrial ingredient. As such, this recipe is the first dish of a truly Martian cuisine. No wonder it is already being served at any and all official functions.
Every recipe in How to Cook a Space Wolf is a testament to the courage and ingenuity required to colonize humanity’s second world. Each is also an homage to the most important aspect of our success: love. Our love keeps us cooking for each other and for ourselves. Our love of our world and of our mission keeps us building and striving, expanding our species “beyond the horizon” as the early Martian poets said. And all this on the shoulders of the cricket that sits at the base of our whole nutritional enterprise. Indeed, what is more Martian than the beautiful and ubiquitous roundsong of a million crickets, falling away and rising in every distance. It is no mystery why they are the subject of so much contemporary Martian verse, including this appropriate haiku from the Martian master Joon Chatnoir:
Hopping higher than
any of our ancestors—
Cricket, carry me.
Corey S. Pressman
April 49th, 2419
Gates City, Mars
Corey S. Pressman is a writer, artist, and teacher living in Portland, Oregon. He has published poetry, academic works, and short stories. Corey earned an MA in anthropology from Washington State University; the anthropological perspective infuses all his work. He is a Fellow of the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, where he sometimes teaches about science fiction prototyping and participates as an artist in grant-funded prototyping endeavors. His story “Divided Light,” which appears in ASU’s 2019 collection The Weight of Light, is used in college courses about solar futures and climate change. As Director of the Lifefinding Program at the Wayfinding Academy, Corey works with individuals and organizations to enable purposeful decision-making. He also regularly teaches cooking. “Three Burgers,” a story about food and memory, will be his first food-oriented story to appear in print. This will be published in Gastronomica in Summer of 2020.