Would you believe that a fruitcake that Robert Scott took with him on his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole has been found in excellent condition over 100 years after he left it there.
The New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust found the cake in Antarctica’s oldest building – a hut on Cape Adare. The cake was wrapped in paper and in the remains of a cake tin, and the trust says that “There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other that the cake looked and smelled edible”. The trust says that there is no doubt that the extreme cold helped to preserve the cake for all these years.
It is thought that British explorer Robert Falcon Scott most likely brought the Huntley & Palmer’s made cake with him to Antarctica during the 1910-1913 Terra Nova expedition. The Northern Party of the expedition sheltered in the Cape Adare hut, and forgot the fruitcake when they left. A team has been excavating artifacts in the hut since 2016.
Photo credit: https://www.nzaht.org/#
Lizzie Meek, conservation manager for artifacts at the trust, says that the climate in Antarctica leads to a craving for high-fat, high-sugar foods, and that fruitcake ticks all those boxes as well as being dense and filling.
Scott and his team reached the South Pole in 1912, but all five of them died on the way back to their expedition base at the Terra Nova hut on Cape Evans.
Heritage Trust conservators have restored the Terra Nova hut, and several other buildings to look like they did a century ago. The cake was one of around 1,500 artifacts collected from two huts at Cape Adare by a team of conservationists who have been working at the site since May 2016.
Some of the other food artifacts found were “badly deteriorated” meat and fish, and “rather nice-looking” jams, according to Meek.
Clemson University historian Stephanie Barczewski says that “Fruitcake is not something that people usually get excited about, but this discovery shows what a spectacular environment for historic preservation the Antarctic is,” and she also went on to highlight the “importance of protecting its fragile environments, because we don’t know what other amazing things we might find from the Heroic Age of exploration.”