100-yr-old fruitcake of Scott 'vintage' found in Antarctic

12 August 2017

Vintage wine is all very well, but a 100-year-old fruitcake? Well, one believed to be from the famous Scott expedition to the South Pole has been found in a nearly "edible" state in the Antarctic, though one might be forgiven for hesitating to sample it.

The over a century old cake  

Fruitcakes are known for not deteriorating easily, and this one has withstood a century in the coldest, windiest, and driest place on earth.

The cake, wrapped in paper and stored inside a rusted tin, was found in the Antarctic's oldest building, a hut on Cape Adare.
It is believed to have been brought to the Antarctic by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott during his Terra Nova expedition between 1910 and 1913.

The brand of the cake, Huntley & Palmers, was known to be a favourite of Scott, who led his team to the South Pole in 1912 from the base hut - though he could not bring them back.

It was found during a two-year conservation project by the New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust, which said it "looked and smelt almost edible".

"With just two weeks to go on the conservation of the Cape Adare artefacts, finding such a perfectly preserved fruitcake in among the last handful of unidentified and severely corroded tins was quite a surprise," Lizzie Meek, the programme manager for artefacts at the Trust, said.

The expedition's Northern Party took shelter in the Cape Adare hut, which had been built by Norwegian Carsten Borchgrevink's team in 1899 - and left the fruitcake behind. A team has been excavating artefacts in the hut since 2016.

"Fruitcake was a popular item in English society at the time, and it remains popular today," said Meek.

"Living and working in Antarctica tends to lead to a craving for high-fat, high-sugar food, and fruitcake fits the bill nicely, not to mention going very well with a cup of tea."

The Cape Adare hut from which the cake was discovered  

Though Scott and his four-person crew reached the South Pole in 1912, all five died on the return journey to their expedition base, the Terra Nova hut on Cape Evans.

Heritage Trust conservators have restored the 50-foot-long Terra Nova hut, the largest Antarctic building of its time, and several other portable wooden huts to look as they did a century ago.

"Fruitcake is not something that people usually get excited about, but this discovery shows what a spectacular environment for historic preservation the Antarctic is," Clemson University historian Stephanie Barczewski told National Geographic via email.
It also highlights the "importance of protecting its fragile environment, because we don't know what other amazing things we might find from the Heroic Age of exploration".

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