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Antarctica Fruitcake Is Over 100 Years Old, and ‘Almost’ Edible

There is documentation showing that Scott took this brand of cake with him on his explorations, said the trust, a nonprofit organization that is in the business of “inspiring explorers.”

Lizzie Meek, program manager for artifacts at the trust, said in a statement that the cake was surprisingly well preserved.

“There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that, the cake looked and smelled edible,” she said. “There is no doubt the extreme cold in Antarctica has assisted its preservation.”

The cake was among about 1,500 artifacts collected from two huts by a team of conservationists that had been working at the site since May 2016. “Finding such a perfectly preserved fruitcake among them was quite a surprise,” Ms. Meek said.

But why did the explorers haul a fruitcake to the South Pole?

[You can find The New York Times’ collection of fruitcake recipes here.]

“It’s an ideal high-energy food for Antarctic conditions,” she said, “and is still a favorite item on modern-day trips to the ice.”

Ms. Meek explained to National Geographic: “Fruitcake was a popular item in English society at the time, and it remains popular today. 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 biscuit company boasted that its “tins have turned up in the most unexpected places.” Credit Antarctic Heritage Trust, via European Pressphoto Agency

The team finished part of the conservation project in July, the trust said. Some of the other artifacts found: tools, clothing and what Ms. Meek described as “badly deteriorated” meat and fish and “rather nice-looking” jams.

All the artifacts were flown to Christchurch, New Zealand, where they were conserved at a lab at the Canterbury Museum.

The next phase will be conservation work on the buildings at Cape Adare, the first in Antarctica and the only examples left of humanity’s first building on any continent, the trust says.

Everything found will be returned to its original resting place, in accordance with the site’s status as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area.

An emailed statement from the trust on Sunday said: “Because the cake was one of nearly 1,500 artifacts removed from Antarctica’s first building, there are very strict rules around its handling, and it is now being stored carefully before it is returned to the hut (once the building is restored).”

The recipe for preserving the fruitcake’s container, according to the trust, involves rust removal, chemical stabilization, coating of the tin remnants, deacidification of the tin label and repairing of the paper wrapper and tin label.

The cake itself? Untouched.

While some believe that fruitcake is forever, Scott’s second trip to the South Pole was ill-fated. He and his companions made the arduous trek to the bottom, only to find that a Norwegian team had beaten them to it by 33 days. On their way back to base in 1912, trekking through severe weather and struck by frostbite, starvation and exposure, the British explorers all perished.

Source: NYT > World

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