Conservators with the New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust recently discovered a 106-year-old fruitcake in Antarctica’s oldest building, a hut on Cape Adare.
A fruitcake is a dense, brick-like confection spiked with lumps of dried fruit and nuts that is traditionally regifted at Christmas. It is known for its long shelf life, although usually not 100 years long.
The Antarctic dessert was found wrapped in paper in a decrepit tin. But despite its rotting container, the cake was said to be in “excellent condition.”
“There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that, the cake looked and smelled edible,” trust program manager Lizzie Meeks said.
Conservators believe British explorer Capt. Robert Falcon Scott probably brought the cake, made by the British biscuit company Huntley & Palmers, to Antarctica during their ill-fated 1910-1913 Terra Nova expedition.
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.
Scott and his four companions reached the South Pole, only to discover Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had beaten them to the spot five weeks earlier. All five died on the return trip, four after support teams failed to rendezvous with his party as ordered.
The fruitcake is one of last of some 1,500 artifacts conserved by the trust. After conservation, which includes stabilizing and repairing the items, they will be returned to the site.