Conservators with the New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust recently found the 100-year-old dessert in Antarctica’s oldest building, a hut on Cape Adare.
Wrapped in paper and the remains of a tin, the fruitcake is in “excellent condition,” according to the trust, and looks and smells almost edible.
British explorer Robert Falcon Scott likely brought the cake, made by the British biscuit company Huntley & Palmers, to Antarctica during their 1910-1913 Terra Nova expedition. (See photos: “Antarctic ‘Time Capsule’ Hut Revealed.”)
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 artifacts in the hut since 2016.
“Fruitcake was a popular item in English society at the time, and it remains popular today,” Lizzie Meek, conservation manager for artifacts at the trust, says via email.
“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.” (See “Opinion: 6 Reasons Antarctic Explorers Were Tougher 100 Years Ago.”)
Scott and his four-person crew reached the South Pole in 1912, but all five died on the return journey to their expedition base, the Terra Nova hut on Cape Evans. (See “Rare Pictures: Scott’s South Pole Expedition, 100 Years Later.”)
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.
After restoring the huts’ artifacts—including the fruitcake—conservators return them to their original locations within the huts.
“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 said 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.”