Food

Does fruitcake ever spoil? 106-year-old cake found in Antarctica

Ever received a tinned fruitcake for a holiday present, shoved it to the back of your pantry, found it a year later and discovered that it was still perfectly edible? That is, if you thought fruitcake was edible in the first place...

Well, add 106 years to the story, and that's exactly what happened to Antarctic Heritage Trust conservators, who recently unearthed a remarkably well preserved fruitcake — still wrapped in paper, inside a rusted metal tin.

EPA for the Antarctic Heritage Trust
An undated handout photo made available by the Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT) shows a fruit cake, after conservation treatment, found at Cape Adare, Victoria Land, East Antarctica, thought to be from Scott's Northern Party (1911). The fruit cake, made by British firm of biscuit makers, Huntley and Palmers and still wrapped in paper and encased in a tin-plated iron alloy tin, was recovered on Antarctica's Cape Adare and believed to date to Robert Falcon Scott's ill fated Terra Nova Expedition.

"Although the tin was in poor condition, the cake itself looked and smelt (almost) edible," according to the Antarctic Heritage Trust website. "No doubt this will inspire debate about who likes fruitcake," quipped the Trust's Twitter account:

"There was a very, very slight rancid butter smell to it, but other than that, the cake looked and smelled edible," Lizzie Meek, the Trust's program manager of artifacts, said in a statement. "There is no doubt the extreme cold in Antarctica has assisted its preservation."

The cake was found among other artifacts the team has been working to conserve from Cape Adare, Antartica. The researchers believe that the fruitcake dates to the Cape Adare-based Northern Party of Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova expedition which took place from 1910 to 1913.

Conservators have been conducting their work on the artifacts at the Canterbury Museum lab in Christchurch, New Zealand, since 2016, and the project was about to come to an end. Meek noted that "finding such a perfectly preserved fruitcake in amongst the last handful of unidentified and severely corroded tins was quite a surprise." She added that the dessert, which has a notoriously high sugar content, was "an ideal high-energy food for Antarctic conditions."

Along with debates about the relative tastiness of fruitcake, the discovery has inspired its share of tweets about the treat's durability:

Following conservation, the plan is to return all artifacts to their discovery site, once the original buildings there have been preserved.

No word on whether conservators have been tempted to take a taste of the fruitcake before returning it to Antarctica. If they do, they'll be happy to know that Jay Leno has survived sampling an even older fruitcake.

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