Fruitcake in Antarctica

Fruitcake in Antarctica - Hikers Crossing Snow Hills

How A 106-Year Old Fruitcake Fueled Scientific Discovery

The Antarctic desert is hardly where anyone would plan a luxury trip. Average continental temperatures range from -76 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with the best thermal gear, you’re looking at a pretty frosty stay. That is why it’s so amazing to think in a pre-Gore-Tex era, this frozen tundra was a destination of much excitement and intrigue.

 


Main Base hut at Cape Denison 1911 - Hurley, Frank, 1885-1962

Back in the early 19th century, little was known about the Antarctic. It was seen as one of the last unexplored regions of the world, attracting explorers of all kinds to its glacial shores. Fueled by the desire to discover, brave men, bundled up and plunged into the unknown. But the need to know more was not their only fuel. A certain tasty treat helped to fill their bellies. We’ll give you one guess… FRUITCAKE!

That’s right! Fruitcake helped fuel brave explorers across the Antarctic. The proof can actually be found on the continent itself. Recently, a 106-year old frozen fruitcake was found in a hut on Cape Adare, a prominent cape at the northern tip of the Adare Peninsula and the north-easternmost extremity of Victoria Land, East Antarctica.

 


Antarctic Heritage Trust

This fruitcake has actually been linked to one of the most tragic Antarctic exploration stories ever told. But it’s not the fruitcake’s fault!! Sometimes, explorers just bite off more than they can chew. Let’s start at the beginning…

 

Cue The Stories Main Characters

In 1911, two vying groups of explorers endeavored to be the first humans ever to reach the middle-most point of the South Pole. The push to be the first was less about furthering the nature of scientific discovery, but more about claiming the honor and glory associated with being the first to do anything. It was, in a sense, like a lower-stakes Antarctic Space Race. The first group was led by Norwegian Roald Amundsen. The second was led by Britain's Robert Falcon Scott.

Both Amundsen and Scott were seasoned, decorated explorers. Their long list of accomplishments made both men appear equally as likely to claim the crown of being ‘the first.’

 


Roald Amundsen in 1913

In 1872, Amundsen had been the first mate on a Belgian expedition that had been the first-ever expedition to winter in the Antarctic. In 1897, he had also been the first to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage, a 900-mile sea route extending from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Historically, ice and treacherous conditions had made this route impassible, but Amundsen was able to successfully traverse the waters with a crew of only six men.

On the other hand, Scott was as comfortable on the sea as he was on land. He had joined the Royal Navy as a cadet in 1880 when he was just thirteen years old. By 1897, he had earned the rank of first lieutenant. In 1904, Scott returned from his first Antarctic expedition on the HMS Discovery. The expedition, which lasted four years, had proven Scott to be an adept and skilled leader. So, upon his return to England, he was promoted to the rank of captain.

 


Robert Falcon Scott in 1911

Inspired by his experiences on the HMS Discovery, Scott campaigned for the next six years to raise additional funds for a second Antarctic expedition. Simultaneously, Amundsen was also planning to embark on a second expedition, but to the opposite end of the world. Amundsen aspired to be the first man to reach the North Pole. BUT, shortly before Amundsen was scheduled to depart for the north, he learned an American by the name of Robert Peary had just achieved that feat. Quickly switching gears, Amundsen decided instead to race Scott to the southernmost tip of the Antarctic. However, Scott did not know he was facing competition. Amundsen had kept his change in plans a secret, hoping to narrowly edge Scott out of a victory.

In early 1911, Scott and his contingent of men began their way to Antarctica. Stopping in New Zealand to load their ship with supplies, Scott received a telegram notifying him of Amundsen and his crew on their way to the very same South Pole. Britain and Norway were now officially in a race.

Quickly, Scott packed up his crew and pushed towards the Antarctic. But before they even reached their intended campsite, Scott and his crew encountered issues. Overloaded with supplies, Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, became stuck in ice off the coast for twenty days. As Scott put it, this delay was just “sheer back luck” but, it meant a portion of fuel and food intended for the journey had been consumed while waiting. After almost three weeks, the Terra Nova was able to break free and establish camp at Cape Evans off McMurdo Sound.

 


Scott's expedition ship Terra Nova visiting Fram in the Bay of Whales, February 1911

Upon arrival, the teams did not immediately depart for the pole. Scott had strategically timed their arrival to correspond with the Antarctic winter. The idea being, his team would divide their ranks and stay in a series of camps constructed along the glacier ridge during the coldest months. Then, when the brief Antarctic ‘summer’ arrived, Scott would lead one group inward while secondary teams stayed at the various border camps conducting scientific research. While Scott’s team divided to conquer, Amundsen made camp just off the Bay of Whales.

Amundsen’s camp was far better strategically placed, located sixty miles closer to the centermost point of the South Pole. However, Scott had a plan. He intended to follow in the footsteps of a fellow explorer, Robert Shackleton who had ventured to the Antarctic ten years earlier.  At the time, Shackleton held the record for traveling the farthest south. Shackleton had mapped out a route for trekking to the center of the South Pole; a route that would have claimed him the crown of being the first to reach the pole. But due to illness, Shackleton had to turn back before completing his journey. By Scott’s logic, following Shackleton’s route was like following a precleared path to success.

 

On Your Marks, Get Set, GO!

On October 28, 1911, Amundsen’s team began their push to the pole, setting out using sleigh dogs. Three weeks later, Scott’s team began theirs using motor sleds, Siberian ponies, and sleigh dogs.

Due to the lack of technology of the day, both teams were blind to the process of the other group. Without knowing if they were ahead or behind, they were forced to push forward; the only way of discovering if they were first or not, was to make it to the Pole and see if a flag had already been staked. Simultaneously, it’s this exact same lack of technology that prevents modern-day scientists from examining exactly what happened on their trips. The best-kept historical records are in the form of journals, which were meticulously kept.

Documenting the temperature, terrain, and temperament of the explorers, it’s per these journals, scientists now know how a few weeks into Scott’s journey, he was forced to send the sleds and ponies back; despite being extraordinarily powerful, they were ill-equipped to handle the conditions. A few weeks after that, in mid-December, Scott was forced to turn the dogs back. This left Scott with just four other men to continue their ascent of the Beardmore Glacier. On January 17, 1912, Scott and his small contingent of men reached the South Pole only to find they had been beaten. Amundsen’s group had reached the pole over a month earlier. Scott writes…

 

  • “Wednesday, January 17. Camp 69. T. -22ºF at start. Night -21ºF. The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected...the wind is blowing hard, T. -21ºF, and there is that curious damp, cold feeling in the air which chills one to the bone in no time... Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here, and the wind may be our friend tomorrow”

 

Despite their “second place” finish, Scott and his men knew they had accomplished something great. Stoically, they set their jaws and prepared for the 800-mile journey back to Camp Evans. The journey back was expected to be a more difficult journey than the one to the Pole. Weakened by the cold and continuous exertion, the crew faced extreme cold and bone-chilling winds. A never-ending flurry of blizzards left the men windburnt and frostbitten. Scott’s journal routinely comments on the injuries and trials he and his men suffer.

 

  • “Tuesday, January 30. R. 13. 9860. Lunch Temp. -25ºF, Supper Temp. -24.5ºF. Wilson has strained a tendon in his leg.... [and] Evans..hands are really bad, and to my surprise, he shows signs of losing heart over it....”
  • “Tuesday, February 6. Lunch 7900; Supper 7210. Temp. -15ºF.... this evening, though we are not as far advanced as I expected… It took us twenty-seven days to reach the Pole and twenty-one days back-in all forty-eight days-nearly seven weeks in low temperature with almost incessant wind...
  • Tuesday, February 28. Lunch. Thermometer went below -40ºF last night; it was desperately cold for us, but we had a fair night... Only twenty-four miles from the depot. The Sun shines brightly, but there is little warmth in it.”
  • Wednesday, March 7. A little worse I fear. One of Oates' feet very bad this morning; he is wonderfully brave. We still talk of what we will do together at home.”
  • Sunday, March 18. Today, lunch, we are twenty-one miles from the depot. Ill fortune presses, but better may come... The others are still confident of getting through-or pretend to be-I don't know!.... The mileage would have seemed ridiculously small on our outward journey.”

 

On March 20th 9012, a fierce blizzard ripped through the glacier terrain causing the men to take shelter and ride out the storm. It was this storm that seemed to push the already ragged and browbeaten men to their breaking point. Scott’s last journal entry seems to convey the bitter knowledge they would reach their demise before they reached their destination.

 

  • Thursday, March 29 Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent, it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. Last entry. For God's sake look after our people.” 

 

In 1913, the Terra Nova returned to Britain, sadly without Scott and four others who died on the return journey from the South Pole. But the whole expedition was not a loss. While Scott and his smaller crew carved their way through the icy tundra, Scott’s accompanying scientists who stayed at various camps around the edge of the ice shelf left with over 2,100 plants, animals, and fossils – 400 of which were entirely new to science. Scott’s team, “[his] people,” help lay the scientific groundwork for research in the years to come.

Their findings in Antarctic botany, zoology, geology, and glaciology were so vast, Scott’s and his crew earned spots as pioneers in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

 

Fruitcake Fueled Exploration

So, this is interesting and all, but why do we here at Collin Street think Robert Falcon Scott is extra, super cool? Turns out, conservationists with the New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust recently discovered campsites on Cape Adare left by Scott and his scientists.

In August 2017, over 1,500 artifacts were excavated from a small that was used over 106-years prior. Among the artifacts, was a fruitcake. Perfectly preserved in the frozen climate, the cake was wrapped in paper, stored in the tin it had traveled in. After some digging around, it was determined Scott likely brought the cake from the British biscuit company Huntley & Palmers. "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. "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."

 


Antarctica Delta Trip to Cape Evans Scott's Hut -Eli Duke (2010)

The Heritage Trust conservators have been working to restore the 50-foot-long Terra Nova hut used by Scott and his crew. The Terra Nova hut was chosen because it’s been determined to be the largest Antarctic building of its time. The Trust’s goal is to return the huts to the way they looked at the time, even aspiring to restore the huts' artifacts, including the frozen fruitcake, 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," says Clemson University historian Stephanie Barczewski. 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."

 

So there you have it, the proof was in the pecans – Scott’s men relied on a fruitcake as a high-calorie treat to propel their mission. As we know, this group of explorers wasn’t the last to use fruitcake as fuel. It’s still a widely-leveraged trick used by all sorts of modern-day adventurers.

Just ask Thea and Mary-Preston. For three months, they used fruitcake to help them conquer the Scottish National Trail. Or ask Tim Hoime! He successfully hiked the entire length of the Grand Canyon in just one day with the assistance of our DeLuxe® Fruitcake Petites. Makes you wonder, maybe Scott and his men might have had better fortune if they had chosen to pack Collin Street Bakery’s fruitcake instead…. I guess we’ll never know.

Looking to take fruitcake with you on your next adventure?! Shop our selection of cakes right now and get prepared to fuel your passion.

SHOP OUR CAKES

March 18, 2021
Comments
Dave Kelly
March 26, 2021 at 11:58 AM
I'm sorry. My family had a 40 year tradition of buying cases of your fruitcake 'cause everybody dearly loved it. My folks sent me fruitcake when I was stationed overseas. When I moved to Virginia I shared it with my staff during Christmas. About seven years ago I bought some to share. It was tasteless and gamey. The sugar was down. The candied fruit was tasteless and the pecans barely recognizable. I might have blamed my age for this, but everybody else shared the same opinion. Pardon my frankness, but it will be a cold day in hell before I ever trust you again. Beats the poop out of me why you have me on your mailing list still.
Reply
James Sheya
March 26, 2021 at 1:31 PM
Thoroughly enjoyed your article of Scott's and Amundsen's exploration of the Antarctic and teared up reading at the end of Scott and other explorers demise at the end of their journey. Also, enjoyed how the fruitcake was eaten to keep their energy level high during such adverse weather. Guess that's why I feel so energetic during my day after eating your fruitcake with my morning coffee.
Reply
Mel
March 26, 2021 at 3:34 PM
While I love your cakes I call BS on the statement ' Tim Hoime! He successfully hiked the entire length of the Grand Canyon in just one day with the assistance of our DeLuxe® Fruitcake Petites.' The World Atlas has this to say 'The Grand Canyon has a length of 446 km (277 miles),' with those facts and using a full 24 hour day he would have had to hike at the average rate of 11.54166....mph! I don't think so, this is what atlasobscura has to say about long distance walkers/hikers, 'For one thing, many long distance walkers simply go for one long walk that lasts a day—20 or more miles is common. Walks organized by the LDWA average around 26 miles.'. I f you meant width, I still have my doubts as the widest point is 18mi. and over 1 mile deep. Actual walking distance across the width would most likely be a minimum of 30 miles up and down repeatedly until the final climb. Even at 30 miles he would have to average 1.25mph! Highly doubtful considering the terrain. Intriguing story for fiction.
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Jayna Marrinan
March 26, 2021 at 4:47 PM
Thanks for this interesting and intriguing story. I recently read a coordinating story about the importance of wool in these explorations.
Reply
Collin Street Bakery
April 14, 2021 at 3:25 PM
Thank you so much!
Charlene Burbee
March 26, 2021 at 5:27 PM
Wonderful testimony to our beloved" fruitcake" Mother made it a tradition,which " I get excited about" still have 2 in the fridge( just in case)
Reply
Collin Street Bakery
April 14, 2021 at 3:36 PM
Yummy!! Thank you for your kind words.
KATHIE FISHER
March 26, 2021 at 10:29 PM
MY HUSBAND & I REALLY ENJOYED THIS STORY ABOUT THE ANTARCTIC EXPEDITIONS, & THE PICTURE OF THE VERY OLD FRUITCAKE. PERHAPS OUR NEXT FRUITCAKE ORDER SHOULD BE FOR (2) SO WE CAN PUT ONE AWAY & SEE HOW LONG IT WILL LAST! BUT AGAIN, MAYBE NOT AS LONG AS THE EXPLORERS' DID, AS WE LIVE IN MISSOURI! ONE QUESTION THOUGH. . .LOOK IN THE SECTION OF THIS ARTICLE NAMED "FRUITCAKE FUELED EXPEDITION." NOW LOOK AT THE 2ND PARAGRAPH. "IN AUGUST 2017, OVER 1,500 ARTIFACTS WERE EXCAVATED FROM A SMALL. . . THAT WAS USED OVER 106-YEARS PRIOR." O.K., HERE'S THE QUESTION: "FROM A SMALL WHAT?" NOT TRYING TO BE THE PROOFREADER HERE, BUT CURIOUS WHAT IT MEANS? IF IT'S ONE OR MORE PEOPLE YOU HAVE WRITING YOUR EMAILS THE PAST FEW MONTHS, THEY ARE 5* QUALITY! THAT GOES FOR THE PEOPLE AND THE ARTICLES. THEY ARE FUN TO READ & CERTAINLY VERY INFORMATIVE! WE READ THEM ALL THE TIME. THANK S FOR A GREAT JOB YOU ALL DO IN WRITING & ALSO FOR ALL THE PEOPLE MAKING THE WONDERFUL FRUITCAKES YOU'VE MADE FOREVER! IT'S THE ONLY FRUITCAKE I'VE EVER ENJOYED!!! GROWING UP MY MOM LOVED FRUITCAKE, AS A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE DO AT CHRISTMAS. THE PROBLEM, WAS THAT THEY TASTED TERRIBLE! OVER THE YEARS I'VE TRIED OTHER BRANDS OR SOMEONE HAD BAKED THEM & THOUGHT THEY WERE THE CAT'S MEOW! NOT! THEY WERE TERRIBLE & SO I STAYED AWAY FROM FRUITCAKE FOR YEARS, THAT IS BEFORE I TRIED YOURS! THE PICTURES OF YOUR ITEMS ARE GREAT & CERTAINLY MAKE A PERSON WANT TO BUY THEM. WE JUST CAN'T SEEM TO GET OTHER PEOPLE TO EVEN TRY THEM. HUMPH! YES, THEY ARE MISSING OUT FOR SURE! I KNOW THIS 'COMMENT' IS LONGER THAN I EXPECTED TO WRITE, BUT I THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD TIME TO TELL YOU ALL WHAT GREAT ADVERTISING & BAKING YOU DO TO TEMPT ALL OF US OUT HERE IN CYBERSPACE!
Reply
Jo
March 27, 2021 at 11:53 AM
I very much enjoyed the story of the Antarctic explorations.
Reply
Roger Johnson
March 27, 2021 at 12:17 PM
Great historical story! I’m old, and still learned new information from the article. Keep on digging up stories to highlight the fruitcake phenomenon! You have THE finest fruitcakes available. Thanks!
Reply
Arthur
March 27, 2021 at 5:30 PM
I saw the Shackleton exhibit at the Museum of Natural History NYC several years ago, which included his exhibition's boat and even some of his photographer's early glass color slides, pictures of the Endeavor, the crew its life style, and these were all buried in the ice on purpose and retrieved several years later the colors more vivid and alive than my slides after so little as ten years....perhaps the old English fruitcake was that durable but around our house a Collins fruitcake in tin has been known to last beyond the first of spring cold stored of course!
Reply
Paul D Copher Jr
March 27, 2021 at 6:58 PM
In my military career mainly in the Middle East and working with foreign national military and police forces I was laughed at by other Americans for eating your fruit cakes. My folks went me you cakes from Corsicana, TX for over 20 years. I used them for energy and in a few cases survival. In Beirut during their Civil War, in the pre Revolutionary days in Tehran supporting the Shah and guarding VIPs, the Iran Rescue Raid, the Turkish Military Coup of 1980 plus every hunting season here in Arizona. When you folks passed I missed those fruit cakes so one Christmas I ordered a few. Now much much older I still carry "hunks of fruit cake and beef jerky" on my car trips as survival rations.
Reply
Beverly K Clarke
March 29, 2021 at 9:36 AM
0I love the articles that you sent out I love the blog. I really love the Deluxe Fruitcake.
Reply
Collin Street Bakery
April 14, 2021 at 3:38 PM
Thank you!
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