Historic Rhubarb

Since 1910, on the edge of the Ross Sea at Cape Evans, on Ross Island, 862 miles from the South Pole, about 20 one imperial gallon tins, and 4 one quart tins of rhubarb have sat quietly on shelves in Captain Robert Scott’s hut in Antarctica, just waiting for me to discover them. In 2023 whilst on an expedition to the Ross Sea, I had the opportunity to visit the historic Scott’s Hut.

Would you believe, there I found these tins of rhubarb? As a fourth-generation rhubarb farmer my wife says I can find rhubarb anywhere - but Antarctica? Hard to believe, but there they were! Thousands of words have been written about Scott’s Hut and its contents, but nowhere can I find any mention of rhubarb. Surely 20 one-gallon tins of rhubarb can’t go unnoticed, for it is in full view. It obviously wasn’t popular with his men either, for they sat just above 20 cans of also unwanted cabbage that was still there too. Did my Yorkshire rhubarb growing ancestors grow this rhubarb? We will never know, for printed on the tins was “Mc Doddies”, London, CONTRACTORS TO H.M. GOVERNMENT. No clues to their rhubarb supplier. Research revealed that they were general canning contractors to the government, and that was about all.

The instructions printed on the tins state -

Historic Rhubarb

If these instructions were followed, the end result would be rhubarb flavoured water. Hardly the energy food to enable Scott’s men to walk to the South Pole. Perhaps this was a printing error, and why the tins were never used. The 4 one-quart tins were canned by Frank Cooper, a general canner, famous for his Oxford marmalade, which is still made and sold to his recipe today. There appeared to be no instructions for preparation of the rhubarb on these four tins. The cans and contents of Scotts Hut are preserved by the cold dry air. The Temperature is always minus zero degrees celcius and almost zero humidity, so they should be there for many years to come. To preserve these historic relics, and keep the temperature and humidity down, only 8 people are allowed at a time in the hut for 6 minutes, and you only get one go. Not much time to check for rhubarb - but what a find, and what a day!

Historic Rhubarb


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