Lime Juice Nodules

By Josefin Jimenez

In most cases the historic food that comes off the ice is interesting, rather than appetizing. Even if it had not been 100 years old and come from a tin covered in corrosion and penguin remains the names ‘Bloaters’ and ‘Lunch Tongue’ are not something that would make most people reach for their knife and fork. Not in this day and age, anyway!

 There have been a few exceptions though, such as tablets of compressed coffee that still smelled like the fresh beans, mango chutney from the Indian Condiment Manufacturer and, in one notable case, lard so white and fresh it might as well have been a tub of ice cream.

  And, of course, the Lime Juice Nodules. The nodules came in square tins wrapped in paper and string, and were found underneath a bunk in the Southern Cross hut (first British Antarctic Expedition, 1898 ̶ 1900), believed to be stashed there as part of an an emergency cache.

A tin of Lime Juice Nodules, before treatment.

During conservation it was discovered that one of the tins was leaking and it had to be opened as part of its treatment. The nodules, previously believed to be either dried fruit or sachets of powder, turned out to be in fact chocolate-coated. Each was a square of dark chocolate individually wrapped in parchment paper, around a delicious filling of lime sugar-syrup, much like a modern sweet treat. Their smell was rich and strong and still quite tempting.

After extensive lab discussions we believe that the consistency would be similar to one of the Strawberry flavoured Cadbury Roses. To us it was quite mystifying why the expeditions would have left so many of these tins uneaten.

Cross section of a sampled Lime Juice Nodule, retained for analysis.

The Lime Juice Nodules were supplied by the Bovril Food Company, of British Beef Tea fame, and would have been intended as a remedy for scurvy, an antiscorbutic, but it is doubtful whether they would have worked effectively as such.

Previously the remedy for scurvy would have been casually referred to as ‘lime juice’ although actually made from lemons, but a shift in production of antiscorbutics around this time likely meant actual limes were used, in the belief that the higher acidity would be a more effective cure. Unfortunately lime juice contains a considerably smaller amount of Vitamin C and is actually less effective. And as it was all referred to as ‘lime juice’, whether made with limes or lemons, these particular ones could be either.

Scott, for instance, some years later, did not believe that lemon juice would prevent scurvy, instead relying on fresh meat.

Repacking the Lime Juice Nodules into the tin after treatment  ̶  as the chocolate threatened to melt at room temperature, treatment had to be carried out in short bursts between periods of cold storage.

And, as the Bovril Food Company also made Fluid Beef and Bovril enriched chocolate containing Albumen and Fibrine, maybe the taste was doubtful too.

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