After BBC News reports of a birthday party for a 112-year-old ham (click here to read the story on the BBC web page) we thought we’d take a look in the Nestlé archive in York at some of our oldest food artefacts and see if we can beat the Smithfield museum’s record.
Scott’s Tin of Cocoa
As viewers of The Antiques Roadshow will know, we hold a tin of cocoa in our archive that is believed to have been found in the tent of Robert Falconer Scott (or Scott of the Antarctic) after his death. A lot of people assume that Scott and his fellow explorers died because they had completely run out of food on their journey, but Scott’s diaries tell a different story. The team are believed to have had two tins of cocoa left, but they ran out of fuel to melt snow to mix with it. Eating the cocoa powder raw would have been impossible, and very dehydrating. This is probably why the tin returned to its makers unopened. Workers at the Rowntree’s factory in York, where the tin had been made, had supported Scott financially on his expeditions, so we think that the tin was returned to them as a thank you.
As part of our food and beverage archive we’ve inherited a lot of artefacts relating to Crosse & Blackwell (Nestlé merged with Crosse and Blackwell in the 1960s; we sold Crosse & Blackwell in 2002 but retained a few of the Crosse and Blackwell brands, like Chef). One of the oldest is this late-Victorian bottle of Walnut Catsup which is still two thirds full. It will have been made principally of vinegar and sugar, both of which are preservatives, so there is a good chance that it’s still edible. Catsup is also known as ketchup and this particular recipe won two gold awards in 1878. The label on this bottle also recommends Crosse & Blackwell’s Essence of Anchovy and Essence of Shrimps, which it claims is “convenient for families and tavern-keepers”.
Pickled Vegetable Art
Absolutely the oldest food in our food archive is this bottle of artistically carved vegetables which have been pickled in a display bottle. They were made as part of the Crosse & Blackwell display for The Great Exhibition in 1851. The bottle is now kept in the dark to prevent the colours from fading any further. If you look closely you can see that the vegetables have been carved into the shape of leaves, flowers and birds.
In late 1899 Queen Victoria decided to send a special New Year gift to all of her soldiers away fighting in the Boer War. She commissioned Cadbury’s, Fry’s and Rowntree’s to split the work of manufacturing bars of chocolate which were sent to the front in these special tins with her face and signature emblazoned on the front. Chocolate was quite a luxury at the time, beyond the purse of most working men. It’s not surprising then that many of the soldiers saved their tins and didn’t eat the contents. Ours is intact and is available to see at the York’s Chocolate Story attraction in York.
Polo mints were first launched in 1948 and have been made at our factory in York ever since. Our Polo presses flick out 2,000 mints a minute, and we’ve lost track of how many we’ve made over the years. However, we do know that this roll was one of the first off the line.