Friday, January 22, 2010

Food Preservation by Yvonne Leonhardt

My kitchen continues to change it’s contents over time as I learn more about healthy eating, cooking and food storage. Observing these changes and the cycles they take on got me to thinking about what my Mother and Grandmothers may have noticed over the years in their own kitchens.
Meet my Mom, Yvonne Leonhardt, who agreed to write this post as a guest author of “itsnotthedestination”.

One of my daughters recently asked me about refrigeration and food preservation in the past. I decided to write about this for all my sons and daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and all you friends who may be reading this.

Our Mother canned fruits and tomatoes in season for use all year. She used Mason Jars for containers. Dad helped at times and of course we daughters often helped. My fondest memory was the bushel basket of whatever was being processed, on the floor by the kitchen door. We were allowed to take a piece of fruit
to eat whenever we wished! My favorite was the fresh, juicy tomatoes!

Another memory is how Mother always apologized for not making dessert once in a while, and for asking one of us to go down in the fruit cellar to get a jar of peaches – as if she hadn’t worked just as hard when she prepared them as she would have to have baked something that day!

The pioneers in the USA were really challenged in many ways. One was keeping perishable food safe for later consumption.

One method was by digging a hole on an angle and sinking a barrel or a metal drum into it, then placing a heavy cover at the opening. It was cooler with the ground used as insulation from heat, or to keep the food from freezing in winter. Sometimes this was built under a house for added insulation.

Another way was to build a spring house. If a cold spring was available nearby, a small house was built over it. The cold running water cooled the food placed on shelves in the house. In time businesses were set up sawing ice blocks from frozen lakes and storing them in ice houses under layers of straw for insulation.

 Iceboxes were built for use in kitchens. They were made of sturdy wood, with layers of cork or corrugated cardboard for insulation, and lined with galvanized sheet metal. The doors were also very heavily insulated and needed sturdy hinges and latches to keep them tightly closed. Inside, racks were placed for shelving.
Bowls or jars of food would be placed on the shelves with plates used for lids covering the dishes.

A small door at one side near the top of this cooler was for the block of ice. A drain was installed to a pan under the icebox for drainage of the water which melted from the ice. This had to be emptied twice a day. When forgotten, our family would get up in the morning to find large puddles of water on the kitchen floor.

In time there were ice houses that could manufacture the ice in very large blocks. Then “icemen” would buy the ice and chop it into smaller blocks as needed, and deliver it to houses. A card was put into a window letting the man know how much ice was needed. It was usually sold in 25, 50, 75, or 100 pound blocks.

In about 1910 small kitchen electric refrigerators were being made, but even by 1932, only wealthy people could afford them. At $250 each it would have taken an average worker almost a year to be able to earn that much, and certainly a much longer time to save that much!

I was born in 1930 so I mostly remember iceboxes, and the iceman who delivered our ice to us. But even in 1949 after I was married and we had our first daughter, there was a cupboard (with no insulation) built into the outer kitchen wall, under a window in our rented three-room flat. This was originally used to store perishable foods in winter.

Refrigerators were not common in homes until about the 1940s. We had to turn off these refrigerators and defrosted them each week, as heavy frost built up on the cooling unit.

I believe our large family of 9 children first had a refrigerator in 1942 when our parents were able to buy a large, run-down mansion in St. Louis for $4500. The living area had a total of fourteen rooms and one and a half baths on three floors. There was also a basement with five rooms and bath. The two car garage had a small room and half bath to be used for chauffeur’s quarters. Since we didn’t even have one car, it was used for a shop for our Dad, and the small room was used for a short time for my brother to raise birds, as it was heated for winter use.

But getting back to food preservation: With the more modern refrigerator, Mother wanted more space saving containers for the food. Squared glass dishes were being marketed, and our family purchased some for food storage. They had glass lids, and it was easy to see what was contained in each one. Mason Jars were also used for food storage in the refrigerators, as well as for canning foods.

Finally, after WWII, plastics were invented. Instead of glass dishes for storage, rigid plastics were used for food storage. I bought a few of these and my husband was so upset! He said they would just break! And he was right. Great care had to be used to let the food cool completely so as not to crack these hard dishes.

In 1946 Tupperware and softer plastic dishes were being made and housewives loved them. We were invited to Tupperware parties. The items were very attractive but expensive. And even these had limits for food storage. If hot soup was placed into them, they bubbled and layers of plastic would peel off. But no one contemplated what else these plastics gave off into the foods.

Today our offspring have gathered more information on the effects of plastics in our lives and we have come full circle – going back to our daughter requesting glass refrigerator dishes for Christmas.
As glass was always a common material for drinking containers, it is good to see more glass used in many ways. It is a material that can be recycled over and over.

Walk To Work And Carry Your Lunch!

Our Dad always got up at 5 a.m. and had a large breakfast of cereal, toast with butter and jelly, eggs, bacon, fruit, and coffee with cream. Mother would make a couple sandwiches of left over roast for him and wrap them in waxed paper and then in newspaper. Households always seemed to have enough newspapers for various things as it was the most common means of getting the news. No TV and no radio until some years after my parents married.

If we ran out of waxed paper, bread bags were reused for wrapping sandwiches.

After work Dad also walked home! About a 40 minute walk each way. He was 5’5” and never weighed over 135. He had no use for snack foods or second helpings. But bread had to be included at every meal. He knew how much he could eat, filled his plate and ate every bit of it.

When Mother baked – which was almost every day – the loaves of bread or the cake were covered with dish towels. Usually the cake was frosted as soon as it cooled, which kept it fresh longer. How she managed to do all that every day to feed 11 people is a mystery. She also sewed beautiful clothing for her daughters!

We were a fairly poor family, but in later years we really ate well! However there were earlier lean years also. An older sister tells of asking Mother what kind of special pudding she used to make for them before they went to bed. Mother covered her face and cried, “Oh, don’t remind me of that! I knew I couldn’t send little ones to bed hungry so I took sugar and flour or cornstarch with water and a bit of flavoring and made pudding using water instead of milk!”

Our parents taught us to be resourceful. This was probably one of the greatest gifts of all!


~~louise~~ said...

I enjoyed this post immensely. It is important to remember where we were in order to "come full circle" and know where we are headed.

Thank you so much for sharing these treasured memories. I plan on doing a post about the decades of food and would like to save this link to include.

Fascinating; Thanks again, Louise

Antoinette Celle said...

This post was right up my alley. I enjoyed reading how nothing was wasted. I still live that way.
I was born in 1955, but my parents were considered "older parents". In the basement of our old farmhouse is an old General Electric refrigerator with a compressor on top. It's on legs like the one on the picture, but is electric. They didn't need to buy ice, with that fridge.
Thank you for writing such an informative article. The detail of your descriptions was fascinating.
Thanks so much, Antoinette


what an informative history lesson!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
~~louise~~ said...

Hi Yvonne, I saved this link for future reference. I will try to remember to send you a note when I use it. Thank you so very much for sharing...

Yvonne Lodwick Leonhardt said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Yvonne Lodwick Leonhardt said...

Louise, thanks, and thanks for the link.

Antoinette, my in-laws had an early GE refrigerator like that when I first met my husband-to-be in 1945. They were so unique that salt and pepper shakers were made in that shap also.

Thanks to all for the comments.
Yvonne Leonhardt

... It's The Journey said...

Forgive the deleted comments. My inexperience in posting comments caused some repetition and left some deleted comment posts. Everything should now show to date.

Hopefully Blogeshere is forgiving. :)

Amoureux said...

Hi Yvonne,
I just wanted to write you to let you know that I think I may be related to you - a distant cousin perhaps. Harry W. Schmiedeke was my grandfather. Ina Schmiedeke my great-grandmother. And Harry's brother, Cleo, that you wrote about in your story about Pearl Harbor survivors, was your uncle.
Harry Schmiedeke married Gertrude and had two daughters, Mary Schmiedeke-Minnick and Carolyn Schmiedeke-MeKeel (my mother). I had always thought that my grandfather's brother, Cleo, had died at Pearl Harbor. But your story helped to clarify not only his story, but their family's story and Cleo and Valerie's beautiful life together. Thank you for writing it all down and capturing it all. I randomly came across your story, "Heartland America," and couldn't believe I was reading about my family. It was truly amazing. I've seen many of the pictures you posted in the story in boxes of photos that my grandfather had who spoke of Cleo fondly. Please feel free to write me if you would like, I would love to know more about the family.
Shelby MeKeel, Laguna Niguel, CA

Anonymous said...

Oh what fun! I remember all of this and perhaps you remember this as well. All of us kids on the street would excitedly gather behind the iceman's truck and follow him up the street. As he chipped off the appropriate size blocks to deliver, we would be given the chips that dropped off of the blocks. Ymmmmm, how good was that on a hot day! Nothing beats sucking on a cold, dripping chunk of ice!

Jackie K.

Anonymous said...

Shelby Please contact me re:family