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.
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.