If you are old enough (as I am) you may remember the ice man who came to make deliveries of big blocks of ice for those households that still had “ice boxes”. There weren’t many homes that still had ice boxes – just a few and perhaps these were the senior citizens of Fairmount, where we lived…on a hot day children clustered around the ice man, who would cut slivers of ice for each of us. My parents’ home had a refrigerator (my father loved new gadgets and often bought the latest whatever)…we had the first TV set on our street and one time dad bought mom a new Electrolux vacuum cleaner for her birthday. Big mistake! My mother disdained anything that was not personally for her on her birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Sweetest Day or Easter. You could only give her a household item on her wedding anniversary. I remember that Electrolux stood in a corner of the dining room for a year before mom decided to give it a try. (We children learned the lesson early; gifts for mom had to be personal, not something for the house).
The earliest refrigerator I remember my parents owning was not very high and had rounded corners. There was a very small “freezer” compartment, only big enough for two metal ice cube trays, I think. Until freezer compartments became larger, or home freezers became popular, housewives had to buy meat every few days. Fortunately, before the advent of supermarkets, there were family grocery stores on almost every corner. Not only that, mom could go to the corner grocery store, select her groceries and ask to have them delivered that afternoon.
My mother, who learned to drive a lot sooner than most housewives in the 1940s (and was, in fact, the only mother we did know who drove a car), was an early advocate of the supermarket; one of the first in our area, I believe, was an A&P in Northside. Mom would do a major shopping at the A&P because she had an automobile in which to haul it all home. And five healthy children to lug the groceries up the steps to our house on Sutter Street.
I was still very young when the first Kroger Supermarket came to Fairmount; it was just down the street from my grandmother’s house on Baltimore Avenue; I don’t think grandma was much in favor of supermarkets. She still took oil cloth grocery bags to Findlay Market, downtown, once a week to buy her fruit and vegetables (and sometimes a freshly killed chicken from the Findlay Market butcher shop) and often took an able-bodied grandchild along to help tote the bags home on the streetcar. There was a corner grocery store opposite the new Kroger’s – far as I know, grandma still continued to patronize Ziffle’s which carried a lot of German sausages and products, such as fresh sauerkraut. But I digress. Getting back to those early refrigerators!
Did you know that no one person or company solved the problems involved with creating a home refrigerator? It took a lot of different inventions, including the development of an electric compressor small enough for home use in 1914, followed by the invention of a satisfactory automatic temperature control device in 1917, which in turn was followed by the development of the nontoxic, non-explosive coolant Freon in 1930.
General Electric sought to develop refrigerators of its own, and in 1915 the first Guardian unit was assembled in a back yard wash house as a predecessor to the Frigidaire*. In 1916 Kelvinator and Servel introduced two units among a field of competing models. This number increased to 200 by 1920. In 1918, Kelvinator had a model with automatic controls. (Frigidaire became synonmous with refrigerators much the same way that Kleenex became synonmous with facial tissue). People would often call their refrigerator a frigidaire even when it wasn’t.
In 1927, General Electric offered for sale the first refrigerator that looked and worked like the refrigerators we use today, although it used toxic sulfur dioxide as its coolant. Those early electric refrigerators were not especially dependable, either. In 1923, electric-utility companies estimated that the average refrigerator required a service call every three months. Despite these drawbacks, Americans coveted the new refrigerators and by 1941 about 45 percent of households in America had one.
Separate freezers became common during the 1940s, the popular term at the time for the unit was a “deep freeze”. But home units of these devices or “appliances” did not go into mass production until after WWII. The 1950s and 1960s saw technical advances like automatic defrosting, and automatic ice making. Developments of the 1970s and 80s brought about more efficient refrigerators, even though environmental issues led to the banning of the very effective (Freon) refrigerants. Early refrigerator models (1916 and on) featured a cold compartment for ice cube trays. Successful processing of fresh vegetables through freezing began in the late 1920s by the Postum Company, the forerunner of General Foods, which had acquired the technology when it bought the rights to Clarence Birdeye’s successful fresh freezing methods.
When I moved to a new home (new to me, not a NEW house) in 2008, the space allotted for a refrigerator was based on the size of refrigerators in 1955, the year my house was built. (One can only surmise that the people building houses in 1955 couldn’t envision refrigerators becoming any bigger than they were at that time). The kitchen cupboards were built around these allotted spaces (stove, refrigerator) so Bob, my significant other, reduced the size of one of our high-up pine kitchen cupboards, so that my Kitchen Aide refrigerator would fit properly into this space. (My youngest son works for an appliance shop so he is the one who makes certain I have all working kitchen appliances).
I can’t imagine being able to cope with the 1940s refrigerator my mother had. My mother was only 5’ 1” tall and the refrigerator, I was able to note from an old photograph, was shorter than mom.
Maybe that was the reason we had little fresh fruits and vegetables, growing up. There really wasn’t enough space to store it in the refrigerator. We ate canned peaches and pears or fruit cocktail, canned spinach, canned salmon, canned peas and corn and beans. The only fresh vegetables I remember eating as a child were potatoes and carrots. My mother’s Sunday dinner was usually a stewed chicken with carrots, and her library-paste rice to go with it. If you added enough liquid from the chicken to your serving of rice, it helped break down the pasty consistency. I always hated that rice but my brother Bill confessed not too long ago that he actually liked mom’s library paste rice. We also sometimes had corn on the cob or a watermelon during the summertime. It makes sense to me now – after all these years – why we had so little fresh fruit or vegetables; there was no place to store it.
We always had a lot of apple sauce that was home canned – because my grandmother had sour apple trees. (making apple sauce was a family affair. During World War II, it was canned without any sugar so for years after, anytime you had some applesauce, you could spoon a little sugar on your serving.
Clearly, the advent of larger, more spacious refrigerators – and freezers – changed how people ate.
The invention of the refrigerator has allowed the modern family to purchase, store, freeze, prepare, and preserve food products in a fresh state for much longer periods of time than was previously possible. For the majority of families without a sizeable garden in which to grow vegetables and raise animals, the advent of the refrigerator along with the modern supermarket led to a vastly more varied diet and improved health resulting from improved nutrition. Dairy products, meat, fish, poultry and vegetables can all be kept refrigerated or frozen in today’s modern refrigerator.
The refrigerator allows families to consume more salads, fresh fruits and vegetables during meals without having to own a garden or an orchard. And you may notice now, in your supermarket produce department, fruit and vegetables coming from countries all over the world. Cherries from Chile – imagine that!
The luxury of freezing allows households to purchase more foods in bulk that can be eaten at leisure while the bulk purchase provides cost savings. Ice cream, a popular commodity of the 20th century, was previously only available by traveling long distances to where the product was made fresh and had to be eaten on the spot. Now it is a common food item. Ice on-demand not only adds to the enjoyment of cold drinks, but is useful in first aid applications, not to mention cold packs that can be kept frozen for picnics or in case of emergency.
It wouldn’t be an article in my Blog if I didn’t provide you with a few favorite “ice box” desserts, would it?
One of my most-often requested cookies is something called Lemon Rounds Ice Box Cookies. Before I give you this recipe, let me share a short story. I was perhaps 8 or 9 years old when one summer night, my girlfriend Carol Sue and I invaded her mother’s kitchen to find her mother listening to her Baptist Church’s radio program while she was slicing and baking ice box cookies. Mrs. Wheeler paused long enough to shake a finger at me and say something like “See, Sandy, that’s where your church is wrong about this issue” – so not knowing how to respond (since we never talked back to an adult), I left and went home. I was sitting on the front steps when Carol Sue came up with a little paper bag in which there were still warm ice box cookies.
“My mom feels bad about what she said,” Carol explained, “So she sent you some of her ice box cookies”. Carol and I sat on the front steps and ate all of the warm cookies. I have been in love with ice box cookies ever since.
I don’t remember what all were in Mrs. Wheeler’s ice box cookies (or what the religious issue was either, for that matter), but here is my favorite Lemon Rounds Ice box Cookies:
To make Lemon Rounds Ice Box Cookies, you will need:
1 ½ cups sifted regular flour,
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 TBSP lemon juice
2 tsp grated lemon rind
½ cup finely chopped pecans
Measure flour, baking soda and salt into sifter. Cram shortening and sugar until fluffy; beat in eggs, lemon juice and rind and pecans. Sift in flour mixture. Blend well. Shape into two long rolls (or logs) and wrap in wax paper. Chill overnight. To bake, preheat oven @ 375 degrees. Slice cookie dough ¼” thick and bake 8 minutes or until golden around edges. Remove from cookie sheets and cook on wire racks.
Here is another favorite ice box cookie recipe:
MAPLE PECAN COOKIES
To make Maple Pecan Cookies you will need:
8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
2 TBSP real maple syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups minus 2 TBSP all purpose flour
1 ½ cups pecan halves
Beat butter at medium sped until it whitens and holds soft peaks (3-5 minutes). Beat in sugar and blend well. Whisk together egg yolk and maple syrup and beat into the butter. Add flour and mix only enough to combine. Beat in pecans just to mix. Wrap dough in plastic and chill until firm. Then shape into 4 logs. Chill until ready to bake. Slice and bake at 325 degrees 12-15 minutes until firm and lightly and evenly browned. Cookies must be cooked through to be tender–these taste like pecan sandies. **
Many dessert recipes were unthinkable before refrigeration became widely available. This Lemon Chiffon loaf is a good example.
To make Lemon Chiffon Loaf, you will need:
24 ladyfinger halves
1 (14 oz) can Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)
1/3 cup lemon juice from concentrate
yellow food coloring (optional)
3 egg whites (use only Grade A clean, uncracked eggs)
¼ tsp cream of tartar
1 cup (1/2 pint) whipping cream, stiffly whipped
Line bottom and sides of a 9×5” loaf pan with aluminum foil, extending foil 1” beyond edges of pan. Line sides of pan with 18 ladyfinger halves. In large bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, and food coloring, if desired. Mix well. In a small bowl beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff but not dry. Fold into sweetened condensed milk mixture. Fold in whipped cream. Pour into prepared pan. Cover filling with remaining 6 ladyfinger halves. Cover; chill or freeze 4 hours or until set. Invert onto serving plate; peel off foil. Garnish as desired. Refrigerate leftovers. ***