Remembering how we kept food cold during the hot months

Published 9:42 pm Friday, August 29, 2014

There is a saying, “Some of my best memories come from some old dirt road.” I tend to agree with this. There in the stillness surrounding one, it seems time has passed everything by, and if one will listen many memories will travel through time and come flooding back filtering through the years.

Such happened to me recently with the 100 degree and over weather we had. “Jean Ann do you remember when we didn’t have refrigerators and the ice man came and brought us huge blocks of ice,” I was asked? When I replied affirmatively I was told, “Well write an article and tell us about it. Maybe it will cool us down some even if the temperature stays near 100.”

As memories flooded back, I recalled older ones talking of keeping perishables in spring houses or cellars, but the most popular around Climax was the dug well. My Mother told of having to place her fresh butter, and milk, as well as any other perishables, down on a ledge in the well. The well was a cool place and nothing tasted any better or cooler, than a fresh bucket of water just brought up from that well.

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According to my research, very few homes in the city or country had what was called an ice box. An ice box was a large wooden box structure with insulated doors. It was built so that a large block of ice could sit in an insulated reservoir in the top. As the ice melted, the cold water flowed down the hollow sides of the ice box and kept the contents in the ice box cold or cool enough to prevent spoilage. This eliminated the need for placing the milk and etc. in the well. As the ice melted, the water was collected in a pan under the ice box on the floor or if it was outside it flowed on the ground. Of course in hot weather like we have had recently the ice didn’t last more than a couple of days, and one had to go back to the spring house, or well until the ice man came again. Then in late years Bainbridge got a Cold Storage plant where for a fee you could store fresh meat and other perishables, and call for them when needed.

Homeowners had a sign with 25 lbs, 50 lbs. 75 lbs, and 100 lbs, and one would prop the side up with the amount one needed out front so when the ice man came by he would know what size block of ice to bring in for you.

The ice man was and continues to be someone who sells and or delivers ice from a wagon, cart or modern day refrigerated truck. From the late 19th century to the Mid-20th century in the cities ice men would make daily rounds delivering ice for ice boxes before the electric domestic refrigerator became commonplace. In the early days ice was harvested from frozen ponds and lakes and stored in ice houses. These were houses lined with straw and anything to insulate to prevent the ice from melting.

Ice boxes were invented for home use in the 1840’s but according to my research it wasn’t until the 1870’s that the United States had ice plants that could produce enough ice to supply the country side as well as the cities, and the refrigerator were not healthy or good for home use due to the coolant placed in them. The cost of an ice box during that time was around $17.00.

I remember our ice box being outside in the back porch area where it could drain without harming anything, and I remember it being a green color. I don’t know why it was green except my Mother’s favorite color was green. I also remember the ice man giving me and my little sister small chips from the ice wagon to eat. In the 1930’s refrigerators were introduced into the homes, that is after electrification and safer refrigerators became more available. The electric refrigerator still today carries the name ice box with some of the older generation.

Ice men continue as a profession today as many places order ice such as hotels and restaurants and others. However, ice is delivered in freezer trucks and comes in many different styles.

Now that we have explored the county roads of the ice box, and shared our memories during this hot time, I think I’ll stay right here in the 21st century, nice and cool and spoiled with frost free ice boxes and large freezers, and especially with the home air conditioner. Memories aren’t always what you expect!