Refrigeration


by Hilga July 23, 2014

How did you keep food cool on the farm when refrigerators were not available???

In the 1930s we did not have refrigeration on the farm, yet the family ran a dairy farm and had to keep milk cold until it was bottled and sold. There was a cement building with two small rooms that was called the milk house. The back room had a trough across the west end that had two levels of depth for water. The north end was deep enough to hold a ten-gallon can of milk. The water covered the can up to it’s neck. The other end of the trough was deep enough for one-gallon cans or bottles. I think there was a shelf above where crocks could be kept for butter or cream, etc. The water was cold all year long because it came from a well deep in the ground. Each night the milk was strained and put in the cans to spend the night in the cold water. It was bottled the next day to be delivered to the folks in town.

The house did not have any refrigeration, so all the food cooked for each meal was eaten, or stored in the milk house. (Most of the time there were no leftovers.) One year Dad built a cooler for Mom to keep vegetables in. It was a box-like structure. There were corner boards and supports around the top and bottom. Chicken wire covered the structure to keep the cats and birds out and the vegetables in. This was then covered with burlap sacks and a method to let water run slowly down over the burlap during the day. It was just a very early swamp cooler for food. It was a lot of trouble to keep the water running just right, and I don’t think it was used more than that one year. The milk house did a better job.

When the family moved to town, we did not have a refrigerator there either. We followed much the same routine, no leftovers. We had a cow and Mom would bottle up each milking and store it in the basement. The basement was under the bath and bedrooms and had only a dirt floor and one very small window for light. It was quite cool down there most of the time. Summers got a little warm. We drank a lot of warm milk. Sometimes we made ice cream on Sunday, but it all had to be eaten before the ice melted, so we always invited company to come and help out.

Hilga graduated from Nurses Training in 1948. When she got her first check from working, she went home for the weekend. The bus stopped at the drug store, and they had a refrigerator on sale. She decided that the family should buy it for their mother. She went home and secured the help of Helen and Ira. They got together enough money for a down payment on the fridge. They made arrangements to have it delivered that night. So much excitement, they could hardly wait for the surprise they had for their mother. I don’t remember how long that fridge lasted, but it was great. Now we had cold milk to drink, ice cubes and cold water. Mom could cook more and have leftovers. Life was looking up. Hilga made payments on the fridge for the next year.

A couple of years later, Helen and Ira arranged to buy an electric stove for Mom. Dad arranged for the wiring and bought a water heater to go with the stove. This family now was modern. Since the house had no furnace, they had used the coal cook stove for heat in the kitchen, and a large Heaterola in the living room to heat the rest of the house. You could open the door to the bedroom and the hall so the heat could go upstairs to the bedrooms. (The bedrooms were very cold in the winter and VERY hot in the summer.) I don’t remember how long before Dad broke down and put in a furnace.  Afterwards he complained that he froze all the time and really missed the stove to back up to when he came in from outside. Modern changes are very hard on the oldest at that time. The older we are the harder it is to adapt.

It is hard for me to realize that I have lived through so many changes. Refrigerators are now huge or tiny according to the need. Now a small family has a huge two-door unit with a freezer on the bottom and two big doors on top. Just think that on a very hot day you could almost climb right in and enjoy the cold air! Thanks to all for refrigeration.

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