Preserving Food Have you ever heard your grandparents call a refrigerator an ‘icebox’? Have you ever wondered what an ‘icebox’ was? How did people

keep food fresh back in the old days without modern preservatives and refrigerators and all that fancy stuff?  You probably thought they were talking about the little box you take on picnics.  Not so.  THIS is an icebox.

Iceboxes were common in homes from the 19th centuries until the mid 20th centuries, when home refrigerators finally became practical. It’s a handsome piece of furniture, isn’t it? But how did it work? Did it really have ICE in it!?

Back in the day, the iceman, a neighbourhood institution, would come by your house every week with a block of ice. He’d come into your kitchen and put the ice into the icebox, close it and head out on his way. The block of ice (which was huge) would keep the food and drinks in the icebox nice and cold and fresh. The ice went into the top compartment. The compartment on the bottom, directly underneath the ice-chamber, was for food that had to be kept absolutely freezing cold; foodstuffs such as meat, poultry, fish and dairy products were put here, to make the most of the chilled air circulating downwards from the ice compartment above.

The bottom of the icebox generally had a removable metal pan where the melted water dripped into. This had to be emptied once every day or every second day (depending on the size of the pan). Insulation in the box was provided by plates of zinc which kept the cold in and made everything nice and chilly. The huge blocks of ice which the iceman sold to you were kept in massive ‘ice-barns’, huge, insulated buildings where the ice could be stored until it was delivered.

As there was only so much stuff that could fit into the icebox, some food was generally delivered fresh every few days. Dairy products such as milk, butter, cheese and cream were delivered by the milkman, or you purchased them down at the local dairy. The baker’s boy might deliver loaves of bread. But once the food was home, it was your job to make sure it lasted.

Dumping the stuff into the icebox wasn’t the only solution grandpa came up with to keep his food fresh. It was dried, pickled or bottled! And all this was done at home, in the kitchen.     (This is just some of the things you can see on display at our museum)


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