Editor’s note: Alexander W. Delk, 90, is a retired school teacher/administrator, who served 57 years in education. He is retired from the Illinois public schools and for the past 21 years has taught public speaking at Cleveland State Community College. He is a frequent speaker for local groups, Gideon’s International, the United Club and at his churches. He may be reached at 472-2664.
By Alexander W. Delk
Prior to World War ll most of the conveniences we take for granted were not to be found in most homes. This entry of will look at some of the household items, now so commonplace, that were not to be found in most homes of those days.
First, let us look at some of the kitchen items that have changed so drastically in these years:
(1) Refrigeration: The modern refrigerator was far in the future back in the 1920s and ’30s. So, what did people use to keep their food fresh and to keep their beverages cold?
As far back as I remember, into the late ’20s, most homes had what was known as the “ice box.” This was an insulated (with what, I do not know) metal upright chest, somewhat resembling an old refrigerator. In it was a compartment for the block of ice which the “ice man” would bring around every two or three days. He would come up the walk with a hunk of ice carried by tongs in his hands. It could be a 25-pound block or a 50-pound block. He would come to the porch where the icebox was kept and put the block of ice in it on a shelf. There would be some sort of pan under the ice block to catch the water drippings as the ice slowly melted.
With the ice to keep things cool, milk and other perishables foods could be put into the icebox and kept for several days. This was a common way of keeping foods from spoiling in those days.
One of my idiosyncracies stems back to the old icebox. Our milk came from the cow or cows we owned. In order to drink our milk cold, we would chip off small bits of ice from the ice block to put in our milk before drinking it. To this day I drink my milk with ice in it.
Other families who did not have an icebox may have used other means of cooling perishable items, particularly milk. My late wife’s parents, now long-deceased, used a “spring house” for their items that needed cooling. This was a small concrete block building built over a large freshwater spring. That water was cold when it came out of the hill. “Mom” would put jugs of milk in that cold water to keep it fresh.
After the war, or perhaps somewhat earlier, the modern refrigerator began to develop. Oh, they were primitive in comparison to what we have today. No such thing as an automatic ice-maker. Most of them had a compartment for making ice in small trays, the tray being emptied when the ice was used and then filled again with more water to freeze into more cubes.
(2) Means of cooking: Most kitchens of today are equipped with fine stoves with all sorts of gadgets to make choices for this or that, but such did not come about until long after the war.
Back in the 1930s, particularly in the rural areas, the wood range was in daily use. This was a fixture in most kitchens of the time — and one that did a wonderful job of cooking good food.
The old wood range was a rather massive fixture of the kitchen. It had of course, a connection to the flue, through which the smoke went out. Most wood ranges of the era were made of iron and had several compartments. Usually to one’s left when facing the stove there would be a place for the fire itself. Let me detour a moment and describe the wood supply for the stove.
A fire would be started with what was called “kindling,” small bits of wood splinters that would ignite easily. On top of the kindling would be split-up larger pieces of wood, called “stove wood.” These would be of proper length to fit into the stove, but large enough to keep the fire going somewhat longer than smaller pieces. The fire in the range would serve to heat the other compartments of the stove for cooking.
On top of the stove would be several places designed for cooking vegetables and other items prepared today as we would.
In earlier times, quite bit of cooking was done in the fireplace, with large pots suspended on hooks over the fire. Colonial cooking was often done in such a manner. I cannot remember much of this type of cooking, though I assume some of it still existed.
Electric stoves came about, probably during the 1940s. They became popular as electricity became available in most homes. Earlier ones had little of the modern features common today, but were a great improvement over the old wood stoves. Or, were they?
(3) Dishwashing: Washing dishes, pot and pans, and the like was all done by hand in those days. And, without many of the modern detergents that line our grocery shelves.
Food scraps usually went to the animals, anxiously awaiting their feast on what the folks had left for them. Pets, such as dogs and cats, were sometimes allowed inside the house, though not as frequently as we see today.
The mother of the household usually did most of the cooking, often assisted by the girls in the family. Dishwashing was usually left for the girls, or even for the boys if no girls were around.
I well remember the old bars of Octagon soap that were used in dishwashing in those days. Modern detergents in plastic bottles did not come about until after the war.
(4) Other items: Several other electric-operated kitchen appliances came out after the war or around that time. These are numerous, but were largely unknown during the 1920s and 1930s and, of course, before that.
These would include such items as hand mixers, blenders, automatic coffee makers, and so on. The food disposals we have in our sinks were unknown back then.
So much for the kitchen and its modern appliances. How would we like to go back to those “good old days”? Maybe they were not so good, but they did have their virtues.
In the middle of the kitchen or nearby was often a large table. The typical family of the 1930s ate together, usually three hot meals a day. That kept mother busy preparing food for the large family that was common back then.
We have often heard the saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Someone has put another slant to that saying — “The family that eats together, stays together.”
In those distant days of yesteryear, most families did indeed “eat together.” After a hearty breakfast of home-made biscuits, bacon or sausage, and eggs, the men would go to work or off to their jobs. There was no thought of going to work without eating some breakfast. On the farms, the men would come in from the fields for a hot lunch (or “dinner” as it was called then). When the evening came there would be another hot meal ready. That was known as “supper” back then.
And, the family ate together. After the usual “blessing” or grace, the family ate the meal. Children were not allowed to leave the table until they had “cleaned their plate,” not only for their own good but because food was too valuable to waste. Nor were they allowed to be “picky or choosy.” They were trained to eat whatever the mother had prepared and not complain about it.
So much for memories of the kitchen and eating customs of the days of yesteryear. A second look at other areas of life so different will be covered in the next “Memories of Yesteryear.”