My apologies for being so late posting my blog today. My whole afternoon schedule has been thrown out the window, albeit for a good reason. I just finished final revisions on one of my manuscripts It took longer than I thought it would and I sat in my writing chair longer than I planned.
Some time back, I discovered an interesting list of different methods used to keep perishable food cold, pre-electricity. Here are some of the more common methods:
I am probably not the only person reading this who has seen a root cellar. These were a common way of keeping food cool in the summer for hundreds of years. The house I lived in during most of the 80's and 90's still had the cellar doors outside. However, the concept of using cooler temperatures below the ground pre-dates pioneer root cellar ingenuity. People in the past also used caves if there were any nearby, and sometimes water wells if there weren’t. Pitchers of milk, cheese and meat were tucked into the cave or hung on ropes deep in a well.
Running water is cooler than standing water because the additional water surface exposed to the air causes more evaporation. Since early settlers generally built their homes near a water source, this often gave them a ready-made place to set their perishable food to keep it cold. (As long as it was in a container to keep something else in the river from eating it.)
A running stream isn’t needed to produce evaporation. Anything wrapped in wet fabric and then placed where a breeze would hit it would be cooled down as the water in the wet fabric evaporated. (This didn’t work as well in a humid climate, but worked well in more arid areas.)
This method is actually still used in some parts of the world. It is a primitive type of refrigerator created by placing a smaller unglazed clay pot inside a large unglazed pot, then filling the space between the two pots with sand. Food was placed in the smaller pot. Once water was poured over the sand, it would soak through the clay pots. The water which reached the outer surface of the larger pot would evaporate, thereby producing the same cooling effect as mentioned above. A zeer pot could be recreated today by placing a medium-sized clay flower pot inside a larger one and then finding something to use as a cover.
This is the most recent pre-refrigeration method of keeping food cold. Your grandparents probably remember using one. An ice box looked much like a small refrigerator with no motor. Ice which had been harvested during the winter for this purpose would be placed in the top compartment of the ice box, and food was placed on lower shelves. The heavier cold air surrounding the ice sank down and circulated around the food on the shelves. Instant refrigeration.
To me, one of the intriguing things about these methods is how easy it would be for any of us to try them ourselves. I am not suggesting we unplug our refrigerators, but it might be fun to experiment with one or more method to see how well it worked. (Not that most of us need to worry about keeping food cold in current temperatures outside, but it might be a fun thing to do with children when the weather warms up.) If you do try one of these methods, I would love to hear how it worked for you.
Until next week – stay warm!
I write historical fiction, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.