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  • Writer's pictureJane Rubin

From the Icebox to the Freezer

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

Since when did we start putting so much food in our freezers? I remember coming home from college during the time my parents were transitioning into empty nesters and opening the refrigerator and only finding tins of sardines and olives.

The counter no longer held any pastries or bread or even leftover bagels. What was going on? To make matters more confusing, half the time they referred to it as an icebox.

My folks were putting all of their food into the freezer - even the bread! Over a handful of years, their food consumption had changed so radically, they no longer bought for daily use, they bought for the freezer - good God, even bagels.

Dismissing this odd behavior and getting on with my life as a parent, I barely ever had food to freeze. Food in my home vanished almost as quickly as I emptied it from the shopping bags. The freezer was primarily used for ice cream, frozen vegetables and ice cubes. This continued for many years.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around with some girlfriends sorting and sharing some of our grandkids’ baby clothes while nibbling on cheese and crackers. Of course, we discussed food, one of our favorite subjects. Practically every other sentence ended with, “Well, we put it in the freezer...” We even discussed whether yogurt could be stored in the freezer! We have become our parents. I am even considering keeping my bread in the freezer now. In our carb limited world, even a loaf of bread spoils before we can consume it.

So that brings me back to iceboxes. Why my fascination? Many of you know I am writing an historical novel set in the late 1880s in NYC. That period of history was one of the most exciting times with respect to inventions that completely changed the way we lived then and today: electricity, central heating, home designs and a multitude of technologies. But, before I set fingers to the keyboard, I spend hours researching to make sure I have my history correct in the context of the book.

My protagonist has just moved out of the tenements - horrible cave-like dwellings, into a new apartment building in lower Manhattan. In time correct terms, a newly built modern apartment came with running water (hot too), central heat through radiators, flush toilets (with water closets of course) and ice boxes - a boon to homemakers that enabled them to store and keep food for longer periods of time.

My parents, who were born in the 1920s still had iceboxes in their apartments. Ice men delivered blocks of ice weekly. Refrigerators with freezers were available in the 1940s and were such a novelty that my great grandfather excitedly nicknamed the appliance “the refrigidity” (a cute expression soon to be lost in the annals of family history). The ability to freeze food was disruptive then and continued to be for my parents in the 1970s and now for us in the 2020s.

How many of you have made the switch?

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