Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Remember when....

.... we lived without electricity and refrigeration?

No, I'm sure many of you can't, thankfully. As a child, growing up on a dairy farm in Victoria's Gippsland area, we had no electricity for many years and no refrigeration or ice chest to keep food cool. We eventually bought a gas fridge which lasted many years until the power was connected and an electric fridge took its place.
In the early days, two important items for keeping food cool in the summer were the Meat Safe and the Coolgardie Safe.

The meat safe was about 50cm square with perforated metal sides. The safe was hung under a shady tree, or perhaps on a veranda, and the breezes blowing through the tiny holes would help to keep the meat cool and the flies away. We had fresh meat delivered three times a week so raw meat wouldn't have been kept in the safe for any length of time.

The Coolgardie Safe, which is thought to have originated in the goldfields of Coolgardie in Western Australia, was only about 35cm square but standing about 60cm tall. The sides were usually made of wire mesh, covered in a gauze fabric. The recessed top of the safe was filled with water and strips of flannel, or other absorbent fabric, were hung down the sides of the safe with one end in the water recess. Moisture would soak down these strips and dampen the sides of the safe. Breezes blowing through the wet cloth had a very cooling effect on the food inside the safe when it was hung in the shade, either under a tree or on a verandah.

One particularly hot summer we had two wide-necked stone jars buried in sand under some cypress trees. Butter stayed firm and milk sweet all through the hottest of days.

As effective as these methods were, I wouldn't swap them for either of my electric fridges today.


meggie said...

Thankyou, for this post! I remember the safe, with the metal sides, & how they were hung in a shady place to keep the meat cool.
I never saw a Coolgardie safe, coming from NZ, perhaps they didnt have them. But we had very cold rivers, & I can remember things being stored in bowls, & stoneware jars, in the running water, carefully stacked & placed with stones to keep them upright, & the running water kept everthing cool.

I remember in the summer, the jellies would be stood in the river water to set. And woe betide any child who upset one!!

Kerri said...

It's fascinating to read of the ingenius methods used for preserving foods before we had electricity.
Ross says they had ice boxes here. The ice would be cut out of the river and stored all year in ice houses (sheds) with saw dust between the blocks. There's an ice harvest each February in a little hamlet not far from here. People gather to harvest the ice and then in June they hold an ice cream festival. It's a fun event (that I've actually never attended).
Thanks for the look back in time Alice. xox

judypatooote said...

When i was a kid we had a cottege and also a ice box....the ice man would deliver the ice and always chip me off a hunk....that was so good.....and I remember the milkman delivering the milk and putting it in an insolated box.... oh yes I remember the old day... somehow it seems special now....

Meow said...

I don't remember those days ... before my time, I'm afraid. But it always fascinates me to think that there were ways, other than electric fridges, to keep our food cool and fresh. Thanks for sharing.
Take care, Meow

Reflection Through The Seasons said...

I remember the old meat safe, this is what Mother used and is exactly as you described. It was still used for years after us having an electric fridge, we’d taking it on camping holidays and as you say, hang it under a shady tree where the breeze kept it cool.

Happy Valentine’s Day Frances. Marion

Lee-ann said...

Alice hi! that was so interesting and I too remember the very ingenius woman who would be able to keep their families warm, fed and healthy in a time when there was nothing but your skills as survivors to go on.

Many stories my grandmother told me and my fascination with "those times" and with stories like your own keep it all alive for the next generation.

I did not have to live like that but it was just a moment or two before I was born because my family got their first electric fridge just a week or two before I was born.

I do so very much hope you are enjoying your week.

ps; My hubby was born in Kurromburra......cattle country was that near your home town? :o)


Anonymous said...

Hi Alice, Sorry that it's been so long. I remember visiting farms when I was a school child... you know.... where they show you how stuff was done in the olden days. I have only ever known life with a fridge. A few years ago, we were hit with terrible Qld storms and lost our power for three days. You should have seen the line up for bags of ice. I always keep a couple of bags in my deep freeze... just in case. It's lucky I am very knowledgeable about camping and knew how to keep the food cold and fresh.
Lots of love, Nicole.
ps. I'm so glad that you are still with us. xox

Jeanette said...

Hi Alice! oh how I remember those safes hanging under the veranda with produce in them and fresh milk from Daisy the cow. Then come the ice box with deliveries of ice 3 times a week then gas fridge still remember it was a "Silent Night" but not to silent HAHAHA.