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The problem with refrigerators used to be how to get by without one. People stored perishable foods in chilly caves and clammy cellars in hopes of making things last.

Refrigeration slows the growth of bacteria, and the desperate hope was to have something set back to eat when pickings were scarce. But other means of food preservation worked better: salting, spicing, pickling, drying. Reliable cold storage had to wait for ice.

Some people still say "icebox" to mean a gas or electric refrigerator, but the term comes from 1800s. Back then, an icebox was the latest home marvel, a cabinet that held a block of ice. It came with instructions on how to arrange things on the shelves inside, basically the same good advice as now: cooked things safely away from drippy, raw meat.

The block of ice melted away every few days into the drip pan under the cabinet, and the iceman would cometh by horse-drawn wagon with a fresh chunk.

The first home refrigerators started humming while most homes still had iceboxes -- or in cool weather, made do with things left on the kitchen windowsill.

Spam was an amazement the year the Hormel Foods canned meat product came out, 1937. It was jiggly meat that kept indefinitely, even without refrigeration -- until the can was opened.

But in the home boom that followed World War II, practically every front door opened to a kitchen with a refrigerator. And the refrigerator door opened to a modern invention, the refrigerated museum of forgotten foods. Say, how long has this meatloaf been in here, anyway? Is meatloaf supposed to wrinkle?

-- Ron Wolfe

HomeStyle on 02/11/2017

Print Headline: So, when exactly does the iceman cometh?


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