Fridges
Thursday, 12 September 2013

Fridges

Are fridges really necessary? Sam Taylor is going to go cold turkey

Written by Sam Taylor
How cool do you want to be? In 1626, the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon became so obsessed with the concept of keeping things chilled that he keeled over with pneumonia. Keeping things cool is an idea that has taken a long time to catch on. In 1962, the year I was born, only 33 per cent of the country had a refrigerator. They were expensive, and for a generation weaned on rationing, they were an unnecessary luxury.

Most young housewives, like my mother for instance, shopped daily for their meals, planning ahead with a weekly order placed with the butcher. Fruit and vegetables were only bought in season. There were larders – we had a larder, and ‘leftovers’ were kept in there for days, covered with a tea towel. There was a vent in the wall at the bottom and a vent at the top so that the air circulated and the ambient temperature was always lower than the rest of the house – which wasn’t difficult as there was no central heating. By the time I was sentient enough to be aware of the world, we did have a fridge. But we still used the larder.

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At Rock House, there is a subterranean cold store. A room just large enough to turn round in, with solid stone shelves set into the brickwork where the cook would have originally kept the household produce with only her nose to go on. The food writer Rose Prince says this is still the best way of judging whether something is ‘off ’; the spurious term ‘best by date’ being a marketing ploy.

In the 18th and 19th century, even the most modest families employed domestic help, which meant that the lady of the house had no need to sniff . In the grand houses, servants would harvest large sheets of ice in winter, coat them in salt and wrap them in flannel. They’d be placed in iceboxes buried underground and dug up in summer to make sorbets or chilled drinks. Keeping something cold was hard work and before pasteurisation, there was every chance of a death over spoilt milk.

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If you can walk to the shops daily, then do you need a fridge? Sadly, most of us don’t have that luxury. We have jobs and families to feed and we’re offered incentives for bulk buying that leave us with extra goods. Still, I’ve decided to soldier on for a bit longer with the cold store. Good news for the planet, bad news for the guests. Slice and no ice, anyone?

Next week: Mr Fox


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