Saturday, June 10, 2006

The History of Ice...

Every so often, out of the kindness of my cheeseburger heart, I will put forth a book idea for someone to write and publish. It's the least I can do.

The topic of ice, or more specifically, refrigeration, is not very silly. Nor is it overtly sexy. But, when you consider just how fundamental it is to this thing we call civilization, its importance can not be underestimated. And yet its story remains largely untold. Let's start with the fact that we can't make the stuff. I mean sure you can stick water in your freezer, but that's cheating. No electricity, no winter, no ice.

Which begs the question what did they do before there was electricity? Certainly, ice was big business. The Tudor family (of Tudor City fame) made their pre-real estate fortune by selling ice to restaurants and wealthy homeowners in New York City throughout the 19th Century. How many huge blocks of ice were schlepped from mountain caves and frozen ponds to cities and towns in the lowlands by horse-drawn carriage? Was ice a luxury most of the country could not afford? I don't know.

Iceboxes, containing blocks of ice, were household items up until the 1940s. But would there be any ice to put in it in August? Again, how could there be, pre-electricity?

Techniques of preserving ice by crude forms of insulation, such as straw and dung were developed. I suppose your average temperate climate farmer could store blocks of winter ice for a certain length of time in an underground storage facility, let's say reasonably through May. But June through November I guess you pretty much went without. No summertime ice tea. Unless the iceman cameth. And if he did, I understand that the kids would run behind the wagon shouting, "Chips!, Chips!" hoping for a few cool slivers to suck on. Refrigeration, frozen food, as we know it today was simply not an option. Were our stomachs heartier, more accustomed to digesting rotten meat and fetid dairy products? I guess there was lots of pickling, smoking, curing, preserving, salting and fat-rubbing going on. What a drag for the taste buds. Not to mention your social life.

And what about the tropics? Ice must have been more precious than gold. Probably still is in many places. Maybe one reason certain cold climate cultures pulled ahead of other warm climate cultures was because they were able to hold on to ice for longer periods of time. The longer you hang on to your ice, the longer you can store food, therefore, the less time you have to spend per day on sustenance, the more time you can spend on other culturally progressive pursuits.

In summary, ice melts. It's a big deal in the global village these days. And apparently it was once an even bigger deal in Frontier Village.


Blogger Phil Williams said...

Yepsir... ice indeed. I still catch myself referring to the "ice box" and generally feel a sense of pride when I remember to say "fridge." Yepsir, I still remember an ice box in the kitchen when I was very young.

1:21 PM  

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