Saturday, June 7, 2014

A fridge for health

We have a special treat today: my oldest cookbook (so far, anyway). Today we're looking at Miss Alice Bradley's Electric Refrigerator Menus and Recipes: Recipes Prepared Especially for the General Electric Refrigerator (1927). This is a hardback cookbook that originally cost two dollars, not a pamphlet that came free with the appliance, perhaps reinforcing the point that an electric refrigerator was still a luxury item.

One selling point was understandably food safety. I was particularly amused by a fruit test that pitted a GE fridge against an "ice-cooled refrigerator." First, the book presents photographic evidence:

The black and white photos make it a bit difficult to tell what we're looking at, but it is apparent that the fruit at the top looks worse than the stuff at the bottom.

I'd say that the caption for the GE-cooled fruit seems a little optimistic, though. "There are no signs of decomposition" on this electrically cooled fruit? The banana, for one, looks pretty bad to me. The black spot isn't as extensive as the one on the other banana, but that doesn't make it an appealing snack. I wouldn't have been able to identify what kind of fruit is on the bottom right (apparently an apple) without the aid of the commentary on the next page.

This experiment was "an interesting proof of food preservation," storing halves of the same orange, banana, peach, and apple in an ice-cooled and an electrically-cooled refrigerator.

A few interesting points: during the experiment, the refrigerator "doors were opened each half-hour to approximate conditions of ordinary house-hold use." I know cooking was more labor-intensive then than it is now, but this figure seems pretty high. It would be hard to get the laundry done or milk the cows if the cooking duties were so extensive that someone was in the fridge every half hour.

The book also makes a big point of the fact that the GE fridge "never went above 45 degrees, Fahrenheit, and never below 41 degrees," which kept it "below the danger line -- 50 degrees!" Now the "danger line" is considered to be 40 degrees, so we'd have to get rid of a  fridge that could never go below 40.

The fact that the ice-cooled box was always between 59 and 68 makes me glad I never had to deal with one of them!

Besides being safer, a GE fridge was supposed to help with all kinds of tedious cooking problems, such as feeding "invalids." If one's family invalid were sweet and thoughtful, then this suggestion seems like a tasty (if nutritionally questionable) option:

You'll notice that this is even considered an appropriate lunch for children if one doesn't mind them being sticky and hyper for the rest of the afternoon.

If the invalid is disagreeable and perhaps malingering, there are other options that might encourage him or her to get well ASAP:

Ginger ale ice? That would be fine, especially for someone queasy.

Bouillon ice? That doesn't sound interesting or particularly good, but not terrible either.

Icy chunks of clam juice, on the other hand? I feel a bit queasy just contemplating it. All that washing and scrubbing and straining may be a lot of work for a revolting dish, but it might really be worthwhile if it finally gets great uncle Clarence off the couch.


  1. What an amazing post, Poppy! Your commentary is priceless, lol...I totally agree about that "time test" You'd have to have 21 kids living in the house to have those refrigerator open as often! Forget about getting anything else done.

    However, I think it is important to reconize these sorts of books as a glimpse into our culinary past. From the sounds of these "meals", we sure have come a long way!!!

    1. Yes, even though I mostly make fun of the books I discuss, I am fascinated by the glimpses they give into the past. I always like imagining what new recipes will look like 30 or 40 or more years from now, too.