Wednesday, October 19, 2011

19 October 1957 “The Adaptability of the Homemaker or Making Lemons into Lemonade”

Ever since I began this project almost three years ago, I am still amazed at how one adapts. Just when you think, “How on earth is that going to work?” or “Well, that seems really inconvenient” you suddenly realize how you didn’t need as much or what you felt was ‘normal’ before.

I often think of the Homemakers in the 1930’s Depression era or of the women and men of Wartime who suddenly saw their larders empty and their tummy grumbling. You simply had to deal with it and as you got on, by the end, when plenty returned you looked at it as almost a bit much at first. But, again, we are adaptable, so as easily as we go from plenty to naught and learn to scrimp and get by, when the market is flooded and cheap and ready is at our disposal we become fat and over extended in our bank accounts.

For me, this latest adventure in ‘Seeing what you are made of and make do with what you have’ was in the case of my ice box. Let me first clarify, that I mean my refrigerator. I had a comment that seemed to wonder if I was indeed using an ice box which uses ice rather than electricity. I  began in 1955 to refer to my refrigerator as an ice  box. This was because I thought that was a term that hung around even in the 1950’s. My own mother, a true 1950’s homemaker, always called it the ice box as she recalled in her girlhood in the 1930’s that they did still indeed have an ice box. And the ice man would deliver to the door. They also had a modern refrigerator at the time in tandem with this but both were called the ice box and when the old model vanished with the ice man, the name stuck. That is my aside about my terminology on that.

No, back to business. About two weeks ago my new tenants found that they could not use the ice box (refrigerator) at the house. Rather than spend more money for another appliance for the tenants while we settled for the leftovers from previous tenant purchases, I decided to give them our old fridge. It was bought for this house when we rented this house out one summer, as our old one had finally given way. It was the cheapest available model and so was happy to see it go. I had planned to make room for my 1950’s model, which has still been waiting for its new home. However, what I decided to do instead was to free up more space in my already tiny kitchen.

I have made plans over and over again about how to add onto my kitchen. Then I always decide I want to save money and that I don’t need all that space and scale it back. This time I looked around my kitchen and considered what it would feel like without a fridge jutting up into the vertical space. So, I purchased a small dorm size fridge which is 4.5 cubic feet. It has only a small space to hold two ice cube trays and no freezer other than that. I condensed and reconsidered what I had on hand to make it work so the old fridge could go to the tenants.

After I was all done I realized how large the kitchen felt having it open like that. The new fridge is shorter than counter height. So my plan is to build it into a cabinet with more counter space on top. It will look old but when you open the doors below my fridge shall be inside. And the vertical space now open since the fridge is gone can be more cabinetry for storage and display.

Currently the small amount of freezer items I have were put in Gussies little freezer in her cottage. I have found I can buy just a freezer that is about half the size of the dorm fridge and that will also live under the counter with my little mini fridge.

Adaptability. We no longer need a large bucket of ice at the ready in the freezer, instead I fill glasses and immediately refill the  two tiny trays and back into their little slot. Bottles and jars which often seem to litter all the door space were condensed and reconsidered. I even saved a few containers that held product to serve as future stores for small amounts of leftovers that can fit in our tiny space.

This, of course, is also going to save on electric bills. And every place one can have an economy there, it is a good thing. The amount of electricity required to keep a larger fridge cool is easily doubled comparative to this size. And the large freezer compartment too. Even large freezers that many have I have come to see that we are paying the cost to give room and board to food that could easily wait for us at the store at their electric cost to keep cool, until we need it. I am looking more to canning as well rather than putting away fruit in the freezer. Then my fruits and veg I buy and grow will be handled as they may have been in 1907 rather than 1957 and I am alright with that. Rather excited by it really.

Now, I feel like I have had an addition put on with the extra space and it has left me to dream about simply moving things about to accommodate the new space to make my kitchen work better. I promise to share photos of the progress.

While we are on the subject of refrigerator, I will share the cleaning tips provided in my “America’s Housekeeping Book”


Daily : Wipe up any spilled food at once.

  • Wipe top of refrigerator with a cloth wrung out in soapy water. Rinse with a cloth wrung out in clear water. Dry.
  • Remove any fingerprints around the handle of the door with mild soap and water. Rinse and dray as above.

Weekly : (This cleaning is usually done after defrosting. Unless your refrigerator is equipped with an automatic defrosting device, it should be defrosted whenever the accumulation of frost is 1/4 inch thick.)

  • Empty the pan under t5he freezing unit, wash in warm suds, rinse thoroughly and dry.
  • Remove freezing trays, empty and was in hot soapsuds. Rinse with scalding water and dry. Remove racks or shelves and wash in the same way. Wash interior and exterior the same way as for an ice refrigerator (Below).
  • Follow the manufacturer's directions for oiling the motor at regular intervals. (With most new models no oiling is necessary.)

                                 Ice Refrigerators or Ice Box

Daily : Same as for automatic refrigerators.

Weekly : Remove racks or shelves and wash them in hot soapsuds. Rinse with scalding water and dry thoroughly.

  • Wash interior with a cloth wrung out of cool water in which borax or baking soda has been dissolved. (1 tablespoon of borax or soda to 1 pint water.)
  • Pour a strong solution of washing soda and water down the drain pipe and use a long brush to remove any accumulation of dirt or slime. {this is also good for kitchen drains}
  • Remove drain pipe for cleaning if necessary.
  • Wash exterior with mild soapsuds. Rinse with a cloth wrung out of clean water, dry thoroughly.

When I began my project, the possibilities of such vast change seemed so exciting. And they really, for the most part, still are. Yet, I cannot believe how much our present modern world has changed in the past three years. It has made me sit up and take notice more often, peering from my safe haven of 1957.  The other day we were discussing how we suddenly feel as if we are now currently living in a time that will be in history books as we feel a vast change coming to the world really. My biggest fears, of course, are: will there be rumblings of more war in all our futures? I hope not, but I wonder what it felt like in those years in Europe before the world wars began. Things went on along as usual with odd little changes or rumblings heard in the paper.

I do know that in looking to the past I found myself and my self sufficiency. There is so much I still need to learn, but the same lady who began this project with her head full of pretty dresses and crinolines, big 1950’s American cars and buying wonderful retro things, has become one of equal excitement but how to live better. How to save money so that I can afford the time to contemplate life and not be in the hectic rat race world. The ways to persevere as the times grow harder and to be ready, if the time ever comes (and let us hope it does not) that we ever find ourselves in a Depression or Wartime shortage situation. We can see the loss of jobs and the increased unhappiness of the masses against the few who hold all the power. It is, then, I think that it is the homemakers job and duty to begin to think and practice acting as if the hard times are harder so as to better prepare. And if they don’t come you will be surprised how easily you adapt and how much you like that lemonade you made from those sour lemons.

Why not take a day this week and consider some aspect of your current Homemaking cycle and think about how it could be done smaller or less or in an older way that was more economical. The dryer being used once less a month and clothes line dried (even indoors in the winter while the kitchen is being used for cooking). Consider some of your freezer foods and wonder if the same sort of ‘putting away for a rainy day’ could be done with canning which only costs at the point of making it and storing is free in a cupboard or cellar. Or think of some wonderful new one and please share it with us here or in the Forum.

Happy Homemaking.


  1. What good ideas!
    You've made the wheels start turning for me on how I can condense more.


  2. This was the most interesting post I've read anywhere in a long time. That's great you are getting along with a small fridge and have freed up space. But even more impressive is you were willing to go there, to reduce and downsize that appliance and make do.

  3. It is rather amazing, the human condition, that we can adapt and do it rather quickly. Though, why wait for the 'bad or hard times'. Prepare now and if they don't come then your purse shall be fuller for more fun.
    I am glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Perhaps one of the reasons for the economic crunch going on now is that it was indeed time to take stock of what is important. People, families, not the dash at acquisition of the bigger and better. I speak for myself here after buying a huge old Victorian home four years ago. Then of course, the economy crashed and my husband was out of work. I have learned to make a dollar stretch a whole lot father than before. To eat out is a rare treat and we don't spend a lot when we do. We eat home cooked meals and are much healthier for it. My large freezer went out and we bought a small table size freezer which doubles as counter top space after an addition of a piece of vintage linoleum applied to the top with double stick tape. My point is that we are content with the cutting back and we are closer for it. What we have learned will carry over when conditions improve! You have to look at it as a challenge, there's always some way you can cut back!

  5. My son saw a small fridge on a British TV show and wondered why we didn't have one... because I am very bad at throwing out the last glugs of salad dressing and juice. Less fridge, less mess, less waste. Great post.

  6. A wonderful, thought-provoking post! Yes, it's good to take stock of our lives, what we deem important, what we can truly live without.


  7. Your title alone was inspirational! A dear friend who currently lives abroad, announced a flying visit this I took lemons and made...lemon cupcakes, to go with our tea!
    Very interesting post, with my work hours reducing recently (luckily by choice) we are having to look at serious cut backs and savings.


  8. One of my favorite DVD's to watch is 1940's House and I am always amazed by the fact that they didn't even have a fridge! We are very spoiled, aren't we....

  9. We are lucky aren't we. And I forgot to mention that in Europe you will often find very small fridges as the norm, unless you are in a very large home. Even then, if it is modernized, often under-couter fridge and freezer doors are more seen that our gargantuan fridge/freezer.

  10. In my old apartment i lived with a tiny (think dorm room) fridge for like a year- it was so hard!

  11. What a nice feeling this post gave me! Well written and eye-opening. Congratulations on your new small ice box, and have fun remodeling your kitchen. Doing something is always exciting. I don’t know how big your old fridge was, but in Denmark we have a term called “American fridges”, referring to those huge steel boxes that are about double size of a normal big Danish fridge. I’ve never understood it, except if you are a family with lots of children. I’ve never missed a fridge that can make ice cubes and even ice water! I have different ice cube trays, many with funny shapes, which I use instead. I have glass bottles with old-fashioned bottle caps (very fifties indeed) and I boil water (to make it completely tasteless although Danish water is very nice), and keep those in the fridge door too. We think our fridge is big, but comparing to US norms I suppose it’s not.

    I look forward to seeing photos of your “new” kitchen. This weekend DH and I will work on the last things in our office. DH has built vintage styled book shelves for me, and he will be painting them white this weekend. They are SO nice. And I will share photos and the story of it all when I get my office back.

    Wishing you both a lovely weekend. :)

    PS: How about sharing a recipe for homemade lemonade?

  12. Funny but I was just thinking about refrigerators and my mom's the other day as I was attempting to clean mine.
    My mom in the 50's used to wax her fridge weekly with Jubilee.Any plans for this,lol!?
    God bless,

  13. Great post!

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  14. I was born in 1949 and we all called the refrigerator an "icebox".

    Regarding what we're doing to cut back: I bought the smallest full size frig ($300) I could find in 1998 and it is going strong still. I was tempted by the automatic ice maker but thought another $700 was too much when I was able to make my own ice.

    Thinking back to my mom's frig: it only held a freezer for 2 ice trays and one package of ice cream and 2 frozen veggies. She shopped frequently at the corner store and milk was delivered.

    I only fluff clothes in the dryer, no heat. I hang things on the line like towels and sheets, and shirts on hangers. Small items go on a large portable rack. Works great and clothes last longer.

    Your post is thought provoking. Thanks.

  15. Many small towns in the upper midwest have lost their grocers and the people are left with travelling to a larger town or city to purchase goods. That being said, it is still possible to do with less and we need only to look to our grandmothers. My own grandmothers always had a garden, ate by the seasons, and put food by for winter. They always had canned (evaporated) and powdered milk on hand. Fresh milk was used for drinking and the canned or powdered for cooking and baking. They mixed what was needed and therefore no refrigeration was needed. They each had many recipes at hand that helped them to cook and bake if one was out of eggs, or milk, or butter. Grandma was very mindful of the amount of food she was cooking as well. Leftovers were very small amounts ( look at the size of the old refrigerator boxes) and the next day's meals were planned with an eye to using them up. Nothing was wasted. So much wisdom in those two little ladies.


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