Grit Blogs > Country at Heart

The Old-Fashioned Icebox

Arkansas GirlNo doubt if you were born before the 50s and lived in the rural, South, you may not have had electricity. Many, but not all, houses had electric. When I was a kid, my parents nor my grandparents had electricity. later on, my grandparents moved into a house that had electricity. Unfortunately, no electricity equaled no refrigerator, and no refrigerator mean no ice and definitely no ice cream or cold water on hot summer days.

I understand that Iceboxes were introduced into homes in the 1930s - not ours though. Our poor, back-wood, rural, Arkansas family did not get electricity until in the early sixties, so we used an icebox to keep our food cold. This large contraption always amazed me. When I think about it, it was a fine piece of kitchen furnishing. From what I remember, our icebox was about the size of modern-day refrigerators. I have no earthly idea where my parents bought it, but it was pretty and white and appeared to be well insulated.

The upper part (which would be the equivalent of the modern-day freezer) held the large block of ice. I have no idea how long this huge block lasted, but eventually, it dissolved. However, we could preserve its life by keeping the box closed. The longer the icebox stayed closed, without constantly opening and closing it, the cooler the food stayed. And the less frequently we had to purchase ice.

Even though the ice lasted a long time, eventually, it would melt. My Mother would then pour the melted ice water into a bucket, take a piece of cloth, wrap it around a jug of milk and place it into the cold water to keep the milk fresh and cool. She probably did the same for butter and other foods that needed to stay cool in the summer. I don't remember our milk (or any other refrigerated foods) ever spoiling. If our milk spoiled (not from lack of refrigeration), we would simply make corn bread or biscuits with it. Interestingly, you could not taste the "bitter" from the rancid milk, but if you drank it, you got the horrid taste. Now, I know that sounds gross, but it's grossly true.

As a country kid, I always wondered where those big blocks of ice came from. I was not aware of industrial refrigeration or ice-making, but I was sure there was an ice plant up town somewhere where they made that stuff. Seems as though I remember passing by it one day. I saw the deck with all those blocks of ice that would eventually be loaded onto trucks for transportation to rural homes.

Even when Mother had extra money, she didn't have to re-order ice, because the "Ice Man" came around on a regular basis with a pick-up truck full of blocks of ice. His memory is very vague, and all I knew of him, at that time, is that he brought country people ice. As was still common at that time, if we didn't know a person's name, we simply called them by their occupation or whatever we could remember them by, so that's how he became known as the "iceman."

Later when we kids went to the city schools, my younger sister was in the class with one of this man's sons. So. there was the "iceman" all over again. At least I learned that his last name was "Bostic." I could finally match a name with the face, and the old "iceman" became Mr. Bostic.

kenneth shrum
5/17/2013 6:33:39 PM

Your story is my story! I too am from Arkansas (south central). I can relate to the progress from coal oil lamps to electricity, icebox to refrigerator, horse and wagon to pickup truck, wash pot to washing machine,etc. By todays standards we were dirt poor but we were actually doing quite well for country folks. We had a 100 acres of land, house, barns, all kinds of livestock, all debt free. We grew our vegtables and butchered and processed our own meat. We fished, hunted, and gathered wild fruit in season. We worked hard but lived very well without all the things that people think that they must have today


robert lacoe
5/17/2013 1:25:42 PM

I was born in 35, so a little older than the 50 gang. We had electricity, but an icebox in the cellar. We were lucky that there was a live spring run that came in the NE corner of the basement and exited the SW corner. We had a hole in the dirt floor that held a 2 Qt jar for fresh milk. I do not remember what we did with the melt water except I was screamed at for drinking it. We finally had a refrigerator some time during WWII, or just before it started and such items became very difficult to buy. We slaughtered our own hogs, salt cured, and smoked the meat. The fat was turned into lard, and the loin canned for the winter. Maqny memories brought up by your post. Thanks