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But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids, How did people keep food cold in olden times? (1)

How did people keep food cold in olden times? (1)

March 25, 2021

Jane 00:20

This is But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids. I'm Jane Lindholm. We love exploring the world of ideas with you. And today we get to talk about history and science, and a historical tradition that's still alive and well in a few neat places.

Jane 00:38

For most of us these days, when we want a cold drink, we can probably reach into a refrigerator we probably have inside our house and pull out a carton of milk or juice. But electric refrigerators haven't been around all that long. And people have been keeping their food and drinks cold for longer than there have been refrigerators. How? A few of you have asked us to help you get to the bottom of this. And that's what we're going to do today.

Violet 01:06

Hi, my name is violet. I'm, I'm five years old. I live in Maryland. And my question is, what was life like when refrigerators weren't around.

Ellinor 01:23

Hi, my name is Ellinor. I'm six and a half years old. I come from Sweden. And I want to tell you a question. How did they make ice in the old times?

Jane 01:38

We wanted to learn more about how people managed to have ice in the summertime, and how people who live in places where it never got cold could still get ice and keep food cold before electric refrigerators were invented.

Gavin Weightman 01:50

My name's Gavin Weightman. And a few years ago, I wrote a book called The Frozen Water Trade.

Jane 01:57

Gavin Weightman's book is all about ice and how keeping things cool became big business. So he seemed like a good person to go to to get some insight. And he even has some personal experience with this.

Gavin Weightman 02:09

I was born in 1945 and brought up in London and we did not have a refrigerator till I was about 11. They weren't very common in England unless you were very wealthy. The big houses had them. But they were much more common in America. In fact, the popularity of ice as an everyday thing is an American thing. It's an American invention, basically. And it is an amazing story.

Jane 02:35

One of the main purposes of a refrigerator is to keep food safe to eat for longer. For certain foods, being cold allows them to stay fresh. Before people had refrigerators and freezers, there were a lot of different ways to keep food fresh, to preserve it. Food can be dried, salted, smoked, fermented, or pickled, or kept in naturally cool places like root cellars. In parts of the world that have winters, people realized a long time ago they could store ice in underground pits year round. And over time, they realized they could store ice above ground if they did a good job of insulating it. Insulating means keeping the outside temperature from getting in and the inside temperature from getting out. So they figured out how to keep ice in an ice house so they could have it all summer long. But they only did that in places where there was natural ice in the winter time to begin with. It makes sense, right? They had frozen lakes and ponds that they could get the ice from in the winter time. And they figured out how to store it to use it in the summertime. But then this one guy thought maybe he could convince people who lived in places where it was warm all year round that they needed ice, too.

Gavin Weightman 03:51

This chap was called Frederic Tudor. He wanted to make a fortune out of something, which is often the case with inventive people: they don't know what they're going to invent, but they're going to invent something. And his family had an ice house in their in their Massachusetts estate, I suppose. They cut ice in the winter, or probably their staff cut at the ice of the winter and kept it for them in the summer. And he's just got the idea that other people would love it. But his big problem was how will it survive a journey? Because ice melts, as we know, and particularly if you're sending it to a very hot country, it's gonna melt even quicker. So he did all sorts of experiments with...he had a big tub but he put different things in it. He put sawdust in it and he put straw in it and eventually, it was a very interesting thing in America. The old aristocratic way of keeping ice was to dig a cellar and keep it underground in the belief that if it was underground, it wouldn't melt so quickly. But actually, American farmers, who used to have ice...so when they took the butter to market it it wouldn't melt, they built straw ice houses above ground, very, very thick walls, stacked the ice there in the winter. And it survived through the summer. And he began to build ice houses like that out of wood, very large ones. And when the business got going, against all the odds, everyone thought he was crazy. All the newspapers said, you know, "Can you believe it? A ship's left Boston, loaded with ice for the West Indies." You know, "Good luck to them" sort of thing.

Jane 05:35

Did you get that? Basically this guy, Frederic Tudor, had an idea that if he could find a way to get it there, people in far off warm places would buy ice cut from ponds near Boston, Massachusetts. So he worked to figure out how to make it a reality.

Gavin Weightman 05:50

In 1833, he sent a ship from Boston to Calcutta. That's 3000 miles, twice across the equator, and packed with ice from a pond in Massachusetts, insulated with straw and wood chips and that sort of thing. And enough of it survived to be a sensation.

Jane 06:15

Tudor made himself very rich shipping ice, and a whole industry sprung up. In cities, people would get daily deliveries from a person they called the ice man. They'd put those chunks of ice into an icebox, which was kind of like a refrigerator, except it didn't use electricity. The ice was what kept things cold. And when the ice had melted, they'd get a new chunk.

Gavin Weightman 06:37

It was the start of people expecting to have ice, which they didn't expect in the past.

Jane 06:43

The ice harvesting industry died out when people figured out how to make ice in big factories. And then when refrigerators were invented, people had even less need for ice deliveries. But a few places still do ice harvesting the old fashioned way. And coming up next, we'll visit one.

Jane 07:01

This is But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids. I'm Jane Lindholm and today we're learning a little bit about how people kept food cold before refrigerators were invented. We've been learning about the history of ice harvesting with Gavin Weightman, who wrote a book all about it. A few places still carry on this old fashion tradition. So we reached out to one of them. Rockywold-Deephaven camps in Holderness, New Hampshire is a resort where families go to have a kind of summer camp experience for the whole family. They stay in cabins or cottages right on Squam Lake. They eat their meals in a big dining hall with all the other families so they don't really need to keep much food in their cottages. But they still might want to have snacks and drinks that are kept cold, right? And instead of refrigerators, all the cottages have old fashioned ice boxes. Here's how maintenance Director Dave Lacasse describes them.

Dave Lacasse 07:55

There's all kinds of ice boxes, but they're designed typically for the ice to be on the top side of it and the cold--of course cold air drops. And they have circulation baffles in them at times. And it keeps their drinks and stuff very cool. But you can't get it down to 34 degrees. There's no--unless you just put your drink right on top of the ice chunks. Most of them are wooden, the doors and stuff those hinges and stuff, they're all scrolled and old school and the handles are beautiful and stuff. So most of them are wood and some of them are metal, and those seem to work the best. Some of them are 20 inches wide by a foot deep by three feet tall. Others are the size of an armoire. They're huge. They're up to your neck, and they're four feet wide and 18 inches deep and solid oak so they're heavy heavy. Every day, ice is delivered to every ice box probably 10 to 15 pounds.

Jane 09:11

In order to fill up the ice boxes all summer with daily ice deliveries, Dave and his crew and some volunteers harvest 200 tons of ice every winter from the lake the camp sits on One ton is 2000 pounds.

So 200 tons is 400,000 pounds of ice! Usually a lot of volunteers help out but right now, because of COVID, they have a smaller crew doing the work. And Dave says it takes a lot of work.

Dave Lacasse 09:41

Every year, sometime between the end of December and pretty much the middle of February, we end up icing. That's all we call it: "We gotta go icing." Starting in November, typically, we start watching the ice form, hopefully form. This year was a little late. It was kind of warm in November this year. Usually we have a cold snap in November, that helps it seize up. But once it gets to be four inches, five inches, then we can walk on it. And we slowly move our way out onto the ice, drilling holes, measuring and making sure we're safe. You're always measuring and measuring and keeping your fingers crossed, it's not going to snow, or rain or do a lot of, you know, the weather things that happen in New England all the time. So if it does snow, and we can get a snowblower on to the ice, we will try to get the snow off of it because snow is an insulating blanket, and it slows down the formation of the thickness of the ice. Once we get to 12 inches, we have a lot of equipment to put on the ice. And one of them is a raised bridge, that we attach a ramp to. And that ramp, we cut a slot in the ice, and that ramp goes down into that slot. And usually once that's in the water, we start the next day.

Dave Lacasse 11:27

We have this giant saw. It's gas operated, and that's a big three foot blade, just like a skill saw. And it goes up and down with an actuator. And once we mark out where our lines have to be, it has an outrigger with skate blades on it. So you make the initial cut, then that outrigger goes down, and you move the saw over a little bit and the skates go in that initial cut. So all the lines are the same and they're straight. And then you have to go the opposite way. So it's.. that's the tricky part of the whole operation. But we don't cut all the way through the ice.

Jane 12:20 Oh, you don't.

Dave Lacasse 12:21

Because that saw weighs, I think it probably weighs 6 or 700 pounds. It's big. It's probably eight feet long. We can't cut through the ice because if you did, there'll be no support for that machine. So we try to leave two inches of uncut ice down the bottom. Once that is all cut that, grid is cut, then the guys take chain saws and open up a little channel. And then they cut around the outside perimeter, and then it's floating. And then we just take ice picks and break off the blocks. And they end up going down the chute.


How did people keep food cold in olden times? (1) Comment les gens gardaient-ils les aliments au frais dans les temps anciens ? (1)

March 25, 2021

**Jane** 00:20

This is But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids. I'm Jane Lindholm. We love exploring the world of ideas with you. And today we get to talk about history and science, and a historical tradition that's still alive and well in a few neat places.

**Jane** 00:38

For most of us these days, when we want a cold drink, we can probably reach into a refrigerator we probably have inside our house and pull out a carton of milk or juice. But electric refrigerators haven't been around all that long. And people have been keeping their food and drinks cold for longer than there have been refrigerators. How? A few of you have asked us to help you get to the bottom of this. And that's what we're going to do today.

**Violet** 01:06

Hi, my name is violet. I'm, I'm five years old. I live in Maryland. And my question is, what was life like when refrigerators weren't around. E minha pergunta é: como era a vida quando não havia geladeiras?

**Ellinor** 01:23

Hi, my name is Ellinor. I'm six and a half years old. I come from Sweden. And I want to tell you a question. How did they make ice in the old times?

**Jane** 01:38

We wanted to learn more about how people managed to have ice in the summertime, and how people who live in places where it never got cold could still get ice and keep food cold before electric refrigerators were invented.

**Gavin Weightman** 01:50

My name's Gavin Weightman. And a few years ago, I wrote a book called The Frozen Water Trade.

**Jane** 01:57

Gavin Weightman's book is all about ice and how keeping things cool became big business. So he seemed like a good person to go to to get some insight. Então ele parecia uma boa pessoa a quem recorrer para obter algumas informações. And he even has some personal experience with this. Et il a même une expérience personnelle avec cela.

**Gavin Weightman** 02:09

I was born in 1945 and brought up in London and we did not have a refrigerator till I was about 11. They weren't very common in England unless you were very wealthy. Ils n'étaient pas très courants en Angleterre, sauf si vous étiez très riche. The big houses had them. Les grandes maisons en avaient. But they were much more common in America. In fact, the popularity of ice as an everyday thing is an American thing. En fait, la popularité de la glace au quotidien est une chose américaine. It's an American invention, basically. And it is an amazing story.

**Jane** 02:35

One of the main purposes of a refrigerator is to keep food safe to eat for longer. For certain foods, being cold allows them to stay fresh. Before people had refrigerators and freezers, there were a lot of different ways to keep food fresh, to preserve it. Food can be dried, salted, smoked, fermented, or pickled, or kept in naturally cool places like root cellars. In parts of the world that have winters, people realized a long time ago they could store ice in underground pits year round. And over time, they realized they could store ice above ground if they did a good job of insulating it. Insulating means keeping the outside temperature from getting in and the inside temperature from getting out. Isoler signifie empêcher la température extérieure d'entrer et la température intérieure de sortir. So they figured out how to keep ice in an ice house so they could have it all summer long. But they only did that in places where there was natural ice in the winter time to begin with. Mais ils ne l'ont fait que dans les endroits où il y avait de la glace naturelle en hiver pour commencer. Mas eles só faziam isso em lugares onde havia gelo natural no inverno para começar. It makes sense, right? They had frozen lakes and ponds that they could get the ice from in the winter time. And they figured out how to store it to use it in the summertime. E eles descobriram como armazená-lo para usá-lo no verão. But then this one guy thought maybe he could convince people who lived in places where it was warm all year round that they needed ice, too. Mas então esse cara pensou que talvez pudesse convencer as pessoas que viviam em lugares onde era quente o ano todo que elas também precisavam de gelo.

**Gavin Weightman** 03:51

This chap was called Frederic Tudor. He wanted to make a fortune out of something, which is often the case with inventive people: they don't know what they're going to invent, but they're going to invent something. And his family had an ice house in their in their Massachusetts estate, I suppose. They cut ice in the winter, or probably their staff cut at the ice of the winter and kept it for them in the summer. And he's just got the idea that other people would love it. But his big problem was how will it survive a journey? Because ice melts, as we know, and particularly if you're sending it to a very hot country, it's gonna melt even quicker. So he did all sorts of experiments with...he had a big tub but he put different things in it. He put sawdust in it and he put straw in it and eventually, it was a very interesting thing in America. The old aristocratic way of keeping ice was to dig a cellar and keep it underground in the belief that if it was underground, it wouldn't melt so quickly. But actually, American farmers, who used to have ice...so when they took the butter to market it it wouldn't melt, they built straw ice houses above ground, very, very thick walls, stacked the ice there in the winter. And it survived through the summer. And he began to build ice houses like that out of wood, very large ones. And when the business got going, against all the odds, everyone thought he was crazy. All the newspapers said, you know, "Can you believe it? A ship's left Boston, loaded with ice for the West Indies." You know, "Good luck to them" sort of thing.

**Jane** 05:35

Did you get that? Basically this guy, Frederic Tudor, had an idea that if he could find a way to get it there, people in far off warm places would buy ice cut from ponds near Boston, Massachusetts. So he worked to figure out how to make it a reality.

**Gavin Weightman** 05:50

In 1833, he sent a ship from Boston to Calcutta. That's 3000 miles, twice across the equator, and packed with ice from a pond in Massachusetts, insulated with straw and wood chips and that sort of thing. And enough of it survived to be a sensation.

**Jane** 06:15

Tudor made himself very rich shipping ice, and a whole industry sprung up. In cities, people would get daily deliveries from a person they called the ice man. They'd put those chunks of ice into an icebox, which was kind of like a refrigerator, except it didn't use electricity. The ice was what kept things cold. And when the ice had melted, they'd get a new chunk.

**Gavin Weightman** 06:37

It was the start of people expecting to have ice, which they didn't expect in the past.

**Jane** 06:43

The ice harvesting industry died out when people figured out how to make ice in big factories. A indústria de coleta de gelo morreu quando as pessoas descobriram como fazer gelo em grandes fábricas. And then when refrigerators were invented, people had even less need for ice deliveries. But a few places still do ice harvesting the old fashioned way. And coming up next, we'll visit one.

**Jane** 07:01

This is But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids. I'm Jane Lindholm and today we're learning a little bit about how people kept food cold before refrigerators were invented. We've been learning about the history of ice harvesting with Gavin Weightman, who wrote a book all about it. A few places still carry on this old fashion tradition. So we reached out to one of them. Rockywold-Deephaven camps in Holderness, New Hampshire is a resort where families go to have a kind of summer camp experience for the whole family. They stay in cabins or cottages right on Squam Lake. They eat their meals in a big dining hall with all the other families so they don't really need to keep much food in their cottages. But they still might want to have snacks and drinks that are kept cold, right? And instead of refrigerators, all the cottages have old fashioned ice boxes. Here's how maintenance Director Dave Lacasse describes them.

**Dave Lacasse** 07:55

There's all kinds of ice boxes, but they're designed typically for the ice to be on the top side of it and the cold--of course cold air drops. And they have circulation baffles in them at times. And it keeps their drinks and stuff very cool. But you can't get it down to 34 degrees. There's no--unless you just put your drink right on top of the ice chunks. Most of them are wooden, the doors and stuff those hinges and stuff, they're all scrolled and old school and the handles are beautiful and stuff. So most of them are wood and some of them are metal, and those seem to work the best. Some of them are 20 inches wide by a foot deep by three feet tall. Others are the size of an armoire. They're huge. They're up to your neck, and they're four feet wide and 18 inches deep and solid oak so they're heavy heavy. Every day, ice is delivered to every ice box probably 10 to 15 pounds.

**Jane** 09:11

In order to fill up the ice boxes all summer with daily ice deliveries, Dave and his crew and some volunteers harvest 200 tons of ice every winter from the lake the camp sits on One ton is 2000 pounds.

So 200 tons is 400,000 pounds of ice! Usually a lot of volunteers help out but right now, because of COVID, they have a smaller crew doing the work. And Dave says it takes a lot of work.

**Dave Lacasse** 09:41

Every year, sometime between the end of December and pretty much the middle of February, we end up icing. That's all we call it: "We gotta go icing." Starting in November, typically, we start watching the ice form, hopefully form. This year was a little late. It was kind of warm in November this year. Usually we have a cold snap in November, that helps it seize up. But once it gets to be four inches, five inches, then we can walk on it. And we slowly move our way out onto the ice, drilling holes, measuring and making sure we're safe. You're always measuring and measuring and keeping your fingers crossed, it's not going to snow, or rain or do a lot of, you know, the weather things that happen in New England all the time. So if it does snow, and we can get a snowblower on to the ice, we will try to get the snow off of it because snow is an insulating blanket, and it slows down the formation of the thickness of the ice. Once we get to 12 inches, we have a lot of equipment to put on the ice. And one of them is a raised bridge, that we attach a ramp to. And that ramp, we cut a slot in the ice, and that ramp goes down into that slot. And usually once that's in the water, we start the next day.

**Dave Lacasse** 11:27

We have this giant saw. It's gas operated, and that's a big three foot blade, just like a skill saw. And it goes up and down with an actuator. And once we mark out where our lines have to be, it has an outrigger with skate blades on it. So you make the initial cut, then that outrigger goes down, and you move the saw over a little bit and the skates go in that initial cut. So all the lines are the same and they're straight. And then you have to go the opposite way. So it's.. that's the tricky part of the whole operation. But we don't cut all the way through the ice.

**Jane** 12:20 Oh, you don't.

**Dave Lacasse** 12:21

Because that saw weighs, I think it probably weighs 6 or 700 pounds. It's big. It's probably eight feet long. We can't cut through the ice because if you did, there'll be no support for that machine. So we try to leave two inches of uncut ice down the bottom. Once that is all cut that, grid is cut, then the guys take chain saws and open up a little channel. And then they cut around the outside perimeter, and then it's floating. And then we just take ice picks and break off the blocks. And they end up going down the chute.