Saturday, January 7, 2017


It's still cold here.

So, before we had so much plastic at our disposal, just how did we buy and store food? It’s hard to remember exactly how it was because we took what we had for granted and didn’t know anything else. It might differ some from household to household, and overall change was subtle. And it never occurred to anyone that a picture of an ordinary day in the kitchen – or people doing ordinary things – might one day be precious.

We already mentioned waxed paper, but it bears mentioning again. Back in the day, kids carried sandwiches to school wrapped in waxed paper, as Aunt Chris confirmed. At some point, you could even buy waxed paper sandwich bags, and these are readily available today (here). At our school, we didn’t have hot lunch, so without sealed bags, food odors from bread, tuna fish, etc., were ever-present in the schoolroom – fresh in the morning and stale in the afternoon. Yes, students carried those metal lunchboxes you see in the antiques and collectibles shops, and I suppose some students carried brown bags.

My grandmother -- Ina Dobson
Cereal and crackers came in cardboard boxes as they do today. Any inner protection was waxed paper. Today’s liners are heavier, though they doesn't seem to be plastic? Cracker tins were mostly a thing of the past by my day, I think. I remember some cookies in cellophane wrappings much as we find today.

My other grandmother -- Nina Portfors
I don't know if the consumer could use waxed paper sacks instead of plastic to purchase products from bulk bins. I think the advantage of plastic is that the product is visible, and that seems important. Waxed paper would be somewhat translucent, but perhaps not as sanitary. Sanitary seems important, too. I don’t remember bulk food bins in my youth, but nails, bolts, screws, etc., were in bins and your selection went into a brown paper sack. What? That's still the system today? Imagine that!

A clean muslin dishtowel might be used to wrap cakes and breads. And don’t forget canisters, bread boxes, and cake keepers which protected foods that didn’t need refrigeration.

Crocks were used for baking and perhaps some food storage. Grandma Portfors used a crock as a cookie jar. Beans were baked in crocks, and I don’t know what else. Ina left a number of them at the farm, several with missing lids, making them more or less useless except as picturesque reminders of yesteryear.

I don’t recall that Mother stored food in jars, but today glass is recommended over plastic for food storage as long as it’s manufactured in the U.S. Avoid glass from China. (I’m not sure I’d know the difference.)

I think we can conclude, though, that in the pre-plastic age, food storage wasn’t so great. We used what we had, and it wasn’t an orderly system. Today I still use plastic containers for storage, but the more recent additions to my cupboard are small Pyrex dishes with plastic lids. The lids aren’t microwave proof, though, so the dish has to be covered in another way for re-heating. I also use Corningware and Pyrex with glass lids. KW


Hallie said...

When did people start using aluminum foil? What's going on with Chinese glass??

Chris said...

As I recall, aluminum foil was expensive when I was young and only used rarely. As a matter of fact, now that I think of it, I still have that mindset and rarely use it! Hmmm...

I remember Tupperware parties as being something I looked forward to as a young wife. I planned ahead as to what my next purchases would be. I remember mom's first pieces coming as a present from either my grandma or my aunt, both of the Seattle area, in the late '50's.

Kathy said...

Aluminum foil -- That topic is coming up next, I think, and I agree -- Mother saw it as expensive and I still have that mindset. My mother was frugal in the use of anything she had to buy. "It's not what you make, it's what you save."

The Tupperware parties were fun, and it was a good idea not to buy everything you wanted so that you'd have something to buy at the next party.

Keri said...

My first corningware with glass lids is a 3 size square set that I received from Grandma. I still have those and use them. Amazing stuff!