Food Storage Before Plastic

Let’s see - way back then - in the 20’s and the 30’s, those dreary Depression years. What did we do without “Saran Wrap”, “Tupperware”, plastic bottles - all those non-biodegradable items that will be here far into the future after our very biodegradable selves are long gone - unless of course we have plastic parts!

Well - to get back to housekeeping in the good old days - there was glass and tin.

I still have the glass container and glass cover in which my mother stored left over foods. We didn’t buy in quantity. No Costco, just neighborhood grocery stores where one didn’t get carried away by choices on the shelves. We stood at the counter and gave our list to the grocer who brought the items to us. We didn’t shop every day, but quite often. We did buy food in season, and fruits and vegetables were raised nearby, each in its own special time of the year. I remember how good those early peas tasted - peas and fresh salmon caught in cold New England waters were enjoyed for Memorial Day. There was Connecticut River Shad too, a special treat when they were running. Winter meant root vegetables and stews.

Mother always baked - not so much raised yeast breads, but delicious muffins, cookies, cakes, and pies and puddings. She was a good New England cook - just fresh food, salt, pepper and butter. I remember her lamb croquettes which used up the remains of the Sunday roast. We always finished with dessert.

Things did change after the Depression began - radically. My father had been an art director in a large advertising firm in New York, but that was no more, and in its stead, he became a salesman with the company. He hated that. My grandmother lived with us and it was decided that my mother, my grandmother, and myself would go to Florida for the winter as it was cheaper living - no winter clothes, less heat needed, etc. My father came to Sarasota to visit, took a good look and said, “I think we’ll move here”. We did, and I spent interesting high school years with the children of circus people, writers, and artists.

After I was married and had children of my own and again lived in Westchester, I loved visiting my husband’s family in South Carolina in the 50’s. How different from my city life.

Southern cooking was delicious, the same foods but with a difference. The chicken was like no other I had tasted - fried, of course, but delicate with real chicken flavor. Everything was so very fresh. Indeed the family raised most all their food. There were fresh eggs, poultry, vegetables, peaches, even home made grape juice at every meal and home made cane syrup. The main meal was served at noon. Leftover foods were placed in a dish, covered lightly with a clean towel, and stored in the cupboard. At supper time they were put out on the table to be enjoyed with corn bread or fluffy biscuits. The corn bread was made every day from white cornmeal in a square tin, one “cake” of cornbread for people and one for the hunting dogs, eagerly waiting in their large pen outside.

When I got back home I tried hard to make that corn bread from my mother-in-law’s recipe, but it never tasted quite the same.

Somehow the food tasted better in those days. I think it was due to the lack of additives, and the freshness of foods that didn’t have to travel to get to us and weren’t refrigerated before they had time to ripen.

However, now due to the shrinking of the world, air transportation, and technology, we do get fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world picked when they are in season and shipped to us. The trick is to get them when they just arrive in the store. Better yet, patronize our farm markets in spring, summer, and fall.

Fresh still tastes better.

Pat Broman
Southbury, CT © 2014

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