The Art of Living in Australia, by Philip E. Muskett

Chapter XIV.

The Ice Chest

“An ice chest!” someone exclaims. “I should like to know how I am to get that.” Well, very easily indeed, if there is a will to have one, for then the way is plain. A refrigerator years ago was perhaps only obtainable by the wealthy, and regarded rightly by others as a not-to-be-thought-of-luxury; but, thanks to the rapid development of scientific knowledge, both ice and refrigerators are now within the means of nearly all. The Americans in this led the way, and those in the Central States would no more dream of being without ice during the hot season, than they would of failure to take daily supplies of bread and milk. In almost every home through bright and sunny Australia we find a piano and a sewing machine, and yet either of these costs far more than an ice chest, and perhaps as much to keep in repair as the ice to fill it. Looking at it from many points of view, it ought to be considered an indispensable article of furniture, and it has this great advantage over many “household gods,” that the first expense is the last; for it never gets out of order, and lasts a lifetime; and this cannot be said of many other pieces of furniture, which perhaps cost more and yet are not so useful. In such a warm climate as this, where for six months in the year our one desire is to keep cool, it must certainly be worth while to secure a simple and inexpensive article which will help us to attain this object. Looking at the matter from the Domestic Economy point of view, we shall certainly decide at once in favour of the purchase. Housekeepers, both young and experienced, know how much food has to be thrown away because it will not keep sweet for even a few hours in the hot season. All this waste is at an end if there is ice about, as it will keep perishable food cool and pleasant and ready for a second meal. Many odds and ends of vegetables, fish, and meat can be turned into a dainty salad with the ice chest which must have been thrown away without it. Thus the expense, not only of the ice, but also of the chest, is soon saved, to say nothing of the pleasure and enjoyment of the said salad, which one would so infinitely rather have had than the chops and steaks so universally served. Delicious little breakfast dishes can be concocted over night from the remains of fish and meat served at tea and put down into the ice all night. These are cooked in a few minutes in the morning, and form such a pleasant change to the standing dish of eggs and bacon; and how proud a good house-keeper will feel when her little dishes are enjoyed, and she knows that they have cost nothing! — for the food would not have kept, and must therefore have been thrown away if she had not possessed an ice chest. This is only one instance of what may be accomplished, but in the daily routine of work many more will be found. Think, for a moment, of the state of the butter without ice on a hot day. Who does not dread the sight of the liquid or greasy fat usually seen in the butter-dish, and what a remote chance there is of enjoying a slice of bread and butter with bread as hard and dry as a brickbat, and butter running to oil? Put both into a refrigerator and note the difference. Look at it, also, from the hygenic standpoint. Most people, save the very strong and robust, lose their appetite during the hot season, and therefore feel languid and weak. Give them dry bread and liquid butter, and they can’t touch a morsel; but with fresh bread, hard butter, and some dainty tit-bit, kept in the ice also, placed before them, a good meal is often enjoyed. Again, in cases of illness ice becomes at once a necessity; and if it is at hand in the house and ready for use much time and trouble will be saved, and suffering too, as the poor invalid waits with what patience he can for the relief which is so often brought with ice.

And now we come to the practical question of how we are to get it, and how to keep it. There are several companies who undertake to deliver a daily supply of ice in town and country at a very moderate price, about sixpence a block of 10 lbs.; but when there is a larger demand for it, it will very soon be supplied at even a cheaper rate. There is a very simple little American invention which makes ice very quickly. It is not by any means expensive, about 21. 2s. 0d., and is invaluable in country districts away from the railway. Then for a refrigerator there are several very simple chests which require only a small quantity of ice to keep them charged. The smallest and cheapest is the Baldwin, costing from 30s., and another is the Iceberg, which acts splendidly. Unlike other machines, which are liable from their complicated structure to get out of order, these are so simple that they require no repairs, but only strict cleanliness to keep them in good order. They should be well washed out with soap and soda at least once a week, and care taken that no little bits of food are left in when the plate containing the main part is removed, for these morsels will cause an unpleasant smell and quickly taint anything that may be put in afterwards. It is better not to break the ice up, but to put the whole block in the refrigerator, and when once it is in to close the lid securely and keep it closed. It is a good plan to put a piece of newspaper over the block, as that forces the cold air down into the lower chamber. The larger blocks will be found almost as cheap as the small ones, as if carefully used they last much longer. No doubt, as the desire for ice increases, smaller blocks, costing perhaps 2d., or 3d., will be made, or the present prices reduced to that figure. This, to a great extent, is in the hands of the consumers, for as soon as there is a more spirited demand some energetic firm will arise and supply the want, and we shall have, not only cheaper ice, but cheaper ice-chests too. Dr. Muskett has pointed out some of the advantages of ice in his work on THE HEALTH AND DIET OF CHILDREN IN AUSTRALIA, as will be seen from the following paragraph:—

“In our semi-tropical climate a dislike is often taken to butter, when it is presented at breakfast in the form of semi-liquid grease. It would require a person with the stomach of an ostrich to digest, to say nothing of relish, such an oleaginous composition during our summer months. But if this necessary and all-important article of diet can be presented in an appetising form, what a desirable result is achieved! The mass of the people — I am not referring to those who are well endowed with wordly gifts — are apt to look upon the Ice Chest as a luxury which is altogether beyond their means. But I am firmly persuaded that if the price of ice were brought down to one halfpenny per pound, and that if a company were formed to deliver such a small quantity as six pounds per day, or every second day, it would be a great boon, and, moreover, a wonderfully profitable speculation. A very small and suitable Ice Chest could be constructed solely to preserve the butter in a congealed and therefore palatable state, both to children and to adults. The former would take it with great avidity, and the benefit to health resulting therefrom would be incalculable. Even in some of the better-class houses Ice is looked upon too much as a luxury, and not as it should be, a necessity; indeed, the money saved from gas during the summer months might well be expended on Ice.”

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09