Could you live without a fridge?

23 November 2011 | 0 Comments

Most of us did until the 1950s. Sophie Morris charts the history of one of our essential mod cons

Those folk who bang on about how good things were in years gone by tend to forget how bad plenty of stuff was too. Especially when it comes to kitchens, which have changed dramatically over the past century. I’m not referring to the emergence of expensive, niche gadgets, such as a Gaggia coffee maker or a sous vide oven like Heston uses, but to everyday essentials, like your fridge.

One of the most used mod cons

You might poke your head in there over ten times a day, seeking out simple necessities that require decent refrigeration: butter and milk for starters.And if you left that bacon hanging around for a week without any chill factor, you’d soon have an infestation on your hands.

Could you live without a fridge?

Do you know anyone who doesn’t have a fridge? There are some noble eco types who forego this luxury and I salute them, but I am not ready to do the same myself. Before the Second World War however few Brits owned a fridge. Instead, they had to juggle various options for keeping meat and dairy products chilled and safe to eat. A larder, preferably north facing, was one of these, though poorer folk would make do with a windowsill.

The first fridges

The first self-contained fridge was developed in 1916 in the US and brought into production by Frigidaire in 1918. Yet it was still a long way from being a standard fixture in British kitchens. Commercial operations adopted fridges more readily than the average family, given the early models were expensive and cumbersome.

Advent of the modern kitchen

During the 1920’s labour saving devices were desperately in demand, as more women went out to work and domestic staff became a luxury. Ice boxes, a box with hollow walls lined with tin or zinc and insulating materials, became more widespread. One of our best-loved cooks, Marguerite Patten, began her career before the war demonstrating fridges for Frigidaire in Harrods – even when fridges hit the domestic market, they were within reach of very few consumers.

By 1962, still only 33 percent of households were blessed with a fridge, a figure that rose to 69 percent by 1971. This means that plenty of keen cooks around today remember feeding a family without the luxury of a fridge.

Living without a fridge meant shopping more frequently and considering meals in advance – advice we are given today to reduce the amount of food waste we create every week.

But contemporary fridges are now so technologically advanced and aesthetically flash that we rarely stop to think about what it would be like to do without one, just whether we can justify buying a bigger and better one.


Try out these warming autumn recipes:

Marcus Wareing’s bacon roly-polies

Mike Robinson’s rabbit pie

Neil Dowson steamed venison pudding


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