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“IT IS almost like having an Aladdin’s lamp,” the manual read, “and not knowing the right way to rub it.” The year was 1927; the event was introduction of the General Electric Monitor-Top refrigerator.
GE had excellent reason to choose Alice Bradley as author of the companion book for its Monitor-Top. The title page lists her as Principal of Miss Farmer’s School of Cookery [that’s Fanny Farmer], Cooking Editor of Woman’s Home Companion magazine and Author of Cooking for Profit, Candy Cook Book, for Luncheon and Supper Guests.
Of the Monitor-Top, Alice notes “To many people, electric refrigeration is still such a novelty that they scarcely realize the range of its possibilities.” Talk about future shock!
By contrast, the first icebox had been patented in 1803, and it changed hardly at all during its residential history. A neighborhood iceman delivered ice blocks hefted with oversize tongs. He drove a small van or wagon that invariably leaked a trail of cold water.
I know firsthand the iceman was an excellent source of icy treats, chunked from the blocks he delivered. Though Frigidaire and GE introduced electric refrigeration in the 1920s, plenty of people had iceboxes well into the 1940s.
The book recounts a test comparing the two means of home refrigeration. An orange, banana, peach and apple were peeled and halved. One set was placed in an icebox; the other, in a Monitor-Top; then they were left for a week. “Also, the doors were opened each half-hour to approximate conditions of ordinary household use.” (Around the clock?? “Close that damned door!,” Mom would say.)
The GE Monitor-Top kept the food between 41 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit; the icebox, never below 59 and as high as 68 degrees F. At the end of the week, it was no contest.
The Monitor-Top contained several shelves and, by modern standards, a miniscule “freezing unit.” Notes the book, “Twenty-four hours after installation of the General Electric Refrigerator, it can be used for making ice blocks or cubes. Ice cubes are attractive in a glass of water or other cold drink.”
Yes, but the Monitor-Top and other early fridges weren’t all fun and partying. “When the ice coating on the walls of the chilling unit becomes so thick that you have difficulty removing the trays, it should be defrosted. Turn the unit OFF, “allowing the frost to melt and drip into the glass receptacle underneath.”
The book neglects to mention spilling the receptacle water when emptying it. It does cite that “defrosting may be done overnight.” And don’t forget to turn the unit ON again.
Miss Bradley provides a full range of menus and recipes. Frozen birthday cake, for instance, is a family favorite even today: “Desserts may be frozen in a small round pan. Decorate with whipped cream in an appropriate pattern and return to chilling unit to freeze the decorations.”
Baked Alaska is another matter. Miss Bradley warns of a mousse/peanut brittle/sponge cake/meringue complexity: “Yet with these directions and a General Electric Refrigerator, anyone should be able to make it.”
I wish she sounded a bit more confident. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015