Surviving Off-Grid Kitchens Early 1900s and Today
Ever wonder how things were done in the kitchen before electricity? Many are going back to simpler times using reproduction off-grid kitchen gadgets.
They are finding the manual versions actually work better and last longer than some of the more modern days cheaply made imports.
Kitchens in the early centuries were equipped with all types of non-electric gadgets, and food processing apparatuses. Many of these old-fashioned kitchen gadgets were very unusual and are still being reproduced today for use in the Amish off-grid communities.
Without electricity, refrigeration was primarily done by ice boxes. Ice blocks would need to be frequently purchased at a local store or delivered to the home to keep the icebox cool. During winter months ice could be harvested from a frozen pond. Today many of the Amish homes still use modern day ice boxes and ice houses.
In winter freezing zones sheets of ice can be stored throughout the winter months in a well-built ice house that will last a family up until late summer. Ice tongs are standard equipment for a vintage kitchen. Ice for cooling drinks would be chipped off the block using an ice pick. Stores gave away ice picks with the store name as promotional items, along with handheld stick fans and kitchen calendars.
The pictures used in this blog are courtesy of Cottage Craft Works. The pictures show both old vintage products and new reproduction items which, Cottage Craft Works carries on their back-to-basics online store at www.cottagecraftworks.com
With a big advantage though over vintage times. New ice houses being built in the Amish communities today use high efficient thick Styrofoam lined floors, walls and ceilings up to 20″ thick. The Amish also build shallow wooden frames and line them with rolled plastic sheeting in order to fill with water and freeze for ice harvesting.
There were no freezers compartments or freezers available to store food by freezing. Cold foods had to be used or stored in an ice box to prevent spoiling. In the early 1920s, Crosby introduced the Crosby Ice ball refrigeration device. It worked by mixing water and ammonia in one ball. As the ball was heated for around 90 minutes the mixture evaporated and formed ice on the other side. The ice ball side would then be placed inside an ice box to last up to 24 hours.
Living in the 1800s and early 1900s people had to be very self-sufficient. Before a meal could be served the ingredients would have to be processed mostly from scratch. Meals were made from fresh meats and vegetables or staples and food items preserved during harvest periods out of fields and backyard gardens.
Since freezers weren’t an option meats were cured and hung, or used fresh. Vegetables were either dried or canned in glass jars and either used in the cooking of a single meal or preserved for future meals.
Home canning was an almost weekly event throughout the spring and summer months from backyard gardens as most rural stores carried very few canned goods. The Amish still do home canning and even use the large 15-quart stove top water bath canner pictured below.
Some of the Amish today do use propane gas powered refrigerators and freezers such as are used in RVs and campers. They are rather expensive and have smaller compartments than the electric models.
Herbs and vegetables were dried on screens and slats during sunny days or hung over the top of wood stoves. At one time a water filled corn drying pan was popular to dry sweet corn and other herbs and vegetables on a wood cook stove.
The double layer pan was made out of galvanized metal. A new heavy duty reproduction drying pan is now available on the market. It is made from all-welded stainless steel. The layer of water keeps food items from burning. Once the water inside is brought up to temp on a gas or electric stove, the pan takes very little heat to maintain the ideal drying temperatures over 24 hour periods.
The drying pan can also be used to sprout grains, which are then ground into nutritious flour. Dried sweet corn was reconstituted in a milk mixture to make cream sweet corn.
Fermentation was also a very popular preserving method and once again is gaining popularity for the reportedly healthy enzymes that it produces. Fermentation dates back to the long voyages of sailing ships coming to the new Americas as a way to provide the benefits of vegetables to prevent scurvy disease a condition that occurs when individuals are deprived of vegetables over long periods of time.
Fermentation crocks work somewhat like a cabbage sauerkraut crock except they have a built in water chamber at the top to allow air to escape but prevents oxygen from entering and spoiling the contents.
Water was available in the older vintage kitchens using a hand pump pitcher pump. When pressurized water systems became available many of the vintage kitchens lacked counter space so a large country style kitchen sink would be installed with drain boards.
As sinks began to be installed into cabinets, dishwashers were only known as the extra hands assigned to the dishwashing detail. Large drainboards would be used to air dry pots and pans. A reproduction stainless drainboard is made by the Amish.
Most used a root cellar or other cool location to store root vegetables such as onions, turnips, potatoes, carrots, and beets. Those who were lucky to be located close to a running spring built spring houses close to the spring and diverted the cold spring water to run through inside troughs.
They set metal and pottery crock containers into the running water to keep the ingredients cooled. Racks along the walls kept root vegetables cool like a root cellar.
Many devices were made to peel, slice and dice potatoes and other vegetables.
Cabbage was one main vegetable, with many variations of wood with metal blade slicers being made to slice cabbage in order to make sauerkraut and slaw dishes.
The smaller wooden trough slicers were used to slice other vegetables, such as carrots, and cucumbers.
Heavy cream and homemade butter would be used in cooking on the dining room table.
All types of butter churns were developed over the years made from all wood to glass jars with wooden paddles. The Daisy glass jar butter churn was probably the most widely used and copied over the years. Similar glass jar butter churns are still being made for small home dairies and hobby farms.
Butter would be formed in wooden molds and then kept cool in the ice box until needed. The long paddle butter mold in the picture made several small butter patties.
The initials inside suggest it may have been used in a large well to do family home or perhaps to make butter patties for a hotel dining room.
Old fashioned ice cream would be made in a hand crank ice cream freezer. These old time freezers are still being produced today. The most popular ice cream freezers are still the White Mountain and the Amish made Country and Immergood Ice Cream Freezers.
Kitchen tables like the one in the pictures were set in the middle of the kitchen and used as work tables.
The 1” thick table top edge made them perfect for clamping on hand crank food processing equipment.
In the 40s larger kitchen counters started to be built in with cabinets and began taking the place of the work tables. The devices that use to clamp on to the work tables also began to change to more table top devices.
In 1946 a salad maker was introduced as the best thing since sliced bread. It was a hand crank base unit with suction cups on the legs. The device used several interchangeable serrated stainless steel cones to chop, shred, and slice all types of vegetables. A housewife could chop up salads in just a fraction of the time that it would have taken to cut by hand or any other device made prior to that time.
This type of salad maker is still a very popular device that is being reproduced as the Fresh Kut formally Master Kut Salad Machine.
Today the kitchen counter and work island have taken the place of the work table. Many use the old antique work tables now as dining room tables.
Considering a modern day counter is 36” and these work tables were only 30” tall. One has to think they caused many back and fatigue problems, although most people in that era were shorter.
Fresh grains would be ground into flour, and then fresh eggs and vegetables were gathered directly from the garden.
Many devices were made to use with eggs. Egg separators, removed the yoke, the egg cooker has markings on the side to show the egg cooking process as eggs were being boiled, and the egg slicer allowed one pass slicing for salads.
Most every home had a hand crank grain grinder to make flour for baking. Fresh harvested wheat could be ground into flour, and corn into cornmeal.
A screen flour sifter like the ones pictured would sift the flour down into a fine powder to use for baking. Most have seen the flour sifter on the left that used a hand crank. The sifter is double sided with a screen in the middle. The handle would be held and the sifter part shook to dispense the flower. The two lids screw on the ends.
Many kitchen tools were made of wood, either hand carved or turned into a home base workshop. Others were made in small factories, sometimes catering to the cultural settlers in the area and their ethnic dishes .
While most will recognize the pie dough roller, the other rollers in the picture are unique. One has carvings to roll out pasta shells, one is raised on both ends, probably used to roll out biscuit dough, and the ringed one was probably used to cut thin noodles.
At one time a hand crank mini pie maker was made and sold to make the 3 X 5-1/2” fired pies. The one in the picture is a new reproduction pie maker made by the Amish.
Plungers, pounders, smashers, and other wooden kitchen tools were used to smash herbs, berries, grains, potatoes, and to tenderize meat.
Mixing bowls were either made of pottery and then of a Pyrex material. The pottery bowls were mostly glazed in white with a blue stripe or stripes at the top edge.
Pyrex bowls were fired in bright colors. Pyrex was not developed until the 1940s but became very popular. Both pottery and Pyrex bowls were oven proof, which today even makes these vintage bowls safe for the dishwasher and microwave.
Making homemade bread was a two to a three-time weekly event in most homes. The labor-intensive task of hand mixing of dough spurred many inventions to hand crank the dough making the process rather than doing it all by hand. The hand crank dough bucket became a very popular kitchen item and is now being reproduced by the Amish built into a stainless steel mixing bowl.
Most of the counter top appliances available today started as stove top version that could be used on a wood, kerosene or gas cook stove. The Amish still use stove top appliances and they are readily available for off-grid lifestyles.
Knives weren’t the only thing used for cutting and chopping. Through the centuries many handheld cutters would be invented.
The slicer and choppers pictured all have blades that are rounded on the bottom to cut on a flat surface or to rock in the bottom of a bowl.
Several tall glass cylinders were developed with a mixing plunger on a metal rod. The tall one in the picture on the left was used to make mayonnaise. It was sold by the Wesson Company to promote Wesson Oil.
This mayonnaise maker actually has the recipe for mayonnaise embossed on the side. Which follows as written, An egg, 2 Tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar, teaspoon each of mustard, salt, sugar and a dash of pepper. Beat thoroughly as poured from can 1 pint Wesson Oil.
The glass with a plunger on the right was made to mix drinks, without any other explanation of if it was fruit juices or alcoholic beverages.
Many juicers were also made, the one appears to be a ricer but has a removable slotted tray to apparently hold fruit.
The handheld ricers were used to place cooked potatoes and pressed down through the holes for mashed potatoes. A perforated pan with a hand crank auger also was used as a potato ricer and is still being made today.
Before electricity was available many different hand crank mixers were made. Some were made stationary to fit over a bowl. The most common were the hand held double beaters operated by a center hand crank.
These old fashioned egg beaters are still available new today, but like many things that continue to be produced from vintage times have become cheaply made and do not work as smooth as the old ones. The Amish are still making a reproduction of the famous Daisy Egg Beater. The Country Beater is a heavy duty replica of the original Daisy Beater. A bit expensive but worth the money if you ever plan to live off grid.
One of the first electric mixers introduced was by KitchenAid and then Sunbeam, who introduced the Mix Master with glass bowls and a top attached juicer.
The Sunbeam Mix Master came standard with mixer blades, whisk and dough hooks, The Sunbeam Mix Master was priced at a fraction of the KitchenAid H-5 and quickly became the most popular mixer up until the 1950s.
Bosh introduced the Universal Mixer in the 1950’s developing a heavy duty multi-task mixer that soon became popular especially for those who baked a lot of bread. The bottom operated mixing bowl allowed easier access to the top mounted motors made by Sunbeam and KitchenAid.
The Amish developed a hand crank base to use with the bosh attachments called The Little Dutch Maid Mixer. It is still made and sold today by the Amish and for others who live off the grid.
Other electric devices began to enter the marketplace to fill the consumer quest to become electrified.
Beyond the electric mixers toasters, and waffle irons were some of the first electric gadgets introduced into the home kitchen market.
While no one would recommend buying a vintage electrical appliance and taking it home to use, many of the old hand held and hand crank vintage tools and gadgets are still useable for today’s kitchen.
Just be sure the surface is intact and can still be sanitized.
Reproduction items are also still being made and used by both the Amish and non-Amish for off-grid self-sufficient lifestyles.
Many of these Amish kitchen products are available for order online at Cottage Craft Works .com.
Amish Apple Pie Recipe
1 ea pie shell, unbaked
2 cups raw apples, chopped fine in salad maker
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoon tapioca
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup nuts
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Amish Apple Pie Recipe
Mix chopped apples, sugar, water, and tapioca. Put in unbaked pie shell.
Mix topping ingredients, rolled oats, brown sugar, nuts, butter, and cinnamon. Put mix on top of apples. Bake 425 degrees
Recipe from the Amish Wooden Spoon Wedding Sampler cookbook available under the Amish recipe section at Cottage Craft Works .com