Essentials for the kitchen

Discussion in 'Your Vintage Home' started by BlueTrain, Jun 8, 2016.

  1. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    No doubt many here still wear bed jackets, hats (with hat pins) and gloves when going to town, corsets (or "foundations") and sensible shoes. Those were for women, of course. Men would continue to wear tie clasps or tacks, cuff links, smoking jackets in the evening and the latest Palm Beach suits, at least in the summer. But does anyone still use a bread box?

    When I was little, in the 1950s, bread boxes were apparently a standard, if not exactly essential, kitchen accessory. They were basically just tin boxes with a hinged lid. I don't think they were actually tinned but generally just painted and were of a utilitarian quality similar to the metal boxes that gift cookies sometimes come in. They were decorated but not really intended for display, as was nothing in the kitchen at the time. You would never have your company in the kitchen if you could avoid it. These days company tends to gravitate to the kitchen presumably because it is a more relaxed atmosphere, even though everyone has to stand up. I suspect that bread boxes pre-date sliced bread by no more than a couple of decades, if that. Anyway, we had one and I'm struggling to remember where it sat. It's other utility was as a measure of comparative size, as in "Is it bigger than a breadbox?"

    Another less remembered piece of tin ware found in old-fashioned kitchens was what I might call a match dispenser or holder. If you had one, it would be hanging on the wall somewhere near the stove or perhaps the fireplace. But it meant that you either had a wood-burning range or a gas stove that lacked a pilot light. We had neither of those so we didn't have a match dispenser or matchbox holder but a couple of neighbors still used wood burning kitchen ranges and they did indeed have match dispensers.

    I doubt if you can buy, new, either of those items, not even from the Vermont Country Store, although I think they have bed jackets for ladies. No corsets or smoking jackets, though.
     
  2. We have a large tin bread cabinet (larger than a bread box) and a wood (walnut) bread box with a roll top. The wood box is used for bread and the tin one for crackers, cookies, etc.

    You can still get the match dispensers, but they are listed as a fireplace accessory now.
     
  3. Joe50's

    Joe50's Familiar Face

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    79
    This was the style bread box my great grandParents used, they also had a Woodstove for heat in the kitchen for a short while and had a ceramic match holder with roosters painted on it as well as one of the pink poodle cookie jars
     

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  4. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    We never had bed jackets in my family -- nobody ever spent any time lounging around in bed. Corduroy or heavy chennile bathrobes were the thing because the house was usually very cold in the morning until the stove heated up.

    A bread box was a necessity in the days before resealable polyethylene bread wrappers -- without an enclosed storage space bread, whether commercially baked or home made, would go unusably stale in a day or two. Wax paper bread wrappers only kept the bread clean in the store -- they were of no value in preserving the freshness of the bread at home. The introduction of the poly bread bag in the early sixties made the bread box functionally unnecessary, but they remain popular as decor items if not necessities.

    The cheapest bread box in the early part of the Era was painted tin with a fitted lid with no hinges that just pushed down over the top -- the slant-topped hinged-lid boxes were better quality. Dutch imagery -- windmills, girls with wooden shoes, tulips, etc. -- was very popular on these types of boxes, as it was with kitchen decor in general during the teens and twenties, along with generic images of flowers. If you didn't have a purpose-built bread box, it was not uncommon to reuse a large commercial cracker box for bread. These were also painted tin, and often had a cheaply-hinged lid. If you didn't mind an ad for Sunshine Krispy Crackers on your kitchen counter or table, or wanted to go to the trouble of repainting the box with Duco enamel, these were a good option.

    Tin canisters for flour, sugar, and other consumables became popular in the twenties, and in the thirties and forties these were most commonly found painted in combinations of red and cream or green and cream, those being the two most common kitchen color schemes in the Era. Nautical themes -- sailboats, lighthouses, seascapes, etc. -- were very popular for these types of containers, as were generic floral designs, but abstract or "moderne" -- what people now call "art deco" -- themes were not uncommon.

    The idea of a red-themed kitchen or a green-themed kitchen extended to utensils. When you went to Woolworth's or Kresge's or McLellan's to buy a new egg beater, spatula, or straining spoon, you had a choice of a red wooden handle or a green wooden handle, and you bought the one that fit in with the color scheme of your kitchen.

    Counter space in kitchens in the Era was often at a premium. Most pre-1920 houses were built with no integral kitchen counters at all -- counters and cabinets, along with the sink, were in the pantry, not the kitchen -- and in city tenements, you were lucky to have a separate kitchen at all. A small work-table would be used for food preparation in such circumstances, and your bread box or other accessories would be kept on it.
     
  5. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    Nice post! I believe I must have grown up in a pre-1920 house as it had no counters at all. What we did have was a pantry and in the pantry was an old-fashioned kitchen cabinet, which was a moveable piece of furniture. It had metal counter top on which you could mix dough, two glass-fronted doors enclosing shelves, a large flour bin to the left of the shelves with a built-in sifter and more storage space underneath. It was painted plain white. There always seemed to be a bushel basket of apples in a corner of the pantry.

    I recall visiting a couple of houses in town that had really nice kitchens with all sorts of built-in cabinets. One was a bungalow-style house with a separate dining nook but the kitchen was fairly small. The other, which also had a built-in breakfast table, had a kitchen which extended all the way across the back of the house and had lots of counter space (plus a pantry) but it was relatively narrow. It was owned by a schoolteacher of mine from the high school. She was already teaching high school when my mother graduated high school in 1932.

    I can barely remember the waxed paper wrapping for bread--I think! However, there is a photo of our first-grade class at home. There was a little home-made store front sort of structure in the room, supposedly to teach us about money and counting and going to the store, as if we didn't already know. I think there's a loaf of bread in the picture. One of the students standing in the room was at our 50th high school reunion year before last and she remembered the photo.
     
  6. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    I remember my grandmother having a tin bread box and - and I think this memory is accurate - she used to put her bread wrapped in plastic in the bread box. Just guessing, as I was too young to have asked (or even thought about this), that she was either taking a belt-and-suspenders approach to freshness or was a creature of habit and just kept using the bread box even after the plastic bag took away its function.

    I also remember those cracker tins being reused in my house as containers for years.
     
  7. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    [​IMG]

    Typical cheapskate breadbox. They were also popular for storing sewing supplies.
     
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  8. scottyrocks

    scottyrocks I'll Lock Up

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    When I was almost 5, we moved into a fairly new construction in Canarsie that had what was considered a modern kitchen at the time, with full upper and lower wooden cabinetry. One of the drawers in the lowers, the biggest one, was a breadbox. When you slid it open, there was a metal lid with vent holes that was slid back to get to the contents. This one drawer was also fully lined with metal.

    The only bread my mom bought that was poly-bagged was Wonder bread. Anything else was fresh from the bakery or bagel store, and was put into paper bags, and all went into the breadbox.
     
  9. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    What's funny is today we regularly buy fresh bread and simply put it in a plastic bag so that it stays fresh - in truth, a breadbox would be convenient and environmentally friendly (although, we do reuse the plastic bread bags several times before tossing). It seems to me that fresh baked bread has made a big comeback in the last 10+ years, so it would have made sense if breadboxes had too, but that just isn't how things work.
     
  10. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    My memory is that the the bread boxes that sat on the counter didn't have ventilation holes (maybe some did, just not the ones I knew of), but the ones built into the cabinets did. Which begs the question (although didn't to me at the time), why would you have a ventilation holes (they were tiny) for a bread box if the ideas is to keep the bread fresh by keeping it sealed?
     
  11. scottyrocks

    scottyrocks I'll Lock Up

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    Good question.
     
  12. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    Maybe to keep insects away. I recall, though not vividly, that in the army here in the states, at least one mess hall had large bread containers that were mostly screens. But the bread was still in plastic bags.

    We buy both ordinary sliced white bread and other kinds of breads as well. Frankly, the plain white bread (and whole wheat, too) keeps better than other kinds of bread, although we keep it all in the refrigerator and not in a bread box. The kitchen cabinets in the house where we live had such a drawer exactly as described but we had the kitchen remodeled and no longer have such a thing.

    I like the heavier German-type breads that are available locally where I live. The best and freshest comes from a little shop appropriately named The Swiss Bakery but they never have any when I stop by. Instead, I have to drive all the way up to another place called the German Gourmet if I want any. Their bread comes from the Swiss Bakery anyway. The bread I eat the most of, after white bread, is Italian bread. We keep it in the refrigerator, too.

    The old army C-rations included canned bread, if you can believe it, but they had fruit cocktail, too.
     
  13. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Canned bread is a New England thing. You can still buy it in the stores -- it's a dense brown rye bread with a lot of molasses in it that's most often served with beans. It's not baked, it's steamed in the can.

    The vent holes in some breadboxes are there to prevent mold. If there's a lot of moisture in the bread, as with many of the highly-processed kinds of store bread, and you keep it in a tightly-sealed container, there's nowhere for the moisture to go. If you keep the bread more than a few days, you'll get mold even though the bread remains soft. You want to keep some humidity in -- but not *all* the humidity.
     
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  14. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    I learn something everyday! I have to, to make up for the things I'm forgetting. In some ways, however, my memory is improving. As I get older, I discover that I'm remembering things that never were.
     
  15. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Always enjoy Brown Bread - quirky, but good.

    As to the vent holes, what you said makes sense and I have no doubt you are right, but for the breads that need tighter sealing to stay fresh, wouldn't the vent holes undermine the effort? I always knew you don't "seal" bread until it is done "steaming" when out of the oven so that you don't lock the moisture in, but I never knew that some breads need to continue to "breathe" to let their moisture out.
     
  16. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    I think it depends on the moisture content of the bread. Commercially baked "balloon bread" has a lot more moisture in it than you get from what you make at home, or buy from a neighborhood bakery -- the "moistness" of Wonder Bread was a major selling point. That type of bread dominated the market by the end of the 1920s, both in national brands like Wonder and regional brands like Silvercup, Ward's, Bond, Sunbeam and the rest. I'd imagine the appearance of ventilation holes on breadboxes was a reaction to that.

    It's hard for people raised since the 1970s to understand how bread was viewed in the Era. Rough neighborhood or home-baked bread was considered a working class thing, something for immigrants and factory workers. Branded white bread was positioned by the Boys as very much a sign of middle-class aspirationalism -- it showed you had climbed out of the ethnic neighborhood mindset and into the All-American Good Life mindset. Now, of course, it's just the opposite -- "white bread" is for "white trash," and all the best people eat the rough ethnic bread as a sign of their superior understanding of nutrition and their ability to pay more for it.
     
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  17. fashion frank

    fashion frank One Too Many

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    I have a two tiered bread box the top shelf is for pies and the bottom is for bread . It can hold two pies and three loafs of bread . it also has vent holes in the back and when you open the front door to it the front door lays flat and there is a wooden cutting board on the inside of the door for the days before sliced bread .
     
  18. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    Well, I definitely grew up in a working-class environment, although we ate white bread, which my father called "light bread" with good reason. It was always on the table at dinnertime, too.

    Bread seems to have been a major part of the diet in the past, much more so than now. If you go back far enough, a few hundred years, it was probably a major part of the diet for most of the year. Old monastic and military manuals from WWI and earlier generally specific a pound of bread as a daily ration, which to us would seem like a lot of bread. At the same time, I'd also say that a healthy nutritious diet for many people in the past was by no means a given. But almost any bread except store-bought plain white bread is good. It's filling and generally has plenty of calories. It's usually available at the same stores where you buy white bread. Some varieties will have a strong and unfamiliar taste, however.

    Traditionally, bread comes from a bakery and was probably not home-made. But also traditionally, there were breads that were always home-made, usually of the quick bread variety. Anyone who grew up in the country probably ate biscuits or cornbread everyday. Although there were probably few bakeries around in rural areas, there were mills for grinding grain everywhere, now mostly all gone except where they have been preserved to some extent in parks.

    Although it no doubt happened, I never knew anyone who actually baked their regular wheat bread at home. But at the same time, I have no recollection of anything but plain white bread being available in the A&P where we got our groceries in the 1950s. Perhaps you could get other varieties at a bakery but I never knew anyone who did. That was in spite of the fact that there were immigrants, mainly Italian, in my hometown. There were probably too few to generate a demand or maybe they had been eager to shed old world habits and to be like Americans.
     
  19. Fading Fast

    Fading Fast

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    Growing up, bread was mainly white bread or occasionally wheat but almost always was one of the major brands from the supermarket in those plastic bags with a twist or that odd plastic clip to hold them closed. For dinner, we were a meat and potatoes family, so bread was basically for sandwiches. Once in a while, on a Sunday or holiday, a bread from a bakery would make it to the house and I loved it.

    I think the genes from the generations that lived on bread that Blue Train mentioned must have made it almost untouched to my gene pool. Since, other than dinner, I was basically on my own for eating in my house (food was there, but we didn't have family breakfasts or lunch and nobody was going to make it for me), I quickly discovered how much I loved bread and butter as a meal (and still do today - it was breakfast this morning).

    Well before it became trendy, as an adult, I've been eating fresh baked bread as the main staple of my diet. And as I've gotten older, I eat less protein (other than peanut butter) and more bread. It is just what my body craves. I also am the same weight I was at 20, so I've always been suspicious of the "bad carbohydrate" world view. Since it was the basis of most human's diet for thousands of years, I think our bodies are probably built to work with bread as the main food source - just my guess.

    And Lizzie, I love the bread as politics / class distinction angle. While today I'm not a big fan of the store package breads (fresh baked bread just tastes better to me), I do love a good white bread, so I guess that would make me white trash with an asterisk. :)
     
  20. BlueTrain

    BlueTrain Call Me a Cab

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    Pretty good thread for something that was about bread boxes.

    While it is true that people have lived on bread for thousands of years and usually depended on it to the point that the lack of it was cause for riot and revolution, it is also true that bread comes is a huge variety of shapes, sizes, tastes and in a way, weights. I think that virtually all traditional breads are heavier than store-bought white bread. But apparently many people eat other kinds of breads besides white bread because all the local supermarkets where I live carry a large variety of them, including hard and soft dinner rolls, various European loaves as well as bagels and even doughnuts, which I suppose count as bread, unless you are a mother. Just eat what your mother says to eat and you'll be fine.

    I also wonder what store-bought white bread used to be like before WWII, before sliced bread became common. Today's white bread is really, really light and has almost no crust worth the name. I wonder if it's always been that way.
     

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