The vintage-style stove was only the beginning of my kitchen’s transformation. With the cast-iron stove, came a farmhouse sink, wooden countertops, red Marmoleum floors, and a restored faux-tile wall. How could we put a modern stainless steel — or even white — fridge into what was turning into a relatively period kitchen?
We couldn’t. Our fridge is now one of these:
…a late 1920s or possibly early 1930s GE Monitor Top refrigerator, the fridge that made it “safe to be hungry.” Seven cubic feet of frosty cold storage, and I do mean frosty. We have to defrost frequently, though it’s not terribly difficult.
For most people who acquired one of these Monitor Tops when they were new, it was the first electric refrigerator they ever owned. Even if they had an ice box before, they couldn’t have used it the same way a refrigerator would be used; ice boxes weren’t good at keeping consistent low temperatures. They certainly couldn’t have easily made ice cubes to cool their drinks.
General Electric came to the rescue with cookbooks/manuals like this one:
This “Silent Hostess” Treasure Book was published by GE in 1930, and includes illustrations, recipes, and instructions on how to properly use (and defrost) a Monitor Top refrigerator (though they never use that phrase).
Filling the refrigerator properly was important.
It was also important to know and use the different features of the Monitor Top correctly: the Cabinet, the Chiller, and the Super-freezer (always capitalized and in italics).
The Super-freezer is the small evaporator, which has room for a couple of ice cube trays and not much else. It does chill a can of pop very rapidly. The Chiller is the glass tray just under the Super-freezer, a good place to keep things that need to be extra cold, and also a place for the melted ice to drip into when defrosting. The Cabinet is just the rest of the fridge.
The housewife (yes, the book assumes that women will do all the cooking) with a new Monitor Top would then be able to entertain her guests with such cool and tasty treats as lemonade, with the suggestion “Serve with colored ice cubes or serve a spoonful of grape juice that has been frozen to a mush in each glass.” I like the grape juice idea. Unfortunately the picture doesn’t show the colorful ice cube suggestion.
The book also contains a lot of gelatin recipes: lots and lots and lots of aspic. The 1920s was the heyday of the gelatin salad. In the salad chapter, almost every recipe includes gelatin. Tuna Fish Salad? It’s what we would think of as tuna salad… surrounded by gelatin and molded. Summer Salad? Cucumber and onion in Lemon Aspic. Golden Salad? Carrot in Lemon Aspic. Tomato-Celery Salad? Celery, green peppers and olives in Tomato Aspic. The modern leafy green salad simply did not exist in this cookbook.
The book also contains suggested menus. Thanksgiving is coming soon, so here is the suggested Thanksgiving Dinner menu:
Mashed Potatoes Chestnut Stuffing
Carrots in Butter Cranberry Jelly
Tomato Jelly Salad*
Mince Tarts with Vanilla Ice Cream*
Nuts Fruit Mints
(Menu items marked with * are recipes that are in the book.)
Thanksgiving is perhaps the most traditional of meals, so this isn’t too strange to our eyes. But there it is, gelatin again — Tomato Jelly Salad. Tomato Aspic, in individual molds, unmolded onto crisp lettuce and served with mayonnaise dressing. I can safely say that I don’t think this is part of most modern Thanksgiving meals.
We may try this one for the heck of it. 1920s gelatin-based salads are a bit off-putting to our modern tastes, but we are curious whether there is any good reason they were popular. Stay tuned.
(Edited to add — I just found this lovely picture of a modern “tomato jelly salad.” Whether the version in the “Silent Hostess” cookbook will look that nice (and taste good too) is yet to be determined.)
(Want to see more Monitor Tops? I set up a Monitor Top photo pool on Flickr.)