Saturday, August 28, 2010

Anything Cool! Keeping cool in the Antebellum South, Part two

Chilled desserts that were popular during the 19th century

We take cold drinks and cool food for granted today. But during the first half of the 19th century anything cool or cold during the Summer months in the South was a luxury item. Chilled fruit after dinner, puddings and cool Gelatin desserts considered cheep today were very popular and considered a special treat in the 19th century. Gelatin desserts were made from calf's foot jelly. This was made by extracting and purifying gelatin from the foot of a calf; this gelatin was then sweetened and flavored with fruit juice and additional sugar, if necessary. A very laborious possess as compared to how easy making jello is today.

English Regency mahogany Cellarette used for chilling wine

A red glass wine glass rinser, would be place in front of dinner plate. Wine rinsers or wine washers were used to cool or rinse wine glasses between courses of meals.

Paris porcelain monteith 18th c, a wine-glass cooler or rinsing bowl with a notched or crenellated rim designed to hold the feet of the glasses while their bowls are suspended in the iced water which it contains


Drink like wine had to be chilled before being served in metal lined Cellarets or Wine coolers sometimes made of Porcelain or Tole. Also during this period wine glasses were chilled in monteiths a vessel with notched rims used to cool drinking glasses. Fruit was cooled in porcelain fruit coolers. The lid was bowl shaped so ice could be packed on the top as well as inside the fruit cooler. Ice cream was also served out of fruit coolers.

Late 18th century Paris porcelain Fruit/ice cream cooler by Nast Cornflower pattern

Pair of Paris porcelain Fruit/ice cream cooler with trompe l'oeil fruit

Detail Fruit/ice cream cooler with handle in the allegory of Winter

Detail Fruit/ice cream cooler with handle in the allegory of Winter

Cold fruit soups were popular in the South during the Summer months. The ice creams we enjoy today are said to have been invented in Italy during the 17th century. They spread northward through Europe via France. "French-style" ice cream (made with egg yolks) and its American counterpart, "Philadelphia-style," are (no eggs, or egg whites only) enriched products made with the finest ingredients. Vanilla is the most popular flavor of this genre.

Peach ice cream Old Paris porcelain, cut glass and silver from my collection

Peach ice cream Old Paris porcelain, cut glass and silver from my collection

During the first half of the 19th century ice cream was made at home or could be had in fashionable Coffee houses offering the cold treat. Most large city's in America had coffee houses offering ice cream starting in New York city around the 1820's. In Mobile, Alabama we had Festorazzi's Coffee Saloon opened in 1854 on the corner of Dauphin and St. Emanuel streets. Sylvester Festorazzi was born at Regolo, near Lake Como, in 1819. He became a confectioner, and worked at the trade first in Milan, then in Marseille. In 1850, he came to New Orleans where he went into the confectionery business. and opened Festorazzi's Coffee Saloon in Mobile. Coffee houses of the period did not offer hot food. The only thing served hot was tea and coffee. Cold deserts, pastries & swndwiches were served. Here is a ad from the Coffee saloon dating from the early years of the war between the states.

MOBILE REGISTER AND ADVERTISER, September 29, 1861, p. 4, c. 4

Ice Cream Saloon and Verandah,

Cor. Dauphin and St. Emanuel Sts.

Opposite Public Square

The undersigned have the honor to announce to their friends and the public in general that they have re-opened their well known and popular Saloon, up stairs, where they are prepared to serve their customers with the choicest kind of

Ice Creams

Sherberts, [sic]

Biscuits Glaces,

Cakes and


of every description.

Parties, Weddings, Dinners, &c., will be furnished at short notice and in the best style.

We have all kinds of Cakes and Confectioneries always on hand, fresh and of the best quality, which we will sell at reasonable prices.

S. Festorazzi & Co.

N.B.—Orders for the country will be carefully attended to.

Paris Coffee House 1819

Before the development of modern refrigeration, ice cream was a luxury reserved for special occasions. Making it was quite laborious; ice was cut from lakes and ponds during the winter and stored in holes in the ground, or in wood-frame or brick ice houses, insulated by straw and saw-dust. Many Southern farmers and plantation owners, including U.S. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, cut and stored ice in the winter for use in the summer. Ice cream was made by hand in a large bowl placed inside a tub filled with ice and salt. This was called the pot-freezer method.

During this period all food had to be bought, cooked and consumed the same day with out refrigeration. People lucky to have ice houses or dairy buildings could store perishable food longer.

Wealthy land owners built Ice houses on there property to store large blocks of ice shipped down from the East Coast. Most ice houses were built under ground. During the winter, ice would be taken into the ice house and packed with insulation, often straw or sawdust. It would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during summer months. The main application of the ice was the storage of perishable foods, but it could also be used simply to cool drinks like mint juleps or allow ice-cream and sorbet desserts to be prepared.

Temple/Ice house, Montpelier 1810-1811

James Madison built the Temple/Ice House on his property Montpelier between 1810-1811. The Neoclassical style Greek Temple was designed in 1802 by William Thornton, architect of the nation's Capitol, but was not built until 1810-1811. Thomas Jefferson, Madison's good friend and colleague, suggested two carpenters James Dinsmore and John Neilson, both had did work for Thomas Jefferson. Below the concrete base of the Classical Temple is the Ice House which is brick lined shaft, 24 feet deep and 16 feet in diameter.

The Temple served two purposes, aesthetic beautifying the functional. The Temple could be use on Summer days as a place to have a light meals with cool breeze flowing as well as being cooled from beneath. The Ice House two stores below, provided the Madison's with cool drinks like mint juleps and ice cream all summer long, a luxury during the first half of the 19th century.

Rosedown Plantation Gazebo - St. Francisville, LA

Wealthy Southerners built garden follies like Summer houses, a one room building in a garden used for tea or light supper or entertaining during the summer months. Because Summer homes were one room buildings in a garden. Cool air could circulate around the building thru windows and doors. Making them a lot cooler then rooms for entertainment in the big house. Please see my blog "The Derby-Beebe Summer House 1799".

99The Derby-Beebe Summer House 1799

Spring House, Baltimore, MD by Benjamin Henry Latrobe built over a spring and used to keep dairy products cool

You could only have something cool or cold to eat during the Summer if you have money to buy iced shipped down from the East Coast and a dark insolated place to store the ice. Ice was cut from natural lakes up North. During the first half of the 19th century, ice harvesting became big business in America. Large numbers of horses were used to harvest the ice and their waste led to pollution of ice the water and the shoreline.
Statue of John Gorrie, 1914, by C. Adrian Pillars

In 1842, Southern physician, John Gorrie, living in Apalachicola, Florida, a port city on the Gulf coast designed the first system for refrigerating water to produce ice. He also conceived the idea of using his refrigeration system to cool the air for comfort in homes and hospitals (i.e., air-conditioning). Southerners could have had man made clean ice and air-conditioning in the 1840's and 50's. His system compressed air, then partially cooled the hot compressed air with water before allowing it to expand while doing part of the work required to drive the air compressor. That isentropic expansion cooled the air to a temperature low enough to freeze water and produce ice, or to flow "through a pipe for effecting refrigeration otherwise" as stated in his patent granted by the U.S. Patent Office in 1851. Gorrie built a working prototype, but his system was a commercial failure. Gorrie sought to raise money to manufacture his machine, but the venture failed when his partner died. Humiliated by criticism, financially ruined, and his health broken, Gorrie died in seclusion on June 29, 1855.

Schematic of Gorrie's ice machine

The ice factory industry was actually propelled by Southern States, who were tired of relying on The North for lake ice that was sometimes polluted . Many entrepreneurs started investing money in formulating mechanical refrigeration at an economical cost. In New Orleans, a very important event in ice history occurred. The Louisiana Ice Manufacturing Company opened in 1868 making man made ice and offering a product that cost significantly less than natural ice.

Today we keep cool by taking cool showers and baths during the Summer. Most homes in the South did not have a bathroom as we do in homes today. During the antebellum period in the South. Before indoor plumbing, bathtubs—like chamber pots and washbowls—were moveable accessories: large but relatively light containers that bathers pulled out of storage for temporary use in a bedroom. The typical mid-19th-century bathtub was a product of the tinsmith's craft, a shell of sheet copper or zinc. In progressive houses equipped with early water-heating devices, a large bathtub might be site-made of sheet lead and anchored in a coffin-like wooden box. Bathtubs were lined with linen cloth.

19th century Tin bathtub

Galvanized tin hip bath

Tin bathtub in coffin-like wooden box

The average person in the Antebellum South only tuck a bath once a month. As doctors of the period thought that frequent bathing removed body oils, doctors thought this bad for skin. People did wish almost daily parts of the body that were visible to the public; for example, the ears, hands, feet, and face and neck. Taking a bath was a considerable labor of drawing, carrying, and heating water, filling the bath and then afterward emptying it. Bath water was shared by all the immediate family members from the oldest member of the family to the youngest. Precedence in bath order could lead to contention since the first user enjoyed the cleanest and warmest water. If you were traveling or did not have a bathtub at home you could always go to a bath house.


Old Paris porcelain footbath

Most large city's in the South had public bath houses. Here is a ad for one in Mobile, AL

Mobile Bath House.

Entrance on Conti, between Royal & St. Emanuel.

Entrance No. 0 South Royal Street.

The proprietor takes pleasure in announcing to the public that the above Establishment is now in complete order having been nicely Painted and furnished with new Bathing Tubs throughout. He will always be prepared to accommodate his patrons with comfortable Warm, Cold and Shower Baths, at all hours from 5 A.M. til 10 P.M.

A Barber Shop is also added. In short, a gentleman will have here every facility to Bathe, Dress and be attended to in every respect. Young.

What we can easily eat, drink or do to stay cool today was sometimes a challenge to achieve. It depended on how much money you had and tuck a lot longer to have during the Antebellum period in the South. As two storms are headed for the Gulf Coast today five years after Hurricane Katrina, it reminds me of going thru Katrina in the French Quarter and trying to stay cool in New Orleans for over a week after the hurricane during one of the hottest times in New Orleans was almost like living in the South 160 years ago. Tomorrow I will post my story of surviving Katrina during the Hurricane and the week after in New Orleans.

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