Country Lore: Ice Cutting For Natural Refrigeration

These readers cut ice during the winter for natural refrigeration during warmer weather.
By Richard and Aimee Douglas
February/March 2004
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Ice cutting is a great way to refrigerate without using electricity.

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Over the millennia we have developed many strategies for food preservation, including drying, salting, smoking, pickling, canning and natural refrigeration in root cellars and spring houses. With the introduction of ice saws in the 19th century, a new form of food preservation was born. Ice cutting, storage and shipping became a huge industry in the late 19th and early 20th century. Ice blocks were delivered directly to home kitchens and were even shipped overseas. With the invention of the electric refrigerator in the 1930s, the ice industry faded and died out.

In some parts of the country, ice is still useful for food preservation, and more importantly, it uses no energy.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of ice harvesting is the opportunity for a winter get-together. Our friends and neighbors look forward to joining us at The Smiling Skunk Farm for our annual ice-cutting party. Everyone helps to cut, haul and store the ice, and then we reward ourselves by visiting over a down home potluck dinner. It just doesn't get any better than that.

You can harvest ice from a frozen river or pond that is covered with at least 6 inches of solid ice. We cut the ice with an ice saw into 18-by-18-inch blocks and pull them from the water with ice tongs.

We then load the blocks onto toboggans, haul them to the ice house, and stack and pack them with sawdust on all sides. When warm weather comes, we take the ice to the icebox in our kitchen and enjoy the simplicity of natural refrigeration.

Richard and Aimee Douglas
Chateaugay, New York

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