The first fridge and the food of kings

Our first refrigerator was a gas one.

I can’t quite get my head around that, how did it work, there was no electrical connection to it, just a gas pipe and a pilot light that you could view through a little hatch, useful for your dad to light his cigarettes through when he’d run out of matches, yes he did too.

There is an explanation of how the gas fired fridge works on the internet, I’ve read it in search of further knowledge but for the life of me can’t understand what the hell its talking about, I can’t even give you a clue, its all bollacks to me, suffice to say that we had a gas fridge in our house in the 1960s.

Of course it wasn’t purchased via the normal route of purchasing things, the route that normal people follow, oh no, for our dad was allergic to buying stuff normally in shops.

Sometime in the early 1960s our mother decided that she was sick and tired of milk going off after two weeks of use, fed up of having to carve the mould off six month old cheese before use, she wanted a refrigerator just like everyone else in the civilised world had, we were the last family in the civilised world not to have a fridge, it wasn’t fair she argued, why even Auntie Beattie has a fridge and she is 80 years old, lives on her own and only keeps a tin of fruit in it.

And so our dad “put the word out”, that is he told all of his mates down the club that he was on the lookout for a nice cheap fridge, one that still looked new for she wasn’t to know that he hadn’t bought a new one, and it didn’t take long for Plewsey to find one for him.

Arthur Plews had a furniture store in Harehills, sold second hand and new, how he knew my father I do not know but whenever we needed anything in the furniture line our dad would always ask Plewsey and although refrigerators weren’t in his line of business he nevertheless found one for us, a secondhand one, worked like a dream, made food cold for thats what fridges do, worked on gas, looked almost brand new it did, nice and clean, she’ll never know it wasn’t new, give me a fiver Frank or two quid down and ten bob a week for ten weeks, sorted.

And instead of stopping him right there and saying something like “hang on a minute, did you just say works on gas ?” our dad spat on his palm and shook hands on the deal, “you’ll deliver won’t you?” he confirmed.

And when it turned up our dad had to ring Bob Beck for when anything involving gas or water was involved then Bob Beck was yer man, Bob had to come around to see what all the fuss was about, convinced that our dad had got the story wrong he brought some electrical flex and a plug to wire up the fridge only to be dumbfounded when he was shown the gas pipe connection, “how does it work then Frank?” he asked, to be greeted with lots of shrugged shoulders, “do you light the gas or does the gas make it cold ?” more shrugged shoulders, “well will Plewsey know ?” more shrugged shoulders followed by “doubt it Bob, he normally sells dining tables and three piece suites”

So Bob went back to his van got out his plumbing stuff and ran a copper pipe all the way around the kitchen from the gas meter to the new (old) gas fridge and we kids put our fingers in our ears and screwed our eyes tight as he lit the pilot light but it didn’t go off bang and within 48 hours the inside of the fridge was starting to get cool.

I still don’t know how it worked but it worked and it worked for years and years and our family rejoiced in the knowledge that we could have cold milk on our corn flakes in the height of summer instead of just in the depths of winter, such luxury, such bohemian-ism, why it even had a tiny little freezer compartment just big enough to hold one ice cube tray, sufficient for twelve ice cubes to form seven days after you’d put the tray inside its little cold metal shelf.

And it was this tiny little ice cube tray that brought forth our mothers greatest culinary conquest, the one thing that our mother could make in the kitchen that would not be ruined the moment she thought of the idea – she made fruit ice cubes.

A by-product of our posh Sunday afternoon teas would be the juice left in a tin of pears or mandarin oranges, it would normally be tipped down the sink until our mother in a blinding flash of inspiration tipped a tin of juice into the ice cube tray – hey presto, five days later we had mandarin orange ice cubes – that was one tea time sorted out for us two kids, “Whats for tea mam” we’d asked running in breathless from school, “Ice cubes” she’d say and we’d both dive to the table and eagerly devour our ration of six ice cubes each flavoured with the juice from last Sundays posh tea, mmmmm, I can taste the pear ones still.

My own kids still don’t believe me when I tell them that we were raised on a diet of ice cubes but its true, flavoured ice cubes mind, not just any old ice cubes – and jam and bread, mainly jam and bread, and after we got the fridge, cold jam and bread for after we got the fridge everything was kept in the fridge whether it needed to be cold or not, so even preservatives went in the fridge to stop them, erm, unpreserving, or something.

Its true though, we’d often run in from school, throw off our shoes, throw off our school blazers, throw off our school bags and dash eagerly to the table, “whats for tea mam?” we’d both shout in unison, to be greeted with the sight of the jam pot on the table, “jam and bread” she’d say in the sort of voice reserved for the maitre’d at The Ritz, “Its Robertsons strawberry jam spread thinly on a slice of Mothers Pride and presented on an old chipped plate with a glass of pop” the maitre’d at The Ritz would tempt his pampered patrons, and so did our mother.

We never questioned why our dad always had something nice for his tea, a steak pie maybe, some fish, or a shepherds pie, and when he came in from work much later and sat and ate his tea in front of the six o’clock news me and Ned would sit there staring at real food on his plate and sometimes he’d leave some scraps for us to fight over and once or twice either Ned or I would tell him “we’ve only had jam and bread for our tea you know” in an attempt to shame him into leaving more scraps and he’d look up at our mother and she’d clip both of us round the back of the head and tell us not to tell such fibs, “oh I don’t know where they get it from” she’d exclaim and so our dad would clip us around the back of the head too and tell us not to tell such tales.

Jam and bread and ice cubes, the food of kings.

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2 thoughts on “The first fridge and the food of kings

  1. I hear tale that our house, which is very old — like built in 1827 old, was once cooled by a gas furnace. Someone tried to explain it to me but I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

    My experience has been that our old house is very effectively cooled — by winter.

  2. I know, it doesn’t make sense, you burn gas to make things colder, I’m sure there’s an explanation for it but its way beyond me.

    Our house was freezing all through last winter, I wore a coat inside for most of last winter, this summer we’ve had it cavity wall insulated, now they are telling me its too warm.

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