Time Travel Kitchen

Iceboxes and a Cookie from the 1930’s

The original caption on the photo above reads:

“A small child reaching into a Kleen-Kold brand icebox.”

The name says it all — clean and cold, ensuring precious food was preserved prior to and during The Great Depression.

By 1935, New Deal loans boosted purchases of electric refrigerators in the U.S. But before that, regular deliveries of heavy blocks of ice for the icebox kept households going.

Harvesting Ice

As a young man during the 1930’s, my late father-in-law, Ned, worked cutting and delivering large blocks of ice to the farms in the ‘Northeast Kingdom’ area of Vermont. Ned was a pal and at Christmas he would drive me around this ruggedly beautiful part of the state. As we chatted, his early work cutting and delivering ice would often come up in conversation.

This was hard work and he was proud of it. Ned’s ice tools are now housed at a museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, a reminder of a time before refrigerators made life so much easier for us all.

Icebox cookies

During the 1920’s recipes for icebox cookies began popping up in print. ‘Make-ahead’ dough could now be kept cold and stored in these iceboxes, taken out, sliced and conveniently baked within minutes.

The recipe I made this week is from the 1931 facsimile First Edition of The Joy of Cooking. I keep going back to this book for recipes because they work and also for Irma Rombauer’s pragmatic, funny, down-to-earth voice:

“This delicious cookie resembles a sand tart and is less troublesome to make.”

The Recipe

This cookie is, in fact, delicious.

I did not use any nuts, but I did go a little overboard on the colorful sanding sugar which I thought would be fun for the upcoming holidays. Next time I make these I’ll take a couple of tablespoons of sugar out of the recipe to offset the sweetness of the decorating sugar.

I’ll also make a batch without any adornment - they are perfect as is.

Use all purpose flour if you don’t have bread flour on hand. The bread flour gave the cookies a little bit of chewiness after the initial crunch, which I like.

Irma’s Rules for Baking Ice Box Cookies (with a few suggestions from me)

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees (what Irma calls a ‘quick oven’ )

  • Shape the dough into two long rolls approximately 2” in diameter

  • Do not use additional flour when shaping

  • Cover (wrap) the dough in waxed paper (Irma) plastic film (Jolene) and refrigerate for 24 hours (Irma). I did not chill that long, it was about 6 hours in the refrigerator till they were completely chilled and ready to slice.

  • Cut into thin slices (approx 1/4 inch) and place 1” apart on baking sheet (I lined with parchment)

  • Bake for 8 minutes, rotate pans at minute 4 (Jolene)

  • Cool on wire racks

  • Yield: 60 cookies

Enjoy and have a great weekend!


Sources and credits:

Icebox photo: George Rinhart, Corbis via Getty Images, c. 1920’s

Women Delivering Ice, 1918, National Archive, Image ID: 533758

Ned photo: Vermont Folklife Center, photos by Laughing Bear Associates. Re-published by Vermont Magazine, January 2012

Emma Grahn, Keeping Your (Food) Cool: from Ice Harvesting to Electric Refrigeration, National Museum of American History, April, 2015

Cookie photo: Jolene