We have a refrigerator!
Yes, I’m excited. And you may be thinking, so what? Everyone has a refrigerator. But you have to admit, we take this household convenience for granted. Until you don’t have one.
Decades ago, the freezer in my sister’s apartment wouldn’t thaw. If you’re of a certain age, you know what I mean. At some point, there is more white crust in your freezer than food. So my sister did what most of us did in desperation: she took a screwdriver (or a knife) and started hacking away. Well… that didn’t go as expected. Except that it resulted in a new refrigerator. A new refrigerator is nice, but it’s a hefty expense.
A few Christmases back, the power grid went out in Ketchum/Sun Valley. In Picabo, where I lived, it only lasted a few hours. But up north where it was packed with visitors for the holidays, it lasted two days. People were besides themselves. All that food that spoiled! Which is a bit interesting considering it was winter and folks could theoretically just put their food outside. But when you have a large refrigerator packed with all your normal needs and doubled for guests plus special treats… I suppose it’s a challenge to pack all that into coolers or directly in the snow.
It’s hard to imagine living without a modern fridge. My mom was born in 1934 and she use to tell the story of her father buying a gallon of ice cream when she was a kid and the family of five had to eat it all in one sitting because there was no room in the freezer for leftovers. I expect her family’s fridge looked something like this:
In the scheme of things, this household essential is actually quite new. The first home electric refrigerator was invented in 1913 and had a cooling unit on top of the icebox but mass production didn’t happen until five years later.
Until the 1940’s, about 92% of homes still had a non-electric ice box made of oak, and even this wasn’t a thing until the 1860s. The ice box was simply an insulated cabinet with a compartment containing ice and fresh ice would have to be inserted into the fridge every week. Meanwhile, the ice would melt and be collected in a pan under the ice box. The system worked and seemed miraculous at the time. But by modern standards, it was a hassle. So, by the early 1940s, almost 45% of homes had replaced their ice boxes with an electric fridge and popularity continued to soar. Today, almost 25% of American households have two refrigerators, while 0.5% (over 1.5 million) have none.
There are many things we need for our Sicily house. Like a mattress. We still need a mattress. And new toilet seats. And a stove, and a washer and dryer. And living room furniture. But we did get a sink hooked up in the kitchen when we were there in February. And, under the direction of Pepe, our local contractor, we had the bathroom under the stairs “decommissioned” and fitted as a laundry room. We shopped and shopped and shopped for washer/dryers until we were utterly exhausted and thoroughly confused. In the end, we walked away. As much as I need to wash my clothes, this isn’t a priority.
A refrigerator though! Every day I wished for a fridge. A cool box to hold cheese and olives and wine. And our leftover pizza or a freshly-filled cannolo that I wasn’t yet ready to eat. And the bottles of water that became tepid in the heat.
The challenge was that I had my heart set on a retro fridge. The house is, after all, historic and dates back to the 1930s. While I didn’t want something authentic to that era (I mean really, that would be insane), something that looked like it was from the 50s or 60s would be cool. Something like this:
We looked – in retail stores, used stores, and even Facebook marketplace – but couldn’t find anything we liked. So we came back to the States and I finally searched the Amazon Italy site. And there it was. A retro-ish refrigerator that could be delivered to our door for no extra charge.
Except by the time we were ready to order it, the price had gone up and I wavered. I’ve always been frugal but now I look at every purchase in comparison to other things we need – or – I want. Technically we don’t need new toilets or bidets since there are already three of each there, but I want new toilets and bidets. And while they each only cost about 100 or 125 euro… that adds up.
So I decided against the retro fridge and we opted for a modern Bosch instead. A much larger capacity for only 520 euro. Hey, that’s a savings equal to two new bidets!
Most refrigerators in Italy are small and hidden behind cabinets. It’s actually a pretty sleek look.
I would love to have a refrigerator hidden from view. If only it didn’t mean compromising on size. More than that, we’re not ready to install the full kitchen because we’re still waiting for the walls to dry out, which we’re told could take another year. And then new drywall needs to be put up. Meanwhile, we need a fridge.
Enzo texted yesterday that the refrigerator had arrived. YAY!!!! And then he sent this photo:
Why was it in the foyer of the house, between the front door and the stairs and not in the kitchen? Well, he explained, it’s quite tall and needs to be “lowered” to get through the doorway. And then today, he sent this and I can’t stop laughing.
We have a refrigerator. A VERY TALL refrigerator. As Tom says, our next purchase might be a stool. :)
Tell me your refrigerator stories. Your wins and your woes. If you’ve purchased one (or more), how did you decide which one to buy? What features do you like best and why?
This is a VERY interesting post to me - mainly because of my own struggles with refrigerators! I remember, when I was a child, my grandparents used to have this ENORMOUS double-door fridge that looked more like a clunky wardrobe than anything else. It was so big that my grandmother could fit her great, big cauldrons in there. (I was small, so the fridge probably seemed even larger to me!). At the other extreme were my aunt and uncle, newly married, just setting up home and without the means to buy a fridge. I remember how they’d store the butter - in a dish of cool water in the coolest part of their flat. Mercifully, global warming was not a thing then, and temperatures never rose above 34 C.
My grandparents’ giant fridge finally died, and was replaced by a slim, modern one - a single door with a freezer compartment inside and at the top. By then our household was much reduced in numbers and the smaller fridge sufficed. But the cleaning! That was a job! The fridge had to be emptied of all food and defrosted. The ice would melt in puddles that had to be caught in bowls and towels and anything else that could contain or soak water. Then it would be thoroughly cleaned, switched back on, and once it had cooled sufficiently, the food put back in. Those were also the days of load-shedding in Kolkata (where all these fridges were) - so when the power would go off, so would our fridge and the food in it!!! So we never really stored leftovers. Every meal was freshly cooked and nothing was wasted - we ate it all up. The fridge was used for ice, to cool water, bottles of Coke, and to store fruit and vegetables, milk and the homemade curds that were set fresh every night. And that is still the main uses for our fridge in Kolkata. Leftover food is rare.
Then came the frost free fridges! What absolute joy! My mot. , always ahead of the curve, was the first to buy one. No more defrosting!!! We were in heaven.
Next came the two-doors as they were called - with separate compartments for fridge and freezer. We didn’t see the point of such large freezers - we didn’t freeze food partly because frozen food was considered stale, partly because there was no good way to thaw it. Then along came the microwave, and a change in attitude towards frozen food. My grandmother was the first to experiment. She would freeze boiled dal or chickpeas for emergencies (aka sudden guests or very hungry grandchildren). These she would defrost in the microwave and then season and serve. Already seasoned food was never frozen.
Then came my own fridge. Frost free of course. Single door with a freezer compartment. I never froze anything except ice and ice cream. And cleaned the fridge meticulously every week. This was in Mumbai.
I moved to the UK - and was aghast at the fridges I got here. The first flat we were in had a minuscule fridge, the kind we see in minibars in one’s room in a hotel!!! It just wasn’t enough - by then I had two small children, a toddler and a new born, and I needed fridge space. Leftovers were still not a thing in my life, but with babies, much more fridge capacity was needed. Besides, in the UK, I was doing a weekly grocery shop, which meant much more quantity of fresh foods that then needed storing!!! It was all too much!
We moved. Larger fridge, thank goodness! But it was not frost-free!!! I was back in the Dark Ages!!! So there I was, back to defrosting and catching pools of water in puddles and dishcloths. Meanwhile, in Kolkata, the family had moved on to sleek, American-style fridges. Two doors, one for the freezer, one for the fridge. Ice dispenser. Cold water dispenser. Frost Fred of course. Civilization.
Now, in the UK, we have two refrigerators. Small compared to the American style ones. Separate freezers at the bottom. One fridge is sleekly hidden behind the woodwork in the kitchen. I still have to search for it sometimes. 😓
The other is more obvious - it sits in the utility room and stores all the extras we don’t need right away.
Both are, mercifully, frost free. No thawing needed. But I still clean them out once every two or three weeks. Old habits die hard. We have leftovers now though - cooking three fresh meals a day is beyond me now.
BUT - these freezers at the bottom? I can’t understand those! I like my freezers at the top. Or long ones, at the side, with a vertical door. 😓😓😓
The important part for me when I had my kitchen redone was that the refrigerator be counter-depth so it didn't stick out into the room too much. American refrigerators are so massive. I don't care for it. It does mean that there's less space, but I'm convinced that more space just means more food waste so I don't mind it.