How was food kept fresh during Theodore Roosevelt’s time?

Teddy Roosevelt was undeniably a tenacious guy not only with his progressive movements and policies but also in dinnertime. An adventurous eater, fried chicken soaked in white gravy, steak, turtle soup, and pigs in a blanket were among his favorites. He also loved coffee, with some of the people close to him saying the former president could drink a gallon a day.

With such an appetite, it’s only fitting that the White House should have ample food storage means. Yet, Teddy Roosevelt’s term happened between 1901 to 1909, while refrigerators only started becoming practical and widely used in the late-1920s to the early 1930s. So, how did people keep food fresh then? Well, let’s delve deeper into that and discover more about the history of food preservation. But before that, if you want to know the possible reasons why bacon goes bad, click the given link first.

History of Food Preservation 

We need to go back millenniums as food preservation traces back to the earliest civilizations. Prior to heat, hunter-gatherers were simply hunting food and consuming them immediately. As they started to settle, farm, and domesticate animals, they worked to find new ways for storing and keeping food fresh. These first processes were then improved throughout the ages and many of them are still used today.

The first, simplest, and most vital step of processing and storing food was cooking. Its precise origins are unknown yet it’s estimated that early human species have conquered fire and started cooking around 1.5 million years ago. Plant ashes and bone fragments found on campfires suggest that they started adding heat to preparing food. With heat, they were able to destroy microorganisms and break proteins and fats that rot quickly. Thus, helping food deteriorate more slowly.

Other food preservation methods soon followed. Pieces of evidence show that people from the Middle East and oriental countries began drying food under the hot sun and in the wind around 12,000 BC. These include different supplies, such as domestic animals, wild, game, and fish.

Jumping to the Roman Empire, fruits were eaten immediately when in season, but they also dried and preserved them to last over the winter. Some of the popular fruits included pears, figs, apples, citron, grapes, quinces, berries, plum, and dates – and the Romans loved any of the dried fruit they made.

Smoking, salting, fermenting, pickling, and oil packing were other food preservation methods discovered by the early civilizations. Thanks to the invention of writing and history, these methods were chronicles, passed onto, and spread through various generations. As information was passed easily, these processes were also developed, honed, and proliferated across different societies and cultures across the world.

Salting Fish

During the Middle Ages, people continued preserving meat by drying, salting, and smoking them. Fruits were dried, while vegetables were pickled or salted. Freezing also became a viable option, especially among people in appropriate climates. Caves and cellars were used as storage places, while cool streams were also utilized to preserve food, given the chilly water moving around the item. With this new method, people were able to keep food fresh and even save them from tough situations, such as famine and drought.

Later on, ice pits or ice houses were built underground and became very common in the 1800s. They serve as storage of ice and snow collected during the winter, but were then used for cooling food during the warmer months.

Soon, the icebox was invented, a wooden crate lined with zinc or tin for insulation, and packed with other insulating materials like straw, cork, seaweed, or sawdust. They quickly infiltrated homes and became a global industry.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century during Theodore Roosevelt’s time, people were still using iceboxes for freezing vegetables, meat, fruits, and keeping them fresh. Soon, refrigerators replaced iceboxes in homes in the 1930s and have become the main appliance used for food preservation even until today.

Ice Box

Prior to the method of freezing, two food processing, and preservation methods were discovered and popularized in the 1800s. Nicholas Appert, a French chef, was able to preserve food by placing them inside hermetically sealed containers and sterilizing them with heat. Dubbed as the “father of canning,” Appert was successful in preserving various food, from meat, vegetables, soups, juices, syrups, jellies, jams, and dairy products.

While Appert’s food preservation was indeed a triumph, he wasn’t able to explain why it actually worked. It was only in the 1860s, when Louis Pasteur, expounded on the relationship between food and microorganisms that caused food spoilage.

The method of pasteurization was invented, killing microbes through the application of heat, without altering the taste and quality of the food being processed. Without the harmful bacteria, juices and more importantly milk were able to last longer. Plus, helping food processing and food preservation advance further, while enabling food transport in the world.

Canning Factory

With the advancement of technology, new processes, appliances, and ingredients dawned on the industry of food preservation throughout the 20th century, such as freeze drying, spray drying, and evaporation. Blenders, ovens, microwaves, and food processors helped people prepare meals quicker and better. Various preservatives and artificial sweeteners were added to food, allowing it to be packed in various ways, keeping them fresh longer, while retaining their delicious taste. On a wider scale, factories have also learned new ways to produce, preserve, and package food. Thus, enabling us to enjoy many popular foods today.

Summing it up, the growth of food preservation has been rapid in the last two centuries compared to what it had been since the earliest civilization. At the beginning of time, food was preserved because people needed to, but now we do it on anything because we have the means to do so.

As people continue to advance, we can expect more to see developments in the way we keep our food fresh. While we love headways, especially seeing how it’s easier to preserve food compared to the earliest civilization, in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, or even just half a century ago, keeping these methods safe, affordable, healthy, and eco-friendly is the next priority we should fulfill.