Blog post by Wayne Hastings
Within the last one hundred years there has been a vast number of inventions that have permanently changed how people cook and prepare meals. Modern kitchen appliances have progressively made cooking more convenient and has created gadgets we cannot imagine living without today. However, equally important are the inventions that are no longer convenient to use, yet inspired future change and innovations. To begin, consider the butter churn.
Beginning in the mid-1800s, hand-crank butter churns were the most convenient way for households to have butter. These churns, like the one currently on display in the Education Room of the History Center, replaced wooden barrel churns by shortening the churning time to thirty minutes. However, since butter became widely available by the later half of the 20th century, churns quickly fell out of use. This period marked the rise of grocery markets and a growing reliance on store bought food. Churns are a reminder of how developments in the food industry can have an immediate effect on how we live our lives. Naturally, family members, especially women who led thoroughly domestic lives, stopped spending so much time in the kitchen and their role began to shift.
Furthermore, it is critical to consider how kitchen innovations were also devices that resulted in sociopolitical change. Directly after the Civil War, many African American men and women became grocers and business owners in the food industry. Naturally, many of these entrepreneurs established themselves as accomplished inventors. In 1875, Alexander P. Ashbourne revolutionized kitchens by designing the biscuit cutter. Another important inventor was Alfred L. Cralle, who famously invented the ice cream scoop. While these inventions certainly shaped how we prepare food, it is important to ponder how a portion of Americans began shifting their notion of what African Americans can or cannot do. When slavery raged on in the early 19th century, it was undeniable that the role of African American men and women was decidedly hard labor. Perhaps inventions in the kitchen helped change that perception decades later.
Forgotten or remembered, these inventions and many more have influenced our lives both within and beyond the kitchen. Come to the Education Room at the Monroe County History Center to see and learn about more inventions that have shaped how we spend time cooking and preparing meals. Waffle irons, citrus squeezers, and percolators have all influenced our lives in one way or another.