This object is a wood and metal icebox that was popular in homes before electricity was widely available. It is currently being exhibited in the sharecropper’s cabin in the museum. Iceboxes were developed and used before modern day refrigerators, and were designed to preserve foods.
Basic iceboxes were made of wooden frames, and had a gap on the inside, with a smaller metal lining. The iceboxes had separate drawers and shelves to store different types of foods. Ice would be packed in the space between the wood and metal, and then insulated with straw, sawdust, seaweed, or cork. Cheaper versions would just have a drip pan underneath to catch the melting ice, but fancier models would have a container that caught the water, and a faucet to drain it.
Every year when the weather turned warm, ice was delivered daily to homes by the iceman. The iceman would drive from home to home, on a wagon lined with straw and full of ice blocks. For each home, he would chip off pieces of ice for the icebox, and for an additional fee, he would insert the ice into the icebox for the homeowners. During the summer months, kids would hitch a ride on the wagon of ice, or chip off small pieces of ice as a treat. Icemen worked for ice houses, which stored ice year round. Every winter, ice was harvested from frozen lakes and stored in ice houses. Ice harvesting and storage became a huge trade for states in New England, with many people becoming rich from shipping ice to the Southern states and the Caribbean.
However, ice houses were around long before the dawn of the icebox. Records dating back to 1780 BC talk about construction of an icehouse in Mesopotamia. Starting as dug out pits lined with straw, ice houses evolved around the world over the years, into everything from brick buildings to underground tunnels. By 1930, electric refrigerators like we use now began replacing the old iceboxes. As the need for ice delivery declined, so did the business of ice houses. By 1960, ice houses no longer served a purpose, and most were closed. In Texas however, ice houses were more innovative and started selling groceries and beer. They became gathering spots for people to get together and relax. The national convenience store 7-Eleven developed from ice houses that were operated by Southland Ice Company in Dallas and San Antonio in the 1930s.
Though it’s easy to take ice for granted today, many things around us are reminders of our modern innovations. Modern refrigerators still contain many elements of original iceboxes, such as shelving and drawers; and every time we pass a convenience store- it sits as a reminder of a bygone era, when ice houses served an exclusive purpose, still present in the bags of ice sold there. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Late 19th- early 20th Century
Materials: Metal, Wood
This object is a Norwegian krumkake iron. Not to be confused with crumb cake, this Norwegian cookie is pronounced kroom-kai-kuh, and means bent or curved cake. The plural is krumkaker. Krumkake is a traditional Norwegian Christmas cookie. Krumkaker are made from flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and cream. They look and taste very similar to waffle cones, and are made in a device that looks similar to a waffle iron.
Krumkake irons are decorative two-sided iron griddles, with intricate patterns that vary based on what region of Norway it’s from. Older irons were designed to be held and turned over an open fire, and had wooden handles to be able to turn them without getting burned. Newer versions are electric, and allow bakers to make more, in a shorter period of time.
Once the batter is poured onto the griddle, it’s baked to a light golden brown. While still hot, it’s rolled into small cones with the use of a conical rolling pin. Krumkaker can be filled with virtually anything- from whipped cream, to chocolate, to berries, or can just be sprinkled with powdered sugar.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the term “Christmas cookie” became popular, possibly due to the fact that ovens became popular household appliances around that time. However, cookies in Norway were categorized as one of three types: those baked in an iron, those that were deep fried, and those baked in ovens. Cookies baked in irons- like krumkaker– can be traced back at least a thousand years.
In the pre-Christian Viking tradition, during the dark afternoons of the Winter Solstice, children would go from house to house looking for treats. Because Norway is so close to the North Pole, darkness came by 4 o’clock during the months of December and January.
Before Christmas began being celebrated in Norway, around 1000- 1100, Norwegians celebrated Jul (the English tweaked this to yule) a time to celebrate the last of the harvest, and a way to look forward to spring. It was a celebration of light manifested through the yule log thrown on the fire.
Norwegian Christmas is a celebration of more than a thousand years of beliefs and traditions, all tied together in a month-long celebration. The baking, the solstice, the celebration of light, and Christian faith, all come together for the holiday season.
Perhaps this explains why krumkake has endured. Today, it is a featured element in the tradition of “seven sorts,” which is a Norwegian holiday baking custom. Per tradition, seven traditional cookies are to be baked and served during the holidays. Although which cookies are included in the seven are disputed, krumkake is the most widely accepted, along with pepperkaker (gingerbread).
Norway’s holiday traditions are still honored by Norwegian immigrants and their descendants across the American mid-west, and communities in Texas. The krumkake is just one of many elements of Norwegian tradition that interlock the past and the present. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
HemisFair 68 Jim Beam Decanter Souvenir
San Antonio, Texas
Materials: Ceramic and Paint
This object is a souvenir Jim Beam decanter commemorating the HemisFair of 1968. A decanter is a decorative ceramic or glass bottle, with a stopper, used to store alcohol. This Jim Beam decanter has the Tower of Americas and part of the state of Texas and its landscape sculpted into the shape of a decanter. The Tower of the Americas is a famous landmark in San Antonio, TX dating back to HemisFair of 1968. This decanter was mass-produced by Regal China Co., and sold during HemisFair, as a cross-promotion for the James B. Beam Distilling Co..
The HemisFair was a World’s Fair that was held from April 6, 1968 to October 6, 1968, in San Antonio, Texas. HemisFair welcomed over thirty nations and six million visitors. The Tower of the Americas was built especially for HemisFair, and was completed just days before the start of the fair. The tower measures 622 feet tall from ground to the highest architectural element, with the observation floor at 579 feet, making it the 29th tallest building in the state of Texas. It was the tallest observation tower in the United States until 1997, when the Stratosphere Tower was built in Las Vegas.
Observation towers have been associated with several World Fair venues. The 1889 Paris World’s Fair commemorated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, and included the construction of the now world-famous Eiffel Tower. Built by Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel‘s construction company, Eiffel et Compagnie, and largely based off designs by Maurice Koechlin. Observation towers were also built for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, the 1964 New York World’s Fair, the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, and others. [Adriana Christian, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
The 45th annual Texas Folklife Festival is just around the corner, don’t forget to get your tickets! Advance tickets can be purchased HERE. This year the ITC has collaborated with VIA Metropolitan Transit, Lyft, and B-Cycle to help everyone get to the festival with reduced fares and park-and-ride service from Crossroads Mall.
In addition to all the great music, dancing and food you’ve come to expect from Folklife over the years the museum is adding some great new attractions to the event. Be sure to check out the new El Zócalo, a specially curated area by Chef Johnny Hernandez. It will include Mexican artisans, food demonstrations by chefs from Culinary Institute of America and Pharm Table, as well as a a pop-up of El Machito.
Don’t miss out on this great RAIN OR SHINE event, June 10th-12th at the Institute of Texan Cultures.