Sunday, August 18, 2013

The British Larder

This is a cold room. My Nana's was smaller, though it was walk-in, and hers was lined with exotic wood which kept it cool.

  This blog post is the direct result of Kathy Felsted Usher's great comment on the last post.  She mentioned that she and her family were looking at the British wartime Ministry of Food regulations.  This is a wonderful idea.   I got to thinking that my Nana in England went through her entire life until 1971 without a refrigerator in their home.  Granted, London suburbs, with a few exceptions in the Summer, is cooler than many places in the United States.  Still, I remember my family ate very well, and that everyone was slim and healthy.  They walked everywhere even through their eighties. How did they function without a refrigerator when I am so clearly hamstrung without one ?
    Well, first of all, I shop every two weeks, and they shopped almost daily.  After work, they would take the train to the station closest to home, and stop in at the butcher, the vegetable stand and fruit stands. We tended to buy whatever was on sale, because it was simply intelligent.  Then, they would get home, cook the meat on the oven or the stove, prepare the vegetables, and often make a dessert.  A typical meal might be a small roast beef, baby new potatoes, fresh cooked green beans, and a crumble dessert with custard. They bought just enough to make and consume that day.  They also kept quick tinned meals which we had on occasion.  A quick dinner might be Heinz beans on toast, or grilled open face cheddar cheese sandwiches with British bacon on them.  In their suburban village home, they grew two kinds of apples from trees in their back garden, and they grew strawberries, greenbeans, potatoes of several types, and lettuces, cauliflower and cabbage. When we were there we almost never ate out, and fast food was non-existent to rare, although I do remember a restaurant called "The Wimpy Bar" where one could get a pretty good hamburger inspired by the Popeye series. Food in England, as late as the early seventies was simple, yet wholesome.
     Milk was delivered in the morning, and it came in bottles, with cream that rose to the top. Families bought less and they consumed it by the end of the day. If we bought ice cream then we bought it after church usually from the newspaper and general shop, where it was a hard solid block. He wrapped the ice cream package in newspaper and we hurried home.  After lunch, my Nana would cut the ice cream into slices. Most often they bought Cornish vanilla because the adults liked it best.  It needed to be consumed that afternoon because it couldn't be stored.
      How did they store cheddar cheese and other things that need to stay cool ?   In their kitchen was a walk in closet, which was lined with some type of exotic wood. (It looked a bit like cedar, but it wasn't)  This closet was specially lined in order to stay cool, and it was known as a larder.  Nana had all sorts of things stored there, including cheeses. There was rhubarb and cabbage wrapped in newspaper. There was lemon curd and different jams.  I often marvelled at how things, including my lemon bubbly water stayed cold in the larder. I have often wondered how it was built and what the magic of its staying cold really was.

I did find an interesting set of directions for building an oak larder on runescape:

Part of how larders stayed cool was the British construction of the 1900s through the 1930s which depended heavily upon stone and brick.

The writing between the two sets of undulating lines comes directly from

Open University's Discussion on types of construction.

(Please refer to the link to see the plates to which they have referred.)


Old Traditional
These had solid external walls of locally produced bricks, on
brick foundations, no damp courses, segmented or flat arches
to door and window openings, with much use of brick string
courses and cills and large areas of cement rendering etc.
Roofs were pitched, of timber, many with no underfelt, and
covered with slates or clay tiles, with mainly cast iron gutters
and fall pipes. Ground floors were often solid to kitchen and
storage areas, and of suspended timber construction to other
rooms and upper floors. Kitchen and store walls were
frequently unplastered, and ceilings were lath and plaster.
Windows were generally timber, vertical-sliding sash, and
external and internal doors either panelled or boarded.
Kitchens had very few cupboards, if any, and the free-standing
sink often had no drainer. The food storage consisted of a cold
slab and shelving in a separate larder. Most rooms had open
fireplaces and occasionally, an open cauldron-shaped water
boiler with lid, in the kitchen. Internal plumbing was in lead.
Some houses built in 1910 are illustrated in Plate 1.
Damp courses were gradually introduced in the 1920s and an
example from 1925 is shown in Plate 2.
Cavity external walls (still of local bricks) were gradually
introduced around the 1930s on concrete strip foundations
and dampcourses were in common use. The external
appearance was slightly less ornate and timber or steel
casement windows were introduced. Roofs now had underfelt,
but were still uninsulated, and cast iron or wooden gutters
were provided. There was some improvement in the provision
of kitchen fittings, and all walls were now plastered, but
many bathrooms were still positioned on the ground floor,
usually directly off the
kitchen. Open fires were still provided
to the main rooms, and lead internal plumbing was gradually
replaced by iron or galvanised steel.

       Although I will keep looking, there are no specific directions for the construction of a larder. I can only think that the concrete and brick construction of the first floor, and then different types of frame construction above it, resulted in a cooler first floor than we have in many homes today.  The enclosure of a "back of the kitchen and underneath the staircase area" was probably a cool place anyway.  The lining of it with wood probably enhanced this.  For the moment, it will remain a secret of the British construction guilds, which still very much exist today.
      Today, the term larder in Britain is synonymous with pantry.  A Food Larder there is a lot like a Food Pantry offered to those at churches, where food might be given out to those who are in need.  However, not that many years ago, when even small refrigerators were not common in the United Kingdom, the larder was an important part of British life, and there is plenty in these uncertain times that we can learn from this.

In my research for this post, I found this interesting website with British seasonal recipes:

This is an interesting historical reference for how stone was used in British homes to keep certain areas cool:


Sunnybrook Farm said...

My ancestors kept most things that needed coolness in the spring house. Milk and similar products were in crocks that actually sat in the cool water in a trough. We have a spring house now but all the old areas have been sealed off after they converted to an electric pump system to get water to the house. I may have a natural refrigerator and didn't realize it, thanks for getting me to thinking.

JaneofVirginia said...

I think we all should be looking for natural coolers. Protracted power outages could be coming. Glad you have some alternatives already !

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

I'm glad you posted some links, we'll be taking a look at them. I've gotten some notebook protective sleeves and ringed binders so I can print some of these old recipes, methods and gardening techniques just in case we need things in print.

JaneofVirginia said...

Yes, I do the same thing. I have emergency notebooks with plastic sheets too, as a reference for things I need to know or do, and for my family, in the event that I am not present for a particular emergency. Recipes and methods might be a very good idea too. Thanks for your post, Kathy.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

Here's a link to a Blogger who let us know about the tv series Wartime Farm which is a reenactment of the British wartime farm. It's 8 parts and we stream it to tv using Plex

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks Kathy, I'll take a look.

Dani said...

Jane - I have been unable to comment before now as our weather is currently not condusive to 'puter work LOL

We have RMan's old power room which is situated on the cooler southern side of the house. It is always at least 10oC cooler there than anywhere else, but is a little damp, so is no good for storing dry goods.

Ah - to have a waterproof cellar... :)

JaneofVirginia said...

Dani, I wonder, since the old power room is cool AND damp if it could be used to store potatoes, apples, and other things which like to be cool and damp ? I have dry goods storage here, but nothing cool and damp. I am finding that each type of storage has its advantage. Hope your weather is better soon. Thanks for posting.

Dani said...

Jane - I stored last seasons squash in the old power room, and they went mouldy... :(

Will try potatoes and apples though :)