What did people use before they had refrigerators?

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Most houses used to be built with cellars. A cellar was dark and cool, and food could be kept there so it wouldn't spoil. People also canned fruits and vegetables, and preserved meats in barrels with salt. The wealthy had ice houses, where they stored ice and they were also cellars. They would have an icebox in the house, and put the blocks of ice in there.
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In England in Victorian times and before (and probably in other countries too) not everyone could afford the luxury of delivered ice - and anyway poorer people could only afford to shop for the bare necessities every day and these got quickly gobbled up by the much larger households of the time! What people needed was a safe place to store food overnight or until mealtime. This was usually called a 'cool pantry.' The pantry was often located on the coldest (North) facing wall of the house/cottage, and often had a tiny window high up. This window was often protected by a sort of metal sieved screen to keep the flies out. On the inside, the walls where shelved, and on the shelves were kept perhaps a jug of milk or cream, cheese in a specially shaped china wedge, perhaps a ham or other cold meat,rashers of bacon,a pot of butter or a few slices of cold pie or brawn. The cooler temperatures in there would have been enough to keep the food cool for 2/3 days (we probably wouldn't risk it nowadays!)

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People did preserve their foods via pickling or salting, yet the most practical (if it could be afforded) was the ice box in areas that could sustain it. I am from New York and there are actually a lot of old houses that still have ice boxes outside and even what you could call ice silos, very tall structures meant to hold more than one block of ice as a back up.

This link has a very basic picture of an icebox and explains, pretty well, how it worked.

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There were a few different ways of keeping food before refrigerators.

Most recently (just before modern refrigerators became very common) people used iceboxes.  These were like refrigerators but instead of being cooled electrically, they were cooled by having actual ice in them.

Before that was available, people had cool cellars and some had ice houses where ice could be stored (under sawdust, often) and kept cool for much of the year.  These places could keep some food cool.

But mostly, in those days, food was preserved some other way -- by smoking it, salting it, or drying it.

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