The Ice House

Posted on: May 9, 2010

by Deborah in the UP

Contrary to popular belief, the weather in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is NOT ten months of snow, followed by two months of rough sledding. Although there have been times that I believed that we had four seasons: June, July, August and Winter. The joking aside, summers up here can be glorious .. And often times very hot. Many stretches of 100* weather in August are not unheard of, nor rare.

From May to October, at my home in the woods, food needed to be carefully chilled to prevent spoiling. Since I had an ice box and not a refrigerator, that presented unique needs: ICE. The first line of defense was to keep very little that required being kept cold, which meant no leftovers, no raw meat, chicken or fish. But, if you were to look, really look, at what is in your refrigerator, there isn’t much that HAS to be kept as cold as we keep it. Condiments: catsup & mustard do very well cool, not cold. Mayo, that’s different, and where small jars or packets come in very handy. Eggs are fine even sitting on the counter as our grandparents did, but if kept cool, last even longer. Pickles? Open jars of olives? Fruit? Vegetables? None of these require being deeply chilled, under 40 degrees. With that in mind, it still took a solid block of ice daily, to keep things cool. Why one block per day? First, the blocks of ice today are whipped with air to facilitate freezing, consequently they also melt faster. Second, we liked our evening cocktails cold.. And that meant chipped ice in the drinks. Gotta have some priorities! J During the deep of winter weather, I rotated two dishpans of water, frozen on the front porch. The objective was to never let one completely thaw: if still partially frozen, it would freeze that much faster. Even trays of ice cubes were set on the porch to freeze … almost felt normal!

During September and October, and then again in late March, April and May, it was easy to transfer everything to another icebox that was located on the back deck, near the kitchen door. Why try to keep things 45* inside, when it’s 45* outside?? I utilized Nature whenever possible.

But that still left June, July and August. What to do? Ice was expensive to buy daily, so, during the winter, when it was freezing outside, I MADE ice. I had managed to scavenge a dozen black plastic flower pots that proved to be the perfect size for holding a plastic bag full of water. We had purchased 1,000 large ‘bread’ bags prior to our move that now had a new use. In January, the temperatures often dipped to well below zero and stayed there for weeks, providing the perfect conditions for my new experiment. I would fill a bag full of water from the tap, supporting it with the plastic flower pot, then secured it with a twist tie, and then set it outside to freeze. Out on the back deck, it would not be unusual to see dozens of frozen blocks. A freshly made bag of ice would stay in the supportive pot until partially frozen and able to keep it’s shape, then it was removed and set free-standing to finish freezing solid. Meanwhile, the now empty pot, would once again get filled with a new bag of water. And so it went…

But where to put them??

The same year we built the new woodshed, we knew we would be needing someplace to store the ice I would be making the following winter. On the backside of that woodshed, was a new structure: the icehouse. It could have been more efficient, but Pete was not one to be second guessed nor argued with. This I was learning. So the icehouse was not insulated (as it should have been), had too much air venting, had poor accessibility and in the long run, didn’t do what it was suppose to do.

I had found someone in town to supply me with as much sawdust as I wanted/needed. I had bags and bags ….and bags of it…and they were happy to get rid of it. So I dumped several bags on the floor of the new icehouse, then brought several more (garbage sized) bags in, stacked in the corner awaiting use.

When the blocks on the porch were solidly frozen, and I had at least two dozen to move, I would fill my trusty sled with ice blocks, slip into my snow shoes and haul it all down to the ice house. After digging out the door so I could get it open (another construction error: the door opened out…… ), I took off the snow shoes and began lugging the ice inside. Nestled in the layer of sawdust, the bags were then covered with another layer , then more blocks, more sawdust. It was painstaking, messy work.

By the time winter ended, I had over a hundred blocks of ice, hidden in their beds of insulating sawdust, but protected in their sleeve of plastic. However, by the time I needed the ice, late May to early June, 90% of the bags had thawed, and leaked out. Drat! I did this for two years, but the experiment was a bust. It was, however, several lessons learned.

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