Waterloo exhibit recalls of mid-20th century family life

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) – City folks used to order eggs by mail.

Six dozen eggs were tucked into cushioned compartments inside a protective metal crate. The crate was then shipped through the US mail. With a little over-easy handling, the farm-fresh eggs arrived at their destination, hopefully without being scrambled.

One of these early 20th century crates is displayed in the Grout Museum’s sentimental journey through “Midwest Comforts,” a celebration of food, recipes, product advertising, and amenities that made live easier for home cooks.

“We’ve all been through a rough couple of years, and we thought it would be fun to put together a feel-good exhibit. Most people have positive thoughts related to food, family recipes and family gatherings, so we brought some things out of our collection we thought people would enjoy and may remember from their own childhoods,” Jenny Bowser, exhibition coordinator, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier.

Refrigerators and stoves are commonplace in today’s homes, but in the early- to mid-20th century they were modern marvels that impacted and changed people’s lives. These innovative new machines kept food safe and made meal-making much easier.

While making dinner tonight may involve opening and preparing a kit from Blue Apron or other food delivery service, pre-packaged, processed foods like macaroni and cheese, canned soup, cake mixes, frozen TV dinners and vegetables were boons for busy moms trying to put a family meal on the table.

In the Grout exhibit, a 1930s GE Globe-top or “monitor electric refrigerating machine” and Tappan Deluxe stove are part of a kitchen display with a 1940s-era dinette set and classic cabinetry. There’s also a Herrick ice refrigerator – in pristine condition – built in Waterloo. Considered the “aristocrat” of refrigerators, this 1930s model could hold up to 200 pounds of ice in one chamber while cool air circulated through other food chambers. This kept food cold and dry without condensation that could cause mold and food spoilage.

Recipes like Miracle Whip Cake with Caramel Icing and Party Potatoes – “sometimes called funeral potatoes because it was a dish people made and took over to neighbors after a loss in the family,” Bowser noted – can be found highlighted in wall displays. People can take time to jot down their own family recipes to share with others.

Newspaper clippings feature details about a 1958 Betty Crocker Food Festival that found its way to Waterloo, and visitors are captivated by vintage advertisements including Waterloo’s own Rath meat products, along with Crisco, Swanson’s TV dinners, Campbell’s Soup, Quaker Oats, Spam, Tang, Folger’s Coffee, Morton’s Iodized Salt, Kleen Maid Bread, Wonder Bread, Kraft Deluxe Slices and other familiar products.

Perhaps the most mesmerizing part of the exhibit is the nostalgic collection of classic TV commercials playing on a loop via an old-fashioned TV set. Younger viewers may not recall the “Mikey likes it” Life cereal commercial, for example, but older visitors will. They also can relive their childhoods through the Oscar Mayer “Bologna” song (singing along with the jingle is OK), Mean Joe Green accepting a cold Coke from a young football fan, the Kool-Aid kid, and other iconic commercials.

“We have 25 commercials on the loop, so it’s easy to get caught up in watching them,” Bowser said.

Exhibition hours are 10 am to 4 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays. Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for veterans and children ages 4-13. Children 3 and under and members are free.

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