Kitchen tools created for very specific purposes are nothing new. The Follett House Museum has many examples of tools which may be somewhat unrecognizable by modern standards but function to serve the same essential needs as today.
Jelly molds (example above), more properly accepted as gelatin molds, were used in the kitchen to shape jelly, a savory dessert treat, into decorative designs. Jelly, in this case, refers to gelatin, which is the animal fat or clear mixture that arises out of boiling calf bones. It is not the fruit preserve popularly paired with peanut butter, which many may think of nowadays. Originally, gelatin was a dish prepared from scratch at home, unlike many modern boxed brands of flavored powder at the store today. Often beginning as a by-product of meat, cooked for dinner or some other meal, as gelatin cooled, it settled in the bottom of the pan. The addition of water, sugar, and flavoring, usually fruit based, made it more appetizing and visually appealing. Before modern electrical refrigeration, gelatin treats were placed inside an icebox to chill and set. After it was set, the gelatin was removed from the icebox and served as a dessert. The molds, usually made of tin or some other metal, were used during chilling and setting, and then the gelatin was unmolded. They had ornamental patterns on the top and came in a variety of shapes and sizes. By pouring gelatin into these molds before cooling, the mixture took on the decorative shape. Coincidentally, the number or size of jelly molds a family possessed reflected upon their socio-economic status. Gelatin was derived from meat, which was relatively expensive at the time, and the more often it was made, meant the family could afford meat on a regular basis and more gelatin molds were accumulated. Consequently, wealthier families possessed larger and more gelatin molds than most until the commercialization of the product.
Another interesting gadget used in the 19th and early 20th century kitchen was the cherry pitter. Without access to or a sufficient amount of refrigeration, many homes found alternate ways to preserve food into the winter. Commonly, fruits were combined with sugar or honey to make preserves, which then were then canned. This was a time consuming yet necessary chore during the late summer and autumn. To properly prepare cherries required removing the pits. The cherry pitter, also known as a cherry stoner, was a product created at the beginning industrial age in an attempt to speed up the tedious process in a more efficient manner. This handheld operated model (shown above) made of cast iron was clamped to a table like many other styles at the time, while it rapidly removed cherry pits. Only a few cherries were put in at a time, yet it was faster than removing the pits by hand. This clever, convenient tool was only produced between 1880 and 1920, as it became victim to the growing popularity of canned goods and store bought items. People were not required as often to make their own preserves since they could buy the canned goods relatively inexpensively. The cherry pitters’ main market disappeared as a result and the gadget’s production along with it.
Another less recognized gadget today which was found in many 19th and early 20th century homes was the invalid feeder. It was a tool that facilitated home health care before the state of general public health care was established, and hospitals became more readily accessible. Caring for the sick was believed to fall within a woman’s domestic realm; since, she was responsible for upkeep of the family’s moral welfare and healthful well-being. As the name, “invalid feeder,” implies, it was a tool to feed very sick individuals, unable to care for themselves. The gadget (shown above) resembles a sort of miniature tea kettle with a small feeder, handle, and elongated spout. Some styles and variations have partial or whole covers over the feeder. Many invalid feeders were often made of porcelain. The feeder portion was filled with a liquid or some semi-soft food, and the spout placed into the mouth and then slowly poured down. The different spout styles and feeder covers help to approximate when it was made. The curved spout style of the invalid feeder roughly dates from 1875 through the 1880s. This fairly common tool in home health care was used in many American homes and by nurses alike until 1930. Increasing legislation against invalid feeders around WWI was based on a growing knowledge and reform of sanitary medical practices, and these legal prohibitions finally ended their use in America.
These gadgets are just a few examples of items, which were created and designed to help us lighten or just accomplish our work load. Although technology may alter their appearances, many still serve the same basic functions and needs. These few household artifacts provide a revealing glimpse into the daily domestic work of women and children and also remind us of these individuals’ humanity through their search for improving the circumstances.
These items and many more are part of The Household Gadgets Suitcase Museum Trunk of the Sandusky Library Follett House Museum, made possible by a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.