Today's Supermarket

A Fairyland Compared To Grocery Store of 1890

"I saw it happen-- the modern miracle of the supermarket," Mrs. O. B. Clase, of Warsaw, told a homemakers' conference at Purdue University recently.

Know affectionately as "Aunt Lottie" by countless families who used to read her columns in county and Farm Bureau papers, she looked very pretty in a black embroidered cotton dress, red hat and matching shoes, as she charmed and enlightened the audience with a review of market changes observed in the past 60 years.

Her talk, with a vivid description of the markets she knew as a child in Kosciusko County, is given in excerpts as follows:

"Back in 1890's my parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Butler, and I went to town or village once a week to do our trading. We took accumulation of butter, eggs, with perhaps a few vegetables or berries in season, and traded them for our week's supply of groceries."

"Riding to market in an open, horse-drawn wagon posed the problem of keeping eggs and vegetables fresh and the butter from becoming liquid in summer. It was my job to sit in back and hold an umbrella to shade the produce which was packed in wet linen and pie plant leaves."

"The old wooden store was heated in winter by a wood stove; in summer it was cooled not by air conditioning, but by open doors and unscreened windows. Sure, flies a-plenty! Horses tied to hitching racks stomped flies and raised thick, odorous dust from the gutter to settle on open boxed and barrels of fruit and vegetables displayed on the sidewalk."

"Our hickory basket of eggs and stone crocks of butter were carried in over sawdust sprinkled floors. Eggs were counted, the butter weighed, smelled, tasted and carried to the musty back room to be stored in an old lake-ice chest or floated in an open tub of ice water good butter and bad butter, all together, waiting to be sold to some homemaker in town. Butter that day was selling for 8 cents a pound, eggs for 7 cents a dozen."

"Cockroaches and mice were quite numerous. How did I know? Well, I just tagged along with the groceryman and I saw a good deal like the cat that slept in the open cracker barrel, folks with dirty hands idly letting coffee beans run through their fingers back into the open bin while they stood visiting, loafers snitching smidgens of cheese from the uncovered supply on the counter."

"A collected mass of shirts, socks, thread, buttons, bolts of cloth, and tinware were displayed with kerosene lanterns nestling alongside. Hams and slobs of bacon hung from the ceiling."

"That day our food brought all of 93 cents. For it we received in trade three pounds of sugar at 25 cents; one pound of coffee at 15 cents; one gallon of kerosene, with a potato stopper for the spout, 10 cents; rice, 10 cents; one pound of crackers, 10 cents; one pair of work socks, 10 cents; and three sticks of carefully selected peppermint candy, three cents. That was it!"

"Seldom did we exceed out food budget or run a store bill. It was the pride of every thrifty homemaker to make her butter and egg money set the table (with the help of produce grown at home) and also buy everyday clothes needed for the family."

"After a few years, when the farm family began to raise pickles, onions and tomatoes for the canning factories, harvesting crops by hand (oh, our aching backs), it did help the pocketbook."

"We began to see changes new things on the grocery shelves, which were cleaner now; mosquito bar tacked over windows; fly and mouse traps; food in better condition because transportation had improved and fast freight cars were iced."

"It was the year of traveling salesmen with huge trunks full of new things from Chicago and Cincinnati wholesale houses. How I loved to be at the store when one of those dapper salesmen opened his treasure chest. All eyes and ears and probably open-mouthed too, much to my mother's embarrassment, I usually hung around until I got a taste of something which was out of this world."

"With the advent of the cream or milk checks, we could afford a few so-called luxury items like the figs and dates displayed in huge blocks right out on the counter for all to see and taste. If a small girl looked wistful enough, she might rate a sample. To me they were ambrosia, if a bit gritty."

"My first meeting with green olives, spread from a clean glass keg at the invitation of the grinning grocer, was disastrous. I started out with relish, but the longer I chewed the bigger those olives got. I lost the olives and learned a lesson. Mother was a great one to point out quietly the folly of being greedy."

"However, she bought a bit of all the new things so we could taste at home and not look hungry in public. I think that's why I've always enjoyed food research."

The speaker concluded with this summary: "Influenced by many factors, including electric refrigeration and consumer education, the revolution in food processing, packaging and marketing has produced a fabulous fairyland which is the modern supermarket. We may not approve all the changes but we certainly don't yearn for the 'good old days'."

Mrs. Clase and her husband, a retired farmer, have a boat livery and plain little fishing camp on Muskelonge Lake, south of Warsaw where they've fixed up a half-dozen old school busses for their customers to live in.

They enjoy making new friends and having old favorites return. Guests are mostly Hoosiers but one of their nicest families is from Hawaii. When they aren't otherwise occupied they like to work with ceramics and raise unusual plants. Mrs. Clase helps in the garden and does textile painting as a hobby.

Years ago she was the second president of the County Home Demonstration Council. This year one of her daughters, Mrs. Dean Brown of Warsaw, holds the position. Another daughter Mrs. Dallis Berry, lives in Jackson, Mich. The Clase clan has four grandsons and one granddaughter.

Warsaw Times-Union Saturday, July 25, 1959

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