Food Cooling Methods for the Plains Settlers

Food cooling methods on the homestead made plains settlers be smart about how they'd use what they had to keep their supplies fresh.

Content Tools

Plains settlers had to be resourceful when it came to food cooling methods. Check out these three cool stories of how homesteading families got it done.

Solar Cooling  

Ninety years ago, on a farm in Iowa, my grandparents used the sun to keep foods cool.

On a hot day, Grandmother would partially fill a tub of water and in the center she would put a crock or vessel of some kind containing the milk, butter, or other foods she wished to "refrigerate." She would place a lid on the crock, then cover it with a piece of blanket, making sure the edges fell into the water. The cover was doused well with water and the blanket was re-wet frequently. In a few hours, the contents of the crock would be cool as a result of the sun's evaporation of the water. 

Mary Margaret Thompson 
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Wet-sand Cooler  

Water was plentiful in the sand hills of Yuma County, Colorado, where my father homesteaded, and we did not have to go deep to find a good supply. We had a big 50-gallon wood barrel buried in the ground, and we kept the sand around the barrel damp so that milk and butter we held in the barrel would be cool.

Although water was plentiful in the ground, it was scarce for deer and other animals. Coyotes and jackrabbits thrived; there were lots of them. 

Mabel G. Riddle 
Reynolds, Nebraska

Milk Cache Under the Floor  

When Mother had no place to keep milk cool on our homestead in Custer County, Oklahoma, she dug a hole in the floor of the dugout under the dining table. It was big enough to hold three one-gallon crocks. She put milk in the jars, laid plates over the top, and covered them with a wet cloth. Then she put a board over the hole so we would not kick dirt into it while we were eating at the table.

She declared the milk kept about as well there as it did in the refrigerator she used in later years. 

T. C. Stanley 
Elk City, Oklahoma


Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.