Ice treats

There’s been a bit of a hiatus at Rhubarb Sago, while we moved house.

We’re now in a Geelong suburb settled in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Out walking, I came across this sign on the wall of an old shop front. It’s hard to be sure, but I reckon it could date back to the 1930s based on the prices and products. It’s easy enough to work out what ice cream wafers and milk and fruit blocks are, but the the ‘Kelvees’ at the top of this list were a mystery. So I did a bit of searching.

In December 1933 ‘A new deal for the hot weather‘ in the Adelaide Advertiser anounced the arrival of the Kelvee.

For relief from summer heat people look for something new at small cost to meet the times. This want is being filled admirably by Kelvinator owners who have been equipped and licensed by Mechanical Products Limited for the manufacture of Kelvee Hygienic Fruit Blocks, a frozen confection made to proved recipes.

(You’ve got to hand it to 1930s advertising, co-opting Franklin’s 1933 New Deal for advertising ice confection.)

So a shopkeeper with a shiny new Kelvinator could freeze their own flavoured ice blocks on site, and the result was a Kelvee. Commercial Kelvinators also came with ‘beverage arms’ to serve icy cold drinks.  You can imagine that in the early thirties a machine like this was probably a licence to print money in the Australian summer. Although the article’s claims that local sales of up to 3000 Kelvees a day could be achieved still seems a bit ambitious.

Based on newspaper advertising, the Kelvee doesn’t appear to have travelled very far outside South Australia, or much beyond the 1930s, in spite of clearly making it to at least one Geelong shop. I guess it was only a Kelvee if you had a Kelvinator – otherwise it was probably just an ice block. Plenty of shops were making those by the mid-1930s, and children were lapping them up.

The ad’s emphasis on ‘hygienic’ makes sense when you remember that local shopkeepers were making these ice blocks in their own premises to their own recipes, and many people felt food adulteration was a worry. In 1936, a string of east coast country newspapers reported that some children had been made sick when Perth shop keepers froze half pennies into ice blocks to attract sales. The local Perth account of the same incident suggests the coins weren’t the culprits, but the fact the report did the rounds in the east suggest people were susceptible to worry about what went into in-shop produced foods. Or maybe that Perth was simply far enough away and foreign enough for it to be believable.

As the thirties progressed more families had their own refrigerators, and recipes for making your own fruit and milk ice blocks were being published.

But really, 80 years later, nothing still beats the home made ice block made in your freezer with lemon cordial, does it?

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