In my years as a boy growing up and in the years since, the need for such a piece of furniture was something in great demand. As a matter of fact in those years past when I worked for several of the farmers around the area I would see one in almost every cook’s kitchen. It was a necessity to any lady who was an accomplished cook and maybe it even lent her an assist in her cooking.
You see in the old homes and I know in ours for certain, the kitchens were built minus cabinetry as todays kitchens would never be built without. So up until close to the mid-century mark cabinets and cupboards had to be bought and placed in a kitchen. So at about the turn of the century a man in Indiana named Maring designed and had his corporation build a cabinet just for the needs of a kitchen. He named it a Hoosier Cabinet. This cabinet caught on and is still a cabinet that is built but in these times it is more to have than to need.
When I was growing up back in the 50’s and 60’s the Hoosier was a must if there was much cooking to be done, I know my mom worked daily at her Hoosier and she even found one on a very cheap sale (15.00 I think she paid .) This gave her two that she put to great use. In one of these cabinets the lower part had a pair of doors where supplies and pans could be stored and a drawer of a good size that in one had a metal container in it. This mom used to store bread in to keep it fresh. I think maybe sugar could be kept there if so desired.
At counter level was an enamel working surface where the work took place. With the enamel the surface was great for food preparations. Just above the counter were three doors. These were narrower than the ones below. The double doored one was again a place to store cooking supplies and spices. The door on the left held a metal container that was a flour bin that was hinged so as to allow it to come out of the cabinet and swing into a place over the counter where a person could place a bowl under the container and by removing a cap on the bottom and turning a crank on its right side the cook would crank until she had the flour she needed. The flour bin to me was the part that fascinated me the most. The bin held maybe ten pounds of flour or more. If I was behaving mom would let me crank the four out for her. (With her supervision of course.)
Now with two Hoosiers mom could double on her supply of flour and this allowed her during busy times in a year to not have to stop and run to the store for more. That to her was very wasted time I guess. It is safe to say that almost every cook I ever saw had and used their Hoosier and they used it to prepare the finest foods that have ever been prepared. I to this day don’t see how a bunch of hungry farm hands were going to get that homemade bread or yeast rolls made as well. Or that crust for that apple or peach pie either. No it is safe to say the Hoosier cabinet and the country cooks were definitely made to complement each other.
When my parents moved away from the farm and newer homes and even the old ones were appearing with new cabinets and Formica counters the demand for a Hoosier dropped drastically. In most cases they were not thrown away as they still provided a form of storage and storage can always be used. But they began to show up in the summer kitchens or utility rooms etc… Mom still took one Hoosier to Bethel with them and either out of still needing it or respect for the years of service she never got rid of it. When I married and we began our housekeeping in the old farm house my wife inherited the other one mom had. Since we had new cabinets and counters my wife used it as a storage cabinet. An interesting fact on the cabinet was that the lower portion was made as an ice box. The walls are lined in insulation 4” thick and I will tell you it is the heaviest piece of furniture we ever owned and still is. You see to this day we still have it. It now resides in the garage and works great for storing my items I use to refinish furniture with. As a matter of fact the ice box part works great at keeping my stains and polyurethanes from freezing.
Yes we still have it and it is still in the enamel green paint that covers most of them and yes it still has the decals that go on the doors. It is for sure an item that screams I am from the 1950’s! By the way we have a second one in the breezeway to our home. It has been refinished back to its natural wood finish but it too serves as a great item to store things in. When my dad retired he took up refinishing furniture and one time at an auction he bought a group of the Hoosier cabinets and refinished them all. Since he had so many he gave us that one. He said he got caught up in the frenzy of the auction and felt it was a case of oversell. (He got caught up in the oversell frenzies often.)
These days a Hoosier cabinet is a piece of furniture that is purchased so the buyer can put it on display for all to see. To look at one and realize that that was once the state of the art must have item for the kitchen can be somewhat challenging to believe. Thing is it was and I guess that is the main word to this story.(was) It really is a simple built item yet it delivered the lion’s share of what went on in the kitchen. Based on what I recall was prepared on them for me to eat I can only say how thankful Mr. Maring invented them!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.