By Tom McGehee
Museum Home Director
Following Mrs. Bellingrath’s death in 1943, Walter Bellingrath hired a local antiques dealer to inventory the contents of his home. Nell Curran had sold Mrs. Bellingrath a number of pieces in the collection and in writing the inventory she added comments about many of these beautiful and unique objects.
But it was not just the fine antiques she inventoried. When she came to the kitchen she listed the contents of all those cabinets, answering the question posed by many of our guests.
Pots and Pans
The list includes saucepans, a pressure cooker, double boilers, pots, several roasters (including three stored in the oven), biscuit pans, cookie pans, pie plates, cake pans (both round and square), a tea kettle, a coffee urn and three coffee pots. Interestingly, the vast majority are described as having been made of aluminum, and in several cases the familiar Wear-Ever brand is mentioned.
Wear-Ever aluminum cookware was introduced in 1903 and forever changed the American kitchen. Up until that time cookware was largely cast iron and besides being heavy, it was prone to rust. The use of aluminum changed all of that.
The only cast iron to be found in the kitchen in 1943 was a Dutch oven, a graduated set of frying pans and two pans for cornbread shaped like corn.
In addition to metal cooking implements were some items made of Pyrex glass, including a double boiler, an electric percolator, three mixing bowls in graduating sizes and 28 “individual bakers” or ramekins. Pyrex was created in Corning, New York in 1915 and was used for laboratory equipment as well as kitchenware. Opaque glass was added in the 1930s.
There were a number of pieces of kitchen equipment listed, including three meat grinders, a potato ricer, a flour sifter, a churn, a glass rolling pin, two large strainers on stands, a kitchen scale, a pair of ice cream freezers, three electric waffle irons and a Sunbeam Mixmaster. The Mixmaster had been introduced in 1930 and became so popular that it was immortalized on a U.S. postage stamp in 1998.
Also stored in the cabinets were a “leather lunch kit” with two Thermos bottles, six Thermos pitchers with matching trays and “a large Thermos cooler for bottled drinks.” The Thermos brand name has been a household word since being coined in 1903, and derived from the Greek word for heat.
Those Thermos pitchers would have been filled each evening with ice water for the bedrooms in the Bellingrath Home – a reminder that air conditioning had not yet arrived and an electric fan and a glass of ice water made those summer nights more bearable.
Sadly, little of all that kitchenware survives. There is a breadbox, a chrome percolator, a tea kettle, the kitchen scales and a couple of the Thermos pitchers. The remainder of all the items once so necessary for a busy kitchen apparently vanished long ago.
Learn more stories about the Bellingrath collection at Tom McGehee’s Wonderful Wednesday talk, “The Bellingrath Collection: Provenance,” on Wednesday, June 10, 2020, at 10:30 a.m. Registration is required in advance; to register, please call 251-459-8868.