Folk Object: An Heirloom 1880s Bread Maker

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Polish-Dutch-French-American
Age: 22
Occupation: Student
Residence: Pasadena, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2012
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Ever since a young age, (it seems that most folklore is transferred at an early age) my informant has known about this piece of furniture that has been dear to her family for generations.  Her grandmother and mother told her about the significance of the old bread maker, called a “hoosier cabinet,” that her mother has moved from house to house, city to city.  She says that she learned more information from her mother though, since her grandmother “was kind of out of it” from old age.

“It was made at the turn of the century, during the Industrial Revolution.  It was the first production-made cooking appliance, called a “hoosier cabinet,” from Pennsylvania.  I have no idea why they’re called “hoosiers,” but they’ve been called that for a long time now… It required a lot of metal parts; it had a metal funnel to sift flour, hinges for cabinets, a metal countertop… Do you know those “roll top desks?”  Well, this cabinet had roll top windows to keep utensils, rolling pins and other cooking tools, but it was designed to bake bread…  And it was the first compact idea of that.

“So in the 1880s my mom’s side of the family got one of these and in every generation since then, it’s been given to the best cook.  Right now, I have it in my dining room at my parent’s house.  Traditionally, it was painted white, white-washed white… like Tom Sawyer white.  But I guess in the 50s, the cabinet was refinished, so now it shows the wood.  But anyways, it followed down my mom’s side of the family, and reached my grandmother because she was the best cook, and then to my mom because she was the best cook among her cousins and sisters in her generation.  I recently found out that now the cabinet is going to me!  I guess it’s designated in my parents’ will.”

My informant explained that this was the first item that really has sentimental value for her.  It had been passed down so many generations, she felt really honored to have it: “It really is a big deal for me… I love to cook, but never thought I was the best at it in my family… I have a lot of ladies in my generation, two sisters and a lot of cousins… It’s has been a symbol of motherhood, care-giving and… maturity for so long and I feel like I’ve earned it… It’s really special.”  She then told me that when her parents owned a house in Cedar Glen, Lake Arrowhead, every single childhood thing she had – photos, toys, old VHS home videos – were lost during a forest fire that devoured their house.  It has been the piece of furniture that she has grown up with and the fact that it has such a rich history means the world to her.  She says that she can’t wait to pass it on to one of her children.  Because the story and sentimental value of the “hoosier cabinet” has transcended multiple generations, it has continued to connect her to her family and her family history.  It truly is a folk object.