Ah, yes, an old Australian meat safe. Shabby, rustic, weathered and time worn this one is in the kitchen. Love this piece just as I love this primitive farmhouse cupboard with attic finish also in the kitchen lounge room.
It is an Australian farmhouse style cupboard, a style that’s been around since colonial times. While meat safes were a staple in kitchens in times past they are less common these days though not extinct by any means.
They were basically like this one, a square rectangular design usually taller than wide but not always. If there was no drawer in the middle (this one has the drawer), you would usually see a long narrow front door or a pair of doors that opened like French doors. This cupboard has the 2 smaller doors to accommodate the wide middle drawer.
They were rarely embellished with decorative motifs. Plain, simple and functional – the workhorse storage facility. I talked about another primitive meat safe cupboard with patina here.
You can see that ventilation works through the wire gauze (fly screen), the modern version of fly wire. It’s the perforated thin metal sheets seen here inserted in both door frames in lieu of a full solid wood door. You can see in this piece, that some frames have old fly wire, some have the metal sheets.
Historically, these cupboards were for protecting meat and other food perishables from heat and insects mainly flies. In the early days there was little if any refrigeration and fresh meat had to be cooked when obtained or preserved via salting, smoking or drying. It was then placed in the meat safe. I learn that the earliest meat safes, while they were timber framed, had hessian (burlap) or canvas stretched on the sides and frames which was water soaked to act as an evaporative coolant.
Normally called a meat safe in Australia, I have heard it referred to as a pie safe, jelly cupboard or pantry cupboard in other places especially the USA. I don’t think I heard a cupboard like this referred to as a’meat safe’ in the USA. That’s not to say people didn’t. I didn’t hear it.
Top is flat.
The small vignette on top has vintage tins, a stoneware wine or oil jug and a rustic wine barrel and that’s a little dried gourd from our garden. On and off we grow heirloom pumpkins and squash including Jack o Lanterns.
The real thing here: shabby crackle and crazing white paint.
Square and rectangular. Straight legged. Wooden handles. Rusty butterfly latches.
Quintessentially primitive with an attic finish that nobody could replicate and the right colour too! I love all shades of whites and creams especially when aged, worn and drab.
When I saw the piece I almost squealed and thought wow, I must have it! It would provide the extra storage space I needed plus it had a drawer, a feature not found in many old meat safes and the doors opened the right way from left to right, perfect for the spot I had in mind. Of course I knew it would complement our rustic farmhouse style kitchen especially the rusty ironmongery and cast iron wood stove.
But then I thought, “Karen, you don’t need another old cupboard. You have a shed full of old furniture and stuff!” I went home and couldn’t get it out of my mind. You know what that’s like? Just couldn’t.
Above all it was homely and brought back a sense of humbleness. It brought back memories of days gone by when all homes had at least one meat safe. Our mums, grans and great grannies our aunts and great aunts used them for storing preserves, canned fruit, jams and jellies and of course meat and other perishables.
I also thought what company it would provide as in a piece of history and that it works in so well with our farmhouse kitchen.
A few days later, after organising the purchase over the phone, off I went to collect it. Loaded it on, tied it down and came home. Deal done. These beauties, while strong and sturdy, are generally not heavy or difficult to move because the sides and front are not solid wood. I slid it on and off the ute on its back and used a sack trolly to move it around. Easy.
Fly wire was most common in these cabinets in Australia. The wire gauze came later.
The two images above show both ventilation mediums. This one shows old fly wire and the one above, perforated lightweight tin gauze. The ventilation mediums are inserted into the frames and attached via thin moulding or trim as you see. This meat safe actually has both mediums revealing a repair and replacement somewhere along the line.
That this piece has been well used, repaired and fixed. That it’s been loved and used over and over goes to its pedigree in my mind. In earlier days, things had to be fixed as there wasn’t always a shop to run out to and buy a new piece even if the owner had the money. It was frugality, make do and do it yourself.
I wonder who owned it? Who made it? What house did it call home? How was it used? If only it could talk. How many mothers and grandmothers used it? How many children grew up around it? When was it made and who crafted it? I wonder who painted it and where has it been all these years? Tell me your ancestry please ….
Of course these days they are used for many things other than as a pantry and for food storage. Simply a testament to their versatility and never ending usefulness.
I use the top half for storing some grocery items. Good for stoneware crocks, urns and canisters, for agee jars, fowlers or mason jars. Or things like books, linen, fabrics, clothes, sewing supplies, toys or for work shed and gardening tools or even for use in the laundry, the bathroom or on the back veranda. Great for wine storage! So versatile.
What draws me to these sorts of objects? This cupboard has a charm and beauty that goes beyond functionality. It has one of the things I love in the primitive and rustic style: the distressed chippy paint and textured finish, the utmost in shabbiness.
It also makes a rustic shelf for display.
Rusty butterfly latch turns to keep the door shut. Wooden handle. Not sure that the latch and the rounded handles are original.
Lovely finish, texture.
I can’t help myself when it comes to old painted furniture, the primitive look, the attic surface, the wear and tear on these needful objects.
Nothing fancy about this meat safe. Necessity and self sufficiency were its reasons for being. Not decor.
Anybody remember the old meat safe cot? I do. The cat’s would sneak in and curl up. They felt safe. No I don’t have one but the cats would love one out on the side veranda!