Those of you who remember International Harvester (IH) farm equipment may also recall the company’s fridges and freezers — and maybe Irma Harding too.
Postwar rural electrification was in full swing and farmhomes were installing freezers in the late 1940s when IH, maker of cream separators since the 1880s, seized upon another opportunity to sell home food production equipment.
In 1947, International Harvester developed refrigerator and freezer lines and created Irma Harding as a “live trademark” much like Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima, to help with their marketing. She was, in fact, a composite character of home economists hired by IH to test recipes and answer customers’ queries from the test kitchens of its Evansville Indiana plant. Her face appeared on all the company’s advertising and packaging, and her name on company cookbooks an all-female team of 70 home economists and saleswomen took on the road with them to educate homemakers about freezing and preserving food.
Irma Harding was introduced in 1948, and proclaimed in an October edition of International Harvester Dealer News that year as someone farm women could trust.
The sales pitch worked, and plenty of fridges and freezers were sold in both Canada and the U.S. (I’m not 100 per cent certain of this but I believe my parents’ fridge was an International Harvester.)
But it was not to last. IH struggled financially in the postwar years, and eventually sold its domestic refrigeration division to Whirlpool in the late 1950s.
As most farmers know, some 30 years later, Case would acquire selected assets of IH’s agricultural equipment operations.
Their farm equipment maker is now promoting Canning, Pickling and Freezing with Irma Harding a new 250-page instructional how-to and recipe book that’s sure to interest those who love all things retro, and and share the widespread and renewed interest in “old-fashioned” food preservation.
Irma Harding’s persona “lived on in interesting and weird ways,” says Sarah Pickett, licensing and merchandising manager with Case IH in Racine, Wisconsin. While doing research for the book, for instance, she discovered food bloggers across the U.S. still chatting about “what would Irma think?”
Sarah says she didn’t actually have a recipe book in mind when she first went in search of collector vintage items such as posters and packaging related to the Irma Harding era. Case IH markets merchandise such as tableware, quilt fabric and baskets that bear Irma’s image.
It was Octane Press, publisher of the recipe book, that helped them see the potential to wed the intriguing story as part of the company’s history with revived interest in home food preservation, she says.
“People are very interested now in canning and pickling and preserving, and it was just kind of a fun way to put a spin on it,” says Sarah.
“This recipe book captures the spirit of what Irma Harding was created to do — educate people on freezing and preserving foods for future use. In the past, canning, pickling and freezing were used out of necessity. Today, there’s a renewed interest in these “old-fashioned” food preservation techniques. This recipe book has something to offer everyone, from the experienced canner to a beginner.”
- More recipes from the Manitoba Co-operator: Three Seed Yogurt Muffins and Buckwheat Shepherd’s Pie
Canning, Pickling and Freezing with Irma Harding – Recipes to Preserve Food, Family and the American Way is written by canning expert and food writer Marilyn McCray, and includes step-by-step illustrations for up-to-date preservation techniques, including the basics of canning, pickling and freezing, as well as smoking and curing fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.
You’ll also find in it 124 new recipes and loads of nostalgic images of Irma Harding and IH’s gorgeous retro fridges (sold in all colours or with custom fabric you could use to match your kitchen decor!)
The recipe book is available for purchase online from Case IH and Octane Press. You can also contact your local Case IH dealers for more information.
Carrot Cake Jam
- 1-1/2 c. finely grated peeled carrots
- 1-1/2 c. peeled, cored, and chopped pears
- 1-3/4 c. canned pineapple, including juice
- 3 tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1 pkg. (1-3/4 oz.) powdered fruit pectin
- 6-1/2 c. granulated sugar
In large stainless steal saucepan, combine carrots, pears, pineapple with juice, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat, cover and gently boil for 20 minutes stirring frequently. Remove from heat and whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard, stirring constantly for one minute. Remove from heat and skim off foam. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving about 1/4 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if necessary by adding hot jam. Wipe jar rims. Centre lids on jars, screw bands down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes adjusting for altitude. Remove canner lid, wait five minutes, then remove jars. Cool and store.
Yield: About 6 half-pints.
Source: Canning, Pickling and Freezing with Irma Harding by Marilyn McCray, 2014. Reprinted by permission of Octane Press.