Called the California Cooler, this very specific sort of cupboard was California's answer to the root cellar (and an old-school sort of refrigerator). It was a popular pantry variation in homes and apartments constructed in the beginning of the 20th century.
Read on for details on how it works and why it might be a good idea to bring it back!
The California Cooler takes advantage of the West Coast's temperate climate by offering a pantry unit that has screen covered vents to let in cool outside air. Located on an outside wall of the kitchen, the cooler's openings have downward facing louvers on the outside to allow in air while at the same time keeping out the rain and screen or mesh covers on the inside to keep out insects. Occasionally, the cooler is not on the outside wall, but vented into a basement or arishaft. The shelves are also screen material, or wooden with holes drilled into them for circulation.
As the refrigerator came into common use, many California Coolers were covered over or converted to regular shelving. But today they are popular again, offering a cool, well-ventilated place to store fruits, vegetables and other pantry items. Some people claim that fruits and vegetables last longer in the cooler, a lot like they would in a root cellar, which is often not an option in California. It's not likely that California Coolers will replace refrigerators entirely but they do offer a clean, off the grid alternative for food storage. And that's not a bad thing!
For more information and photographs, visit these links. Be sure to read the comments where there is a lot of interesting California Cooler lore:
• Remodelista's kitchen remodel featuring a California Cooler
• Thy Tran's article in Bay Area Bites
• The Petch House
Related: A Communal Kitchen
(Image: Thy Tran from Bay Area Bites)