As the Heart of the Home, kitchens have served as tea rooms and restaurants, a place for family and guests to warm up from the heat of the cook stove, and now as extended family rooms.
Were food and conversation always as natural a pair as they are in contemporary kitchens? Who was the traditional cook? What food was prepared and where did it come from?
The responses to these questions have changed significantly over and over again in the last 200 years as the kitchen, customs and food preparation has evolved.
Kitchens have come a long way since the days of cooking over an open fire. The invention of the stove and access to indoor plumbing transformed kitchens beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries. In larger homes, kitchens were built in a separate sunken floor building to keep the main building free from smoke.
Water was brought in from a well or a spring before the infrastructure was invented that provided for indoor plumbing.
When more families lived on farms, their food preparation depended on the weather. Farmhouses had summer kitchens reserved for canning. Every decade since in the 1920s, kitchen design has changed. Kitchen design not only leads into how residents prepare their meals, but how they eat them too. The island blocks in kitchens sometimes become the seat of casual dining as well as work areas.
When beginning research on your kitchen, the people, the uses, the food and the traditions, don’t overlook the story associated with an old-fashioned or unusual kitchen utensil. Sometimes a unique utensil has a forgotten past, so you may find yourself creating a whole new story to tell. Make it an adventure to discover the real purpose of an unusual kitchen utensil that was long hidden away. You may wander into an antique shop or thrift store and say, “Mom used to make … using this utensil. I haven’t seen one of these in years.”
Want to know more about what went on in your kitchen? Take a look at these questions to get you started:
- How did the food get to the table?
- Who raised the food?
- What is the decade when the kitchen was built?
- Who was the chef in your home? Where did they shop?
- What was the role of the kitchen in your family? In your neighborhood?
- Were there any unique design considerations for your kitchen?
- Research the use of older appliances, odd kitchen tools and cookbooks.
- Find the stories of the family dinner table, cookware, favorite foods, special recipes, holidays, celebrations or traditions.
- Are there distinctive marks on the tabletops, counters or cabinets that might represent an untold or forgotten story?
You never know where a cookbook, a utensil or a drawer with contents you haven’t seen in years might lead you.