Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Kitchen: Memories and Memories

A conversation with my husband today got me thinking about kitchens and the ones that left an impression on me.It is funny how one thing--in this case a large preserving kettle in an antique shop--will spur a memory and lead to remembering long-forgotten places, people, or things.
Me, first Christmas in this house, 1976. That's my
first Tappan stove in the background. The house
was nowhere near finished yet.

The kettle reminded me of the neighbor we called "Grandma" Compton. She wasn't my grandmother, of course. My grandmothers lived in England and New Orleans. But she suggested to my mother that we children call her that, even though to be honest she was a little frightening to us. She was, we thought, really old. Now I realize Grandma Compton was probably about the age I am now, possibly a few years older. Her deep, rich voice intimidated any child thinking of mischief, and her eyes didn't seem to miss a thing.

(This memory of Grandma Compton's kitchen is sharing space with some pics of the evolution of my kitchen here in this house I built with my first husband 40 years ago.)

 We didn't go to her house often; in fact, I can only remember being there twice. Once was with my mother for some kind of party event where pretty things were shown by a lady to a group of other ladies, and the pretties were passed around for everyone to see. I don't remember what the things were, but I remember trying to keep one of them until my mother's firm voice told me to pass it on.

About 1979, pretty tired from canning all summer and getting
ready for my parents' second visit. Things were a little more
finished, but no electricity yet.
The second visit is the one I remember most clearly. Grandma Compton had come up to our house with a large, steaming preserving kettle--the blue-black speckled kind--full of the most heavenly-smelling applesauce. In her booming voice she suggested my mother send me down to get more apples, as she had more of them than she could work up.

So a little bit later I was shyly knocking on the door of the big white Victorian house two doors down
from us and shaking a bit when a loud voice called "Come on in!" I made my way timidly through the dark hallway with its looming oak hall tree and wide stairs that disappeared in darkness above me. "Come in, come in!" the voice boomed again, and then I was in the kitchen.

About 1982. My parents were visiting for
the third time, bringing English family
with them. Still no electricity, and the Tappan
had given up and was replaced by this stove that
I came to hate.
And what a kitchen it was. A cast-iron, white porcelain sink with a high backsplash was on one wall, and another wall was covered by tall dark wood cabinets with beadboard doors at the bottom and glass doors at the top that reached all the way to the ceiling 12 feet above. Windows looked out to a sunroom and gardens beyond. The smell of spicy applesauce filled the room, wafting from steaming kettles on a large old-fashioned porcelain stove that stood on curving legs. A large aluminum kettle added its own heat to the room as it boiled away on another burner.

Grandma Compton's sharp eyes saw me and she said, "Hello there. You've come for the apples, I expect." I could only nod, my voice completely trapped in my throat."

She clumped over to the door that led to the back porch and lifted a brown bag full of apples, bringing it over to where I stood like a statue. "Will you help your mother with these?"

I nodded quickly and swallowed. "Yes ma'am," I squeaked.

She smiled. "Well then, get along home now." I scurried out of there and up the walk with the heavy bags, my feet seeming to grow wings.

Early 1986, when I was working fulltime as a security guard in
Charleston. That year I had my 5th son, and in 3 years I would be a
 sophomore in college, and we would finally have electricity.
I can still see that kitchen in my mind, with the crockery bowls on the shelves in the cabinet and Grandma Compton in her full apron and sturdy black lace-up shoes with their chunky one-inch heels. And I think now she would have liked it if I had stayed and talked, for she lived alone. I also think her kitchen is part of what inspired my love of vintage kitchen tools and crockery from the 1930's-1950's.

What about you? Is there a kitchen that stays vividly in your mind, one that brings back emotions and even smells when you think of it?

And another thought: Where does the word kitchen come from anyway? According to Wiktionary

My wood cookstove, which I finally sold
2 years ago.
"From Middle English kytchen, kichene, küchen, from Old English cyċen, cyċene (“kitchen; cooking; cuisine”), from Proto-Germanic *kukinǭ (“kitchen”), a borrowing from Vulgar Latin cucīna, from Latin coquīna (“kitchen; cuisine”), from coquō (“to cook”), from Proto-Indo-European *pekʷ- (“to cook, become ripe”). Germanic cognates include Saterland Frisian Köäkene (“kitchen”), West Frisian koken (“kitchen”), Dutch keuken (“kitchen”), German Low German Köken (“kitchen”), German Küche (“kitchen”), Danish køkken (“kitchen”). Romance cognates include French cuisine (borrowed into English cuisine), Italian cucina, and Spanish cocina. In other languages, the cognate term often refers both to the room and the type of cooking. In English, the distinction is generally made via the etymological twins kitchen (“room”) (of Germanic origin) and cuisine (“type of cooking”) (from French)."

My kitchen today, with another beloved Tappan range:

For a fascinating look at kitchens through the ages, check out these sites:

Wayfair's Kitchens Through the Ages.

This Old House's American Kitchens Through the Ages

If vintage stoves are your thing, this post on Old House Online is a fun browse.

I am looking forward to reading about your favorite kitchens in the comments!

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Debbie Couture said...

Your kitchen looks like a Granny's kitchen. It's very inviting. Great memories in this blog. What I remember from neighbors kitchens growing up is the pan of corn bread to snack on after dinner. They never cared if I helped myself to a piece.

Granny Sue said...

Cornbread! I can't remember having it when I was young. I wonder if Mom ever made it. We didn't have the kind of neighbors that we could run in and out--most of them were fairly elderly and we must have been a thorn in their side a lot of the time, LOL!

Nance said...

I like kitchens, back rooms and back stoops and kitchen porches. Don't know why. Enjoyed this post and watching the progression of Sue and of the kitchen. I am following the Li is you put in. TY

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