Friday, March 27, 2020

Covid Journal, Day 13: Kitchens

50 this morning, rain threatening. We gloried in the sun and warmth yesterday, putting down the rest of the mulch we bought a couple weeks ago (how will we get more? a dilemma for sure), and generally puttering around.

I have been thinking about kitchens lately. If you've been a reader for very long, you know how my kitchen is. It's old-fashioned, I suppose you could say. There is no granite or brushed stainless steel, the floor is pine and the cabinets are handmade.

My kitchen last fall after apple butter day

My stove is a 1950 model Tappan and just last summer we had to give up our natural gas refrigerator for an electric one (bought used). There is a large antique pantry cupboard,

a Depression-era buffet, a pie cupboard I use to store my "good" china, another large antique storage cabinet for large canning pots and such,

and a small table I use as a desk that came out of a Masonic Lodge in Ohio and is quite old. With the desk is an Eastlake chair given to me by a neighbor, and in the center of the room is a porcelain top table and 4 chairs, only 3 of which match.

 One one wall are three shelves that hold our everyday dishes, bowls, pitchers, etc.

An older photo of the kitchen, with the wall shelves in the background.
Pots, pans, and utensils hang over the stove and over another handmade cabinet. There is also a Hoosier-style cabinet in the kitchen, and from the ceiling beams hang baskets, a scale and my apple butte kettle.

It's not fancy, that's certain. And yet it's the kitchen I want. I have never hankered after a modern, stylish kitchen. I think the reason I am satisfied with my inconvenient kitchen has to do with my childhood.

I grew up on a street lined with Victorian-era homes in Manassas, Virginia. The kitchen in our house was a large, square room with a high ceiling. When we moved in there was an old-fashioned porcelain-over-cast-iron sink on one wall and on another wall a tall, dark brown built-in cabinet. There was a chimney in this kitchen that had been plastered over, the hole for a stovepipe that would have gone to a wood or coal cookstove covered over by a metal flue cover. The flooring was linoleum, the old asphalt kind, and there was a domed Frigidaire refrigerator. One round light fixture in the ceiling was turned on by a round switch on the wall that had to be turned clockwise to turn it on or off.

That's all I remember being in that kitchen when we moved in, in 1956. Mom added a porcelain top table that was there until they moved away, and Dad built a corner cabinet and a spice rack, and somewhere found a butcher-block top cabinet to go beside the stove; the stove and that cabinet sat at right angles to the chimney, making a sort of island. Soon after we moved in Dad tore out the tall, brown, scary cabinets (they were so dark inside, and the bottom smelled like mice) and put in a window with a new sink and cabinet under it. He also built a cabinet on the wall to the left of the sink, and together he and Mom painted the kitchen yellow. I don't remember them ever replacing the old linoleum, although eventually they did get a different refrigerator.

Mom's kitchen was never tidy. The table held a motley collection of bottles, teapot, sugar and creamer, a stand mixer, salt, pepper and other things. The counter beside the stove was often covered with pots, pans, spices, you name it. There just wasn't enough room for all the things it takes to cook for a huge family like ours, and Mom was a comfortably cluttery English woman.

The table was really the heart of the kitchen, actually of the whole house. That was where Mom had her morning tea, where she and Dad ate breakfast. The radio beside it was often on and Dad would listen to the news when he came home from work. The paper and a cup of tea was always ready for him. Mom had her morning coffee break at the table, often with her friend from across the street or someone else who had stopped by. If she had no visitor, she would be on the phone with friends. In the afternoons after school, we had tea with Mom at the table. It was the place where the anyone in the family could stop for a quiet moment if needed. You might have to clear a place for  your teacup or the newspaper, but no one cared about that.

My first kitchen as a young (17 years old, my goodness) wife was in a 1940's apartment built during World War II. The kitchen in this place was small probably about six feet square, just enough room for a sink, small cabinet, apartment sized stove and refrigerator, and a small table and two chairs. There was a window over the table that looked out and down over a tree-lined street that wound up the hill to our building. I loved that little kitchen. It was where I learned how to cook for two people instead of 14 or 15. I could keep it clean and neat, and looking out the window as I drank my instant coffee or tea made me feel like a woman of the world.

In our first real house (I was 18 when we bought it, can you imagine doing that today?), the kitchen was a little larger. This was a log house, and the cabinets were handmade by the original owner. I painted over the dingy white with light yellow and green, hung orange and yellow beads in the window over the sink and made yellow gingham curtains for the other window and the window in the door that led to the back porch. We built two shelves on the wall for my Le Creuset red pots and pans that I'd bought for $20 for the set brand new. The washing machine was in this kitchen, and I put the small table from the apartment in here too. There was a clothesline out back but no dryer, as the house had only a 60-amp service with 4 old glass fuses. We covered the worn tile floor with a green and yellow patterned vinyl flooring. It was bright and pretty in this kitchen, and I dearly loved it. This was where I learned to make bread and noodles, to cook more from scratch and also where I began to can and put up food.

Those three kitchens, I think, are what formed me as a cook, homemaker and lover of all vintage kitchen things. I know that today Keurigs and Instant Pots are all the rage, but I'm content without them. I've seen the "farmhouse" sinks, and spigots that can do more things than I would ever have dreamed of, and I know that for some people these are what they dream of for their kitchens. But for me, my heart will always be about 70 years behind the times when it comes to kitchens.

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


  1. Yes, your kitchen is old-fashioned. And wonderful, and cozy, and warm, and delightful!!!!!! With a Hoosier even! And porcelain table top!

    I don't remember my home having a Hoosier, but my husband remembers one (all set up, for baking), in his maternal grand parents home. My grandparents died when I was very young, or before... So I don't remember going to Grandma's house for vacations or Sunday dinner.

    Oh yes, those wildly new age kitchens! LOL And all the gadgets, which *have* to go in them!!!!! Eeeek!!!! >,-))))

    Loved your Kitchen Photos! And trip down memory lane. Perfect posting, for times like these.

    🌸Gentle hugs🌸

    1. I didn't have a "grandma's kitchen" when I was young either, as both grandmothers lived hundreds or thousands of miles away. So I guess I created my own :) And you are right, it is good to read happy memories these days.

  2. It's not what goes into a kitchen that counts, it's what comes out of it!

    1. Good point! I am reminded of my friend Gretel's kitchen in Shropshire, very tiny and even more old-fashioned than mine, but so cozy, and the most delicious bread and soup came out of it. It was a memorable visit.

  3. You might be able to order some mulch with the Wal-Mart app.and pick it up. I'm not a fan of Wal-Mart but I did order and pick up groceries there yesterday. They bring it out and load it up. You don't even have to sign anything.

    1. Tressa, that is exactly what we were just discussing out on the porch! I'm going to give it a try!

  4. Good morning Sue - loved reading your kitchens over time - the heart of our homes.

    1. Yes they are, Joy. Best room in the house.

  5. Sure loved reliving Mom's kitchen. Good memories! My kitchen is small--very small, and just as cluttered as can be. But, I can still cook and can--and have fruitcake day when needed :-) It's all I need.


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