What Kitchen Appliance Would I Give Up
Just about a month ago I grew curious as to what was in that box on top of one of my floor-to-ceiling bookcases here in the computer room. I climbed up very carefully and brought down what was a flat 12 X 18” open box, with a drop rose paper and little wooden country items glued along the sides. I must have used it in a display one time at the reunion. It was covered on the outside with burlap and inside this delightful discovery was a story by Dad’s youngest sister, Aunt Marian Robinson Bush, entitled “Memories of a Country Kitchen. Pleasure Hill, Franklin, Connecticut.”
So I thought I would copy this short essay for all to read and maybe get a better picture of how our ancestors of a hundred years ago and earlier had to live and work in a kitchen. This is her story of a Country Kitchen.
“The kitchen in the homestead was very small. As you came in the back door, the huge black cook stove was at the right. We used cast iron cook pots and large wooden spoons. The lids for the stove were lifted off and the pots would sit down in a groove right over the fire. One lid was in smaller sections for a smaller pot. The food that came from that wood stove! We had delicious baked beans every Saturday. Nothing smelled or tasted better than those beans. The stove also had a warming oven at the top. Mother often stood there and looked up the road when she was cooking.
The wood box was huge. It took many trips to fill it. It was our duty to fill it each day after school. Next there was a drop leaf table and two chairs. the sink was on the left as you came in the door. The water ran constantly — no water bills in those days! The water came from a spring piped underground. Beside the sink was a shelf. The pantry was next. There were shelves for the lamps. The chimneys had to be washed each day. There was a big molasses keg on a rack. There was a floor-to-ceiling cupboard and shelves over the counter. Then the large work area — the entire side of the pantry. It was made of wood with a hinged top. Barrels of flour and sugar were stored underneath. On the work area was a big dough board where home-made bread was kneaded and delicious pies were made. I can still see the pies cooling on the window sill of the pantry.
We used big crockery bowls for mixing bread and cakes. We had the usual utensils: big colanders, various sized sieves and a large meat grinder which was attached to a table or shelf.”
Well, the one big kitchen appliance that isn’t mentioned here is a refrigerator or ice box as they used to call them. The reason may well be because food was kept cold by placing it in a bucket and sliding that bucket down the well on a long rope. That is the way Faith Gager kept perishable food the summer I stayed with her at her home in Franklin. I made a terrible error one day when I accidentally dropped a pound package of chopped beef INTO the well. It had to be fished out by a neighbor and Faith was NOT very happy about that.
So I would say that if I lived where there was a well or cool mountain stream I probably could live best without the refrigerator.
I remember that kitchen. I also remember the kitchen in the home of my other grandmother in Portland, CT. Old-fashioned kitchens were often spread out and in two rooms. Most of her kitchen was in a very small area known as the pantry — the lip sink, the shelves, made for her, I do believe by her son Uncle Ed who was handy with the hammer. They were for storing dishes and pantry food and there was a Hoosier kitchen cabinet where she would make her pies and cakes. She did have an ice box first of all in there but afterwards when electricity arrived she had a small refrigerator. Out in the big kitchen area was the black wood stove, the same as described by Aunt Marian and a table where some of the meal was prepared. That table was our eating table too, and I can remember a time during the Thirties when eleven people sat around that table for supper. We had baked beans on Saturday nights too but ours were smaller beans, now known as Soldier or Great Northern whereas the Robinsons always had red kidney. Funny how something like that has stuck in my memory.
One time I asked a Robinson cousin how on earth did our grandmothers ever do all this work of preparing meals for so many people and everything else that was expected of them. Her answer, very New England-dish was, “They just DID it, that’s all.” So I guess that was the way it was. They just did it.