I have been working on my family tree and going through old albums. I came across this photo of my great grandmother “Ma” in her kitchen. This is a room she spent a lot of time in.
The reason that I am sharing the photo is because I wanted to show the readers what a real kitchen of a real person looked like in 1958. This is the kitchen were she canned all the food that she, her husband and their ELEVEN children would need. As a matter of fact, she has so many children that her own children has some children of their own before her last little ones were born. Some, like my grandmother, moved her family in with Ma’s.
Every single thing that they ate came from their farm and the garden. Every vegetable that they would eat in the winter was prepared right there in that kitchen. She had to can everything that would not keep. Green beans, beets, tomatoes, asparagus, leeks, cucumbers, peaches, pears, apples, plums… everything from veg to preserves was all canned.
I am not sure if you see what I am driving at? Did you notice in the photo that there was not a little bit of counter top in that kitchen? No storage either? The food was kept in the cellar and that little shelf above the stove was for every day dishes and cutlery. It was also for keeping things warm, for those who were late. All food prep and eating were done on the same table, covered in oil cloth, all the cooking was done there on the stove unless in the middle of summer when the stove was moved out into the back kitchen. All the food prep would have to be put away and everything wiped before the table could be set and people could eat. It was not unusual for there to be 30 people eating in this kitchen.
I will think about this photo the next time I start thinking the 6 feet of counter at THO is small. Clearly this tiny houser has things pretty good.
I don’t mean to glorify those days. I know that times were hard and that there was so much work to be done. Poor Ma never stopped working! Her hands were like leather on bones. Truthfully, I think Ma must have been pretty happy by the time 1958 came around and they were sufficiently recovered from the great depression that times were easier and she could buy a jar of pickles instead of making everything.
The question is, do you think you could go without cupboards and countertops in your house?
Modern kitchens often have to provide space for food storage and cooking equipment, this is true in all of the homes I have lived in for the last four decades. I haven’t had decent basement storage.
I grew up with kitchen’s just like your Great Grandmother’s kitchen. Hot water bath canners are big rigs, they take up a lot of space when stored, empty and full canning jars take a lot of storage space, food grinders, peelers, dehydrators, all manner of manual food processing equipment takes up an incredible amount of space. That basement storage, which is not shown in your picture, was the equivalent of having lots and lots and lots of kitchen cupboards.
I still do canning and use various food preservation methods (different from meal preparation), and having done these things in both the old style kitchens with my Mother and Grandmother, and the modern kitchens, I would choose the old style kitchen with the basement storage any day. Using the kitchen table as a work area is very convenient, it is large, and you can access it from four sides, loved it. The kitchen table work area also meant that one could work well with others, giving the old saying “many hands make light work” meaning.