Memories stirring, emotions raising, ideas simmering: what a lot we cooked up as we shared our stories about kitchens, and the times we’ve spent in them!
What follows is a buffet set out with our stories, poetry and photographs for you. Bon appétit!
The kitchen I’ve heard it said Is the most important Room of the home, A hub Meeting place Where people cook Eat Talk Socialise, Are happy Or sad A space in which You are rarely alone. Whether large Or not Guests at parties Often gravitate there Food and refreshments To share Are a big draw, And of course Not to miss out On catching up With friends Who you only Saw last week Enquiring What’s the latest Gossip trend? Back in former years The kitchen was a place Of hard work Long hours of toil Possibly tears If all was not going well, No modern day Appliances and gadgets To help Lighten the load. Today most of us Have, as they say, “All mod cons” A machine or device to do Almost anything We choose. Just imagine In your mind’s eye The scene In kitchens Where we’ve been, Whether humble Or elaborate How important To us Without a doubt The kitchen can be.
Saturday night kitchen drama
Saturday night was bath night when I was growing up. One memorable Saturday evening I was sat in the bath when I heard an enormous bang, the sound of an explosion downstairs followed by raised voices. Leaping out of the bathtub, I quickly wrapped a towel around myself and charged downstairs taking several steps at a time. My dad, sister and brother were all talking at once in the kitchen and, as I walked through the living room to join them, I saw a huge dent in the open door leading into the kitchen. Quickly surveying the scene, I noticed both sides of our cooker buckled and bent on the kitchen floor and the innards of the oven lining spilling out onto the floor.
“What happened?” I asked in amazement.
“The feckin’ cooker has blown up hasn’t it” my dad fumed. “And that panel just missed your brother’s head by an inch!”
The how and why was the subject of much rancour and recrimination between my sister and dad and I don’t think the issue was settled until my mam came home from work at about 10.30 pm to listen to the arguments on both sides. I gathered that someone (could that be you dad?) didn’t turn off the oven properly after tea and the gas had been building up slowly in the oven for a good while until it found a source of ignition in the pilot lights on the hob. None of this would have happened however if someone (big teenage sister about to hit the town) hadn’t been “footering around” with a noxious chemical all evening trying to dye her shoes blue or purple or something to catch the eye. It seems the stench of the dye had masked the odour of escaping gas. Was my dad without blame? I think on this occasion the fact that no punishment was meted out meant the guilty parties called it a draw.
I was in awe of the black cast iron range in my grandparents’ kitchen/living room. The coal fire in the grate heated the oven in which my grandma baked her own bread. The kettle was always on when the fire was lit, standing on its own trivet above. When we visited, the butter was in a bowl by the hearth so that it could soften enough to spread. I loved the rice pudding she made, with skin on top, and egg custards too.
I was in awe: no doubt because of warnings not to get too close and especially, not to touch. I don’t think I did, but I do remember once the shock of touching a hot iron at home out of curiosity. I didn’t dare tell my Mum.
My Dad told me that his father, a tailor, would heat his flat irons on the range and then, when they were hot, rush upstairs with them to press the suits he had made in the front bedroom where he worked. This was also where my Dad slept as a boy, alongside the sewing machine and tailor’s dummy. The kitchen was his mother’s domain: they kept the front room for clients and visitors. My own warm memories of that cosy kitchen are early ones, and patchy, as my grandparents moved from Blackburn to Lancaster when I was five or six.
Nowadays, I get so much pleasure from looking after my great nephews and hope that my siblings and I gave the same joy to our grandparents. The boys love playing with their wooden kitchen, with all its gadgets and wooden food.
A recent addition to their collection is a pizza with a choice of mushrooms, pepperoni and olive toppings. I wonder how much they’ll remember when they are older, but then, watching them absorbed as they play, does that matter? Their laughter helps me enjoy the moment, and to live in the present too.
“The kitchen is the heart of the home”. “If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen”. “Dance in the kitchen like no-ones watching” “Happiness is a small house with a big kitchen” (Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock for that one)
Just a couple of well-known phrases connected to kitchens. Not sure where most of the phrases come from, but there must be many more, all indicating how very important a kitchen is to a house and a family, not just for the preparation of food and drink, but as a hub for family life, its joys and times of sadness.
As a child I can’t remember the kitchen of the first house we lived in, but I can remember very clearly the kitchen in the house I lived in from 7 to 24, when I left after I got married. I suppose quite basic by today’s standards and expectations, with none of the domestic aids that seem essential now. How did we manage for so many years without a fridge for example? In the summer bottles of milk were stood in pan of cold water. Some must have curdled, but I don’t remember that. Butter and cheese were kept in the cupboard and certainly the butter was always easy to spread never being cold from the fridge.
When we first moved into that house in 1954, there was a black lead grate with side oven which my mother hated because of the cleaning involved. A rack hung from the ceiling where clothes would be put to dry if the weather was bad. And dry they did with no extra use of energy! Those big grates would be seen as desirable now in country houses, but it was a red-letter day for my mum when it was taken out and she had a gas fire fitted!
As for storage, I think of all the cupboard space I have in my kitchen now and there is still never enough. In my childhood kitchen we had a standing cupboard, called I think a kitchenette? And one other cupboard at the side of the fire. Everything seemed to be kept in these cupboards; food, old newspapers, shoe cleaning polish, everything. There’s one you can see in this photograph, on display at Leeds Museum. Again, these kitchenette cupboards are now seen as “retro” and sell on E Bay for large sums of money.
Everything comes around they say, but I am very glad for my cupboards, my fridge freezer, my washing machine etc, etc. I won’t be buying a black leaded grate or a kitchenette cupboard any time soon!
Please Sir, can I have some more
The sky is a breath-taking crimson red. I remember the phrase “red sky at night shepherd’s delight”. I sit opened mouthed at its glory. It’s neatly surrounded by the rotting wood of the window frame. I’m right back there. I can visualise our 1960’s kitchen with the peeling floral wallpaper, sideboard and threadbare rug. The rug lived at the foot of the sink. Mum, in her apron is bent over washing the pots.
We, that’s mum and the children, had eaten our evening meal. We were always wanting more. I look up and see steam rising from the blue dish that sits carelessly on the blackened pan. I smile because I know what’s in it. It’s dad’s dinner, it smelled like spring, and I knew what it looked like on his plate. Mum always positioned the food on its plate to look like it tasted. The meat lovingly placed at the 3 o’clock position and the soul food neatly hugging each other on the blue patterned plate. There was green banana, yam, sweet potato (my favourite) and pumpkin. These were traditional foods from the Caribbean. I had watched mum’s face as she had plated up, I knew there was nostalgia. It reminded mum of home, Jamaica. Mum was always telling stories about her country where the sun glistened all day and the bluey green waters rippled on the sun kissed beach. I would listen carefully not wanting to miss a moment. I used to daydream about lying on the white sands.
Hiss, the water escaped from the side of the pan. It bubbled beneath the plate. Dad wasn’t back from work yet. I prayed for him to come home soon. I kick at the hole in the discoloured lino. It’s then I hear the key being pushed into the lock. Dad’s home. I run towards him, and he scoops me up into his strong arms, gently rubbing his beard on my face. He knew this would make me laugh as the bristles caressed my face. Dad puts me down gently on the tired looking floor as he enters the kitchen and kisses mum on her left cheek. Mum smiles. Dad goes to the bathroom then it’s time. The time I’ve been waiting for.
Dad sits down at the second-hand dining table, the one mum had made the bright orange table cloth for, to cover scratches and hide a multitude of sins and other people’s memories. Mum places dad’s meal in front of him, the aroma is beautiful.
I sit at his feet and stare at him longingly. Dad pretends he can’t see me as he eats his first mouthful. This was a ritual we played most evenings. Dad then asks about my day as he chases some sweet potato around the plate. This was his last mouthful. I sit like a baby bird open-mouthed as dad teasingly hovers the fork over his mouth and then in what seems slow motion, he feeds me.
These are my precious memories of the kitchen.
Whilst reflecting on how kitchens have featured in my life, I was struck by the number of my significant memories which occurred in this room and how many of these involved the kitchen table. In a very interesting discussion about this, two pertinent points were raised, not only is it a room where all manner of activity take place, not just the preparation and cooking of meals but also it does not tend to have so many distractions, such as a television.
The focus of the action in the kitchen is the table. I have strong memories of watching my grandmother making cakes and pastry with her large mixing bowl and baking trays laid out on her big wooden table.
In my own childhood home, I remember my father, who worked as a bus conductor, tipping his satchel of coins onto our table to count and fill out his record. After well over half a century, the exact details of why this occurred are lost to memory but every time I now cash-up the takings at the charity shop where I work, I recall my dad counting coins in the same way.
Many important and even life-changing conversations took place in kitchens away from the distraction and, in some ways, intrusive television.
Another aspect of the kitchen was that it was normally the room in which we ate breakfast. I remember my mother giving me a treat of beans and toast one morning when I had risen earlier than normal on a school day, so I could attend a church service. To this day, I always eat my beans and toast separately: that way the toast doesn’t get soggy!
As I am not a ‘foody’ person and have the appetite of a sparrow, I don’t have a great interest in cooking, and do so out of necessity, favouring simple meals with just enough to keep me going. I am generally only interested in the basic necessities of a kitchen and that it is clean and bright. So my first thoughts when this topic was put forward were thinking about the size, décor and facilities of the variety of kitchens I have lived with as an adult.
Listening to other people at the group led me to reminisce about kitchens I had experienced as a child, particularly with my mother, grandmother and aunts. It was common to have room reserved for use when visitors other than family came to the house, so family visits were nearly always sitting in the kitchen, drinking cups of tea while catching up on any gossip.
I then went on compare life in my kitchens when my own children were growing up. I wanted to give my children similar experiences to those I had, such as picking wild fruits and making homemade jam, and also introduce them to other dishes, not just the meat and two veg which was the standard diet when I was a child, so in a modest way I expanded my cooking expertise. I had a roomy kitchen with plenty of worktop space and for much of the time it was the family hub, similar to my childhood experiences.
Ultimately, I concluded that the kitchens I have had over time have all been different from each other and reflect the path of my life. Now I am ageing I live alone in a flat and have a small galley kitchen. I rarely need to feed visitors so, with the convenience of an electric kettle and an air fryer, these days I spend very little time in there.
If you’re going to boil pasta in the kitchen then of course you’ll get mould. It’s your responsibility and we’ll take it out of your deposit.
Please understand that if food is kept in the kitchen, then it will attract mice. They can fit through a hole the size of a pencil, so fixing the backs of the cupboards back on won’t make any difference.
Please do not use the gas oven until the engineer has investigated why the flame goes out. Continued use of the oven could lead to fire or explosion and cause serious damage to the property. The engineer will be available in three to six months. If he comes in June then I’ll need you to let him in, I’ll be in the Maldives.
Tenant reports that back-left electric hob trips the breaker. Tenant has been informed not to use the hob and we cannot be held responsible if this is ignored. How often does tenant need to use all four hobs anyway? It’s not like tenant is having dinner parties, with all the mould and mouse droppings all over the place.
Good news, we have ordered you a new cooker. It is being delivered today so please make sure you are in.
Please remove the toaster from the kitchen, it is a fire hazard due to the small space. You will be able to make toast under the grill once the new cooker has been installed.
Please leave your bike outside until the new cooker has been installed, as having both in the hallway is an obstruction in case of fire, and you may cause damage to the new cooker taking the bike in and out.
During your last inspection we found dust on the new cooker. Please keep the new cooker clean ready for it to be installed.
Best of luck in your new home. We will be making deductions from your deposit for the cost of cleaning mould, pest extermination, damage to cooker, and marks on floor in hallway. No, I don’t see how the feet of the new cooker could have made those marks, it was just stood there. It must have been your bike or something. Please return the toaster you took or a further deduction will be made.
If young people today just learned to cook for themselves instead of ordering takeaways all the time, then they could afford to get on the property ladder the same way we did.
I am not a massive fan of cooking. When forced, I can do it, but it’s under a cloud of resentment and with the urgency of someone who is about to go on the run. Throughout my twenties and early thirties, living alone was not lonely, for my best friend was a microwave. I would spend a fortune on “healthy” convenience food from the local deli and the salad counters of the supermarket, often followed by a much less healthy but just as speedy pudding (or two).
There have been occasions where I have slowed down and enjoyed the process of preparing a meal, at university for example. Often on days when we were particularly hung over, we took in turns to cook huge roasts, lasagnes, and stir-fries for each other and ate them together, catching up on gossip, (or making it up).
I also remember a time in 1999 when my good friend Moira decided that after 11 years of being vegetarian, she needed some meat, and we spent 3 weeks cooking meat and veg for each other like a long-married couple. She went back to being veggie after that, but it was a time of connection. The food representing a funny contradiction between naughtiness and nurturing.
My main memories of kitchens though are not connected to my own cooking, but to being cooked for. Nan’s baking, grandad’s delicious, very greasy cooked breakfasts, teas with mum and stepdad after school whilst watching Home and Away (we were early eaters because of the shifts they worked). Nowadays, I am blessed with a husband who cooks for us all. Every. Single. Day. Without complaint. In fact, he finds it relaxing!?! Having this beautiful daily gift has totally healed my relationship with food, which had been self-abusive from years of yoyo dieting… and worse.
The other beautiful connection with kitchens that I want to write about is the memory I have of fitting one with my stepdad in my twenties. To save on costs, we replaced a whole kitchen together which meant many weeks of working alongside each other. This was instrumental in bringing us closer. We had time to chat, whilst also having an external focus. We cursed the wonky walls, we discussed finishes and fittings, he was patient with my perfectionism and praised my strength when we lifted worktops and moved appliances. It was a recipe for a connection that has continued to deepen.
On general reflection, it seems to me that kitchens are places where all relationships – to time and space, to ourselves, to each other – can feed us alongside the food made there.
One thought on “Kitchens”
Hello mâdear, just seen your post below. As well as individuals displaying their work, we could do a complete wall dedicated to a âStories of Our Livesâ theme, like Kitchens below. Intro saying what itâs about and 8 writers with words and pics. What do you think? This is the space I have in mind… see pic