I don’t like modern kitchens. I am not hopelessly romantic about the past, either, because I think indoor plumbing is a great luxury, and when we have it, I am pleased and happy with hot running water. (That is, until the plumbing goes absolutely wrong and everything is a mess, and then I say, as a friend did back in my younger days: “Indoor plumbing is greatly overrated.”)
Kitchens are another matter. I know my grandmothers couldn’t wait to get modern ranges and not have to keep loading wood into the firebox on the old woodburner, but I like woodburning cookstoves. I like open fire cooking, too. (My husband will tell people that I’m quite good at it, and that food tastes so much better cooked over an open hearth.) I don’t expect to get the open hearth in our next real house, but I am adamant that I have to have a woodburning cookstove. (Preferably a Pioneer Maid, when the money is saved up for it.) I am thinking about having Nicholas polish up his old bricklaying skills and give me an horno, an outdoor bake oven which is the ultimate crockpot, as well.
We have a modern kitchen right now, with refrigerator, electric range, double sink, and the ubiquitous microwave. (Which is not ours. I am very dubious about the benefits of using it, and avoid it most of the time.) I do use the electric Crockpots frequently as a good substitute for the slow-cooking of a woodstove.
Nicholas noted the other night that modern houses, post World War II, are used as people kennels. Go to work, come home, cook a quick meal over an electric burner, wash up, sit in the living room and stare at the television, go to bed in your little cubicle, get up in the morning, wash, do it all over again. There’s no work space, no real gathering space for a large family. Kitchens are designed to be efficient. Even these oversized ultra-houses are meant to house just two to four people. They have huge rooms with no place for people. They are display chambers, vignettes of good taste. A friend with a beautiful, large home and a mammoth cave of a kitchen asked us to come over one Christmas Day. We planned a menu, which I then prepared in my funky little farmhouse kitchen on the old Enterprise woodstove, with a linoleum covered table for workspace. We carted the feast to her house, and I could not comprehend the weird electric burners on her state-of-the-art range. So I finished the meal preparation on her new and very lovely Enterprise woodstove!
This is what the Plain kitchen needs: a hearth of some sort, such as an open fireplace or the iron hearth of a woodburning cookstove, a source of warmth and refreshment and nourishment. It needs good workspace for chopping and stirring and kneading and rolling. It needs a source of water and a really big sink, even if that’s a handpump (as my great-grandparents had for many years) and a watertight half-barrel.
It needs room for people. It needs a big table that doubles as a worktable for everything from breadmaking to homework and sewing. It needs sturdy chairs and if big enough, maybe a wing chair for Grampie or a rocker for Mama. It needs to be the center of the house, where everyone naturally gathers. Who needs a living room? That’s just a sterile environment for watching the cathode ray tube and its inanities. Television does not interact with people. We stare at it, slack-jawed and slack-minded. The other people in the room get annoyed if we talk over it (or worse, to it, because that usually involves some shouting.) A kitchen encourages conversation.
Ingredients become food in the kitchen. It’s a kind of miracle. Things that we can’t eat in their natural state get boiled and roasted and steamed and baked or something and become nutrition. Things we can eat raw get better with preparation, mingling, and seasoning. Mothers are in kitchens, feeding their families well past infancy, and everyone can feel secure and loved there.
The Plain kitchen has sturdy, well-chosen utensils. Forget the fancy china and delicate serving dishes. We need cast iron, enamelware and stainless steel. We don’t own plastic anything. Dishes are heavy ceramic, purchased with the object that they will last a lifetime. Glassware is simple and heavy – champagne flutes aren’t required. The flatware is similar, heavy stainless, hard to bend or break. It doesn’t take a lot of different kinds of pots and pans and bowls or such to prepare Plain food.
And we don’t need a clutter of small electric appliances. These are just sales gimmicks, pitched to people who wonder why their food is so uninteresting. Maybe a new electric grill or whip-foamer will improve it! No, the trick to flavourful food is cooking it, preparing it, and doing it mindfully. It takes time to produce good food. Even a really good salad depends on carefully chosen greens and vegetables, washed and dried and torn or chopped appropriately, with a decently made dressing of oil and vinegar or lemon juice.
The Plain kitchen may produce Plain food, but it is good, nourishing food, not an amalgamation of salt, sugar, artificial flavouring and chemically produced vitamins.
This is my favourite meal in the Bible: The apostles are out fishing all night. They are tired and hungry and discouraged, for they have caught nothing. Suddenly, unexpectedly, they are told from the shore to lower their nets for another try, and they succeed. Success, though, doesn’t alleviate hunger and fatigue, and when they get to shore, they find a meal waiting for them, of broiled fish and bread. And who has prepared it for them over a little beachside fire? The Lord, who says to them, “Come and eat.”
Come and eat. It has been prepared with love and care. It is real food. Come and eat!