“But the kitchen will not come into its own again until it ceases to be a status symbol and becomes again a workshop. It may be pastel. It may be ginghamed as to curtains and shining with copper like a picture in a woman’s magazine. But you and I will know it chiefly by its fragrances and its clutter. At the back of the stove will sit a soup kettle, gently bubbling, one into which every day are popped leftover bones and vegetables to make stock for sauces or soup for the family. Carrots and leeks will sprawl on counters, greens in a basket. There will be something sweet-smelling twirling in a bowl and something savory baking in the oven. Cabinet doors will gape ajar and colored surfaces are likely to be littered with salt and pepper and flour and herbs and cheesecloth and pot holders and long-handled forks. It won’t be neat. It won’t even look efficient. but when you enter it you will feel the pulse of life throbbing from every corner. The heart of the home will have begun once again to beat.” Phyllis McGinley
I stumbled across this quote recently and I think it paints the picture perfect kitchen for me. Always something in progress. Delicious smells filling the air and homegrown produce littering the counters. When there is an experiment or project going on in the kitchen, the place is like a bombsite but I prefer to think of it as creativity at work and just run with it. After all flour can be swept up and sauce spatters wiped down. A kitchen is like the heart of a home, the engine room. Where everyone congregates to reconnect and refuel before heading off again.
Mr. Fairweather’s homeplace was like this. I remember coming out to visit on a Sunday. The large kitchen table would be piled high with apple tarts, brown bread, pots of jam, slices of ham and always pots and pots of tea. There was always a crowd. All the family would come back to Fairweather central on a Sunday afternoon with chaps in tow. The kids would be let off loose outside and return when hunger drove them back or a near fatal accident sent them in seeking comfort and solace in mammy’s arms before the lure of older cousins’ shouts and squeals drew them back out. The adults would be deep in conversation solving the world’s problems and doling out advice to whomever would listen. There was joking and chatting, discussions and heated arguments. But that was family life with the Fairweathers and this was its hub.
I have lived in a lot of houses of varying sizes and quality. The thing that always got to me were kitchens that were too small or disconnected from the rest of the house. How could the kitchen be the heart of the home if it was apart? If, whenever people came to visit and spend time, you had to seperate yourself in order to fuel and nourish them? Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have somewhere separate when the hustle and bustle gets too much. But I like the flow of family life being allowed to happen.
But in all these houses, some with their little, dark, pokey kitchens and some with their swish, modern finishes, the bane of my life was really and truly, not enough storage. I am big on storage and lots of it. Storage that is easily accessible and viewed. Much easier to figure out what you are doing when you can see what’s available. When we were designing our house, I wanted a pantry. I insisted on it. I wanted somewhere to be able to keep all my cooking and preserving experiments. Somewhere to store jars of my own chutneys and jams, strings of garlic and onions , and hang bunches of herbs to dry. I did get my pantry – just off the kitchen. And it is probably my favourite room. That’s probably a little sad to admit to, but I don’t care; I’m a girl of simple wants and needs – thank God says Mr. Fairweather.
It’s a little room in the middle of the house – a big cupboard really – but insulated from the rest of the house to keep it cool. We put in separate ventilation as well. Its as simple as a pipe set into the floor with a shower drain cover which draws fresh air in and a plastic vent in the ceiling which allows warm air out into the vented attic. Eventually Mr. Fairweather will fit a 12V solar panel and an extractor fan to help increase the draw. We’ll need it more when we can afford to put a fridge freezer into the pantry. The fridge freezer will hopefully make jam making and the like much easier instead of running out to the chest freezer in the shed constantly. But it will generate more heat so even though natural convection should work fine, we’d rather be on the safe side with the added mechanical ventilation on warm sunny days.
When we were getting the carpentry done in the house, I asked them to put some shelves in to the pantry for me as well. I have a deep shelf at about counter height that runs most of the way around three walls of the pantry. Then two walls are lined with slightly deeper shelves up above. The third wall has shallow shelves just deep enough for a row of jars (empty or full) and a spice rack so I can see everything at a glance. Currently the floor is covered with boxes of empty jars, old paint containers and big feed bins for the dog, duck and hen feed. But eventually the plan is to have large storage bins for recycling as well as the feed stores, and tubs for spare jars, etc.
Currently in my pantry, I am down to my last jar of chutney so will have to get making some more at the end of season. And it’s been a while since I have made jam after the last disaster, but I’m not defeated yet. We even got some garlic in to dry and in a few weeks, the onions can be lifted, dried and plaited for storage. Mr. Fairweather even uses it now to hang the rabbits before a day of processing and stew making. And soon I will be using it to dry more herbs for storage over the winter. The kitchen may be where all the family action happens, but the pantry is like the coal furnace of my family’s engine room – it keeps the engine room supplied and ticking over. After all, we have to keep this show on the road somehow.