The olden day kitchen

July 29, 2015

The image of an olden-day kitchen brings to mind warm apple pies and the scent of crusty homemade bread baking in the oven. But many hands, varied skills and long hours were needed for the smooth running of a pre-electricity ­cottage or farmhouse kitchen. The following information provides a picture of what it took to run a classic kitchen.

The olden day kitchen

1. Kitchens of old

Household arts to be ­mastered included tending the fire and judging its cooking heat, bread-making (first make the yeast!), butter and cheese making, and the making of soap and candles. In the days before ice-chests, kerosene fridges and electric refrigeration hours of labour were devoted to preserving perishable food.

2. The gathering place

The kitchen was the hub of the house.

  • In its centre stood a solid wooden table, its surface scrubbed to a grainy white. Here meat was readied for salting and curing, fruits and vegetables prepared for jam-making, chutney-making, pickling, bottling or drying, dough kneaded and dried herbs sorted for storage.
  • Perishable food, apart from meat, was protected from insects in a food safe (a cabinet with sides of wire netting or hessian which stood with its legs in tins of water), meat was kept in a smaller safe hung in the breeze from a joist or the branch of a shady tree.
  • Large stoneware or earthenware crocks held bread and flour, pickled foods were sealed in thick glass jars, and tea, sugar and cookies were kept in canisters.
  • A simmering stock-pot sat at the back of the fuel stove or hung over an open fire and on the floor were pickling kegs and storage vats.

3. How it used to be: older technology

While older technology might not seem impressive by modern standards, it got the job done. The "Servu" wire safe was a pre-ice-chest evolution of the Coolgardie safe. Water dripping from the tank cooled the contents as it evaporated from the hessian sides. Meanwhile, the up-to-the-minute 1920s kitchen managed without electricity: it had a gas stove and an ice-chest to store perishables. The kerosene-powered fridge dates from the 1930s.

Learning what was done in the past truly gives us an appreciation of how tedious it was to run a kitchen and how much easier it is today.

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