I Remember Grandma's Kitchen *
Fern Christian Miller
All we grandchildren loved Grandma's big farm kitchen. Partly it was because we were always made entirely welcome by the smiling face of our little grandmother herself. But, no doubt, it was also, the fragrant, delicious foods she prepared that provided a part of the kitchen's come-hither magic!
I think of those custard, rhubarb and raisin pies in the early spring; cherry, blackberry, strawberry and gooseberry pies in the early summer; peach, apple, apricot, damson caramel, cream and chocolate pies of the later summer and autumn; then, as winter came, pumpkin, squash, dried apple, mincemeat and canned fruit pies of all descriptions. For our gentle, small grandma was noted for her delicious pies. The grandchildren were her most appreciative tasters.
Then the bread and cakes! It makes me hungry just to remember the fragrance of that brown, yeasty, light bread. The warm "heel" spread with sweet home-churned butter was surely the best taste in the world. And the cinnamon rolls and fresh gingerbread with milk! Remember? The applesauce and carrot cakes spread with thin caramel icing, the black layer devil's foods, the tall fluffy angel foods, the mincemeat and fruitcakes were quite out of this world. (No wonder Grandpa was a bit heavy!)
Besides the baking, the meats produced on the farm were always being cooked either in the oven or in a big black iron pot. Grandma didn't think too much of fried meat, unless it was chicken in deep fat, or young squirrel in the spring, or sausage or bacon for breakfast on a cold winter morning. Vegetables and chow chows, piccalilli and apple butter were all cooked to perfection on the big black range. It was a wood- or coal-burning stove called Round Oak. Many were the festive dinners eaten at the long dining room table that were prepared in that beloved kitchen.
Actually the big northwest kitchen was quite modern for that day. A large gray enamel sink with a drain, and a pitcher pump (which had to be primed each morning to bring the water up from the cistern well just off the back porch), stood against the west wall. A long shelf was above the metal-topped kitchen cabinet with its flour and sugar bins and its pull-out breadboard. On the shelf stood the family lamps, a clock, a matchbox, a neat row of cookbooks, and the clipped recipe box.
The stove had a warming oven, trivets for the flat irons, and handles, an a large water reservoir, which was always kept filled. Painted cabinets for dishes and counters were a light, clean sand color, and the linoleum was blue and tan checked. On the west and north were windows with narrow, starched, white curtains tied back to give sun and light to cheery house plants. By each window stood a comfortable hickory chair with bright patchwork cushions and back pads. Grandma always sat down while she peeled potatoes or apples, or cleaned vegetables. Her knitting bag hung on one chair post, and a box of mending sat under the house plants. Grandma knitted, mended and rested while she kept an eye on her cooking.
Opening off the kitchen at one side of the north window Grandpa had built a lean-to pantry. It screened ventilator vents left open in summer, closed and covered with old pieces of rungs in winter. This dark, cool little room was used to store supplies other than those kept in the cave and meat house. Under the eaves of this unsealed "magic closet" hung strings of onions, red peppers, dill, sage, tansy leaves, sassafras bark and root, and cheesecloth sack filled with dried apples, corn, peaches and raisins.
Big covered stone jars and crocks held dill pickles, corned beef, fried-down sausage, honey in the comb, and sorghum molasses. Canisters with tight lids sat in a row on a shelf, all labeled in Grandma's neat writing: rice, cornmeal, flake hominy, popcorn, oatmeal, coffee beans, brown soup beans, navy beans, crowder peas, and brown sugar.
This aromatic lean-to was kept tightly closed except when Grandma opened it for supplies. She kept mouse traps set in the corners, although I never saw a mouse in her home. On very cold winter nights she banked the range fire, and opened the pantry door a crack so the onions wouldn't freeze. Milk, cream, butter and cheese were kept in the ice chest. Apples, potatoes, turnips, extra pumpkins and squash, all canned food were stored in the cave. The yams, or sweet potatoes, kept best scrubbed and wrapped in newspaper, and stored in the warm attic over the kitchen. A stepladder enabled one of the boys to scramble through the attic door in the low kitchen ceiling. This attic had been partly floored and sealed for extra storage.
The other grandchildren and I loved best of all to sit on the high-backed bench at the long table in the kitchen's center. We missed nothing of the talk or food preparations here. The oilcloth was white with blue clusters of flowers. Usually a blue bowl of apples or other fruit sat in the center. Here the family ate when there wasn't company or "hands". Here all the good food was dished up before being taken to the dining room on festive occasions. The older grandchildren often ate at this kitchen table when the entire family gathered. Here, after all the dishes were done in winter, we youngsters played checkers, dominoes, jacks or Flinch, colored and cut pictures, depending upon our ages.
Yes, I remember Grandma's kitchen. It was important in my learning, for Grandma loved being a woman and making a home just as I do. When I read articles on women's liberation I feel slightly ill. Perhaps women's place is in the home; otherwise, what is going to become of homes?
I just love this article, because it is a wonderful example of how a kitchen is the center of the home/family. I can't think but wonder what she would think of the American home today. So many kids coming home to quite homes with out a mom there to greet them. The family dinner table is a thing of the past in many homes. That is why it is so important for me to keep my dinner table a very important part of the day. Again I am blessed for having these articles to pass down to Grandma Fern's great grandchildren. Thank you for reading this article. I hope it speaks to you as much as it spoke to me. My only regret is that I never got to meet Grandma Fern. She definitely has a presence in her family to this day.
*This article was written in the Kitchen Klatter magazine May 1972.