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American Pie: Everything And The Kitchen Sink

...My mother cooked for the six of us in that small space. She cooked meals, baked bread twice a week, made pies, cakes, confectionary, jams, desserts, lemonade, ginger beer, and did the family laundry. She pickled eggs for the winter, pickled onions and herring, plucked and drew chickens, and skinned rabbits. She cooked and pressed ox tongue, arranged flowers from her garden, and polished her silverware....

John Merchant's recollections imply that the cook is the most important factor in good eating - not the kitchen.

For more of John's flavoursome columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=john+merchant

And do visit his Web site
http://home.comcast.net/~jwmerchant/site/

Growing up in my family home in England, there were six of us: mother, father, his parents and my sister and me. The total living area we shared was no more than 600sq ft. (56sq m.). Out of that, the kitchen was around 10ft by 6ft. It contained a 4 burner gas stove, a glazed stoneware sink, a mangle, and two shelves across one end. With any more than two people present it was claustrophobic.

My mother cooked for the six of us in that small space. She cooked meals, baked bread twice a week, made pies, cakes, confectionary, jams, desserts, lemonade, ginger beer, and did the family laundry. She pickled eggs for the winter, pickled onions and herring, plucked and drew chickens, and skinned rabbits. She cooked and pressed ox tongue, arranged flowers from her garden, and polished her silverware.

Her tools were mainly her hands, a wooden spoon and a carving knife. She had no food mixers, sets of German kitchen knives, juicers, microwaves, electric stock pots, electric whisks, toaster ovens, garbage disposals, a freezer, a refrigerator, or a shelf of cook books. Laundry was washed by hand and dried outside on good days, or by the living room fire when it rained. We never dined out.

I started married life with no kitchen and a two-ring gas burner in the living room, but it was only for a couple of years, and we were young. Our first real kitchen was huge. The house we rented was previously owned by a French-pastry chef who made confectionary for local hotels and restaurants. The pantry alone was bigger than my motherís kitchen.

As young marrieds, we didnít have much in the way of kitchen equipment either, but we came from a similarly stringent economic background, and were not used to such luxuries, so we didnít miss them. But once we found our feet financially, and had a house of our own, we began to accumulate a few.
With 3 children, an under-counter refrigerator was a must we felt, and later a clothes washer and drier. Even so, our kitchen was only marginally larger than that of my childhood.

The kitchen in our next house was a step up in terms of floor space, and incorporated a dining area. It had Formica counter tops and a vinyl tile floor, and we thought it was quite luxurious. We still had not accumulated all the gadgets and gizmos that are considered essential these days, but to be fair we didnít cook even a fraction of my motherís output.

A divorce and a move to America put a temporary pause in my progress towards culinary luxury, but the first house I bought there put me back on track. It had a real, ďliving kitchen,Ē where we ate most of our meals when not entertaining. It had a full-sized refrigerator/freezer, and a separate freezer in the garage.

There was a clothes washer and drier, glass topped stove, any number of cupboards and a good array of gadgets the previous owners had left us. My new wife was an enthusiastic cook and entertainer, though she did not have quite the prodigious repertoire of my mother, and had no desire to gain one. Nevertheless, the kitchen was her joy.

Two more house moves, a divorce and a new marriage brings me up to the time we moved to Florida 5 years ago. In the meantime my kitchens had maintained the status quo - big and well equipped, and my culinary repertoire had expanded after a slow start, two kitchens before. But it still is only a pale shadow of my motherís, and I lack the resolve to grow it anymore.

My current kitchen is large and conveniently laid out. It connects a breakfast nook at one end with a formal dining room at the other. It has all the modern conveniences including now a garbage disposal where, since I donít compost anymore, I can toss my vegetable waste, and other soft, food waste Ė itís a boon.

Inevitably, over the years weíve accumulates a gadget or two, but nothing faddish like a table top grill. My kitchen is a pleasure to be in, cooking or not, which makes it all the more surprising to learn what some of my neighbors are driven to do. About every 4 or 5 years, kitchen styles change Ė currently itís granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances.

With every style change, the folks around here feel obliged to ďup-gradeĒ to the current fashion, with a bill that is never less than $40,000.

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