A passion for pantries. June 17, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: nostalgia, old-time kitchens, pantries
Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I hit our local library’s weekly book sale last Saturday, and for a whopping 50 cents, I got a book called Good Old Days in the Kitchen.
As a food historian, I can never resist a food history book. But when I got it home and saw that the pub date was 1998, I felt a creeping skepticism. From a 1998 perspective, surely the “good old days” would have been the late 1960s, when moms everywhere were serving up TV dinners and Pop-Tarts from their avacado, gold, or orange appliances. Yet here was a book of reminiscences from the 1930s, 1940s—even 1900s. Who’d have still been alive to write them?!
Math has never been my strong point, but eventually it occurred to me that, if you were 12 in say, 1936, you’d be 74 in 1998, a grandparent yourself but hardly beyond the age of remembering and capturing your reminiscences in an essay for this book. Oops. Julia Child, one of my heroes, was 24 in 1936, and was still quite articulate in 1998, probably even still on TV. How humiliating.
After reflecting on all this, I decided it was safe to trust the essays, and had been reading them with pleasure. Then I came on one by a woman extolling her mama’s pantry, and the world turned.
Pantries!!! My idea of heaven on earth. As I child, I spent a lot of time visiting my maternal grandparents. Which meant I spent a lot of time in my grandma’s big, light-filled, airy kitchen. The kitchen was roomy and wonderful. It had a sunporch off the back door, and a small table where my grandparents (and I) ate all our meals when visitors or family weren’t expected.
But best of all, it had a walk-in pantry, a small room off the side opposite the sunporch. Deep shelves were full of every sort of mysterious jar, can, tin, and box. A shelf under a window opposite the shelves was filled with blooming African violets. I could spend hours in there, looking at all the mysterious foodstuffs, enjoying the secrecy, the light, and the plants. It was a whole private world.
These days, our friend Ben and I live in our cottage home, Hawk’s Haven, on an acre in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Don’t tell OFB, but I’m convinced that the reason we bought the place was because of its kitchen, not its spacious, naturalistic gardens, two-storey studio, stream, or peaceful surroundings. The kitchen is large and bright. It has a small table where OFB and I take our meals.
The back door opens, not onto a sunporch, but onto a plant-filled deck overlooking our stream and yard. We don’t, alas, have a walk-in pantry, but we do have a standing pantry filled with every kind of good thing. And a half-bath and laundry room opens off our kitchen the way the pantry opened off Grandma’s kitchen.
Every time I drag OFB in there to admire the blooming African violets, he says “Silence! Why don’t you grow those out where everyone can see them?” Well, maybe because usually, “everyone” is just the two of us. And maybe because they’re part of a special, secret world. A world you can only enter if you’re five or six or seven or eight years old, and have been given permission to go into a place where no one else is allowed, a place with tall shelves full of glittering jars and mysterious cans and a window shelf full of beautiful blooming African violets.
‘Til next time,