The Perfect Kitchen

According to Wikipedia - A kitchen is a room or part of a room used for cooking and food preparation in a dwelling or in a commercial establishment.

The origins of the word ‘kitchen’ are somewhat involved. Derived from the Latin ‘coquina’, in French it is ‘cuisine’ and is very similar in sound to ‘cycene’ the saxon word, ‘kuche’ in German, ‘kiokken’ in Danish, ‘cegin’ in Welsh, ‘kyshen’ in Scottish and ‘cucina’ in Italian. Through history the kitchen has evolved to reflect our way of life. As Anne Reagan says in A Brief History of the Kitchen – Historically, kitchens weren’t luxurious and unlike today’s kitchen, they were not rooms where people wanted to spend time in. They definitely weren’t rooms meant for hosting guests or entertaining. They were dark and prone to catching fire; they were filled with noises, messes and smells. They were extremely busy spaces and could be hot and uncomfortable. For these reasons, kitchens tended to be situated as far away as possible from the social or private rooms in a home.

In the Victorian period, it was universally understood that the kitchen was used only for cooking. Washing-up, scrubbing vegetables and all the messy, low-status activities that involved water were done in the scullery. Even the smallest Victorian houses had a separate scullery, and it was rare for sinks to be installed in kitchens before the twentieth century. Gas-fired ranges were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851, and in 1868 Shrewsbury’s Portable Gas Oven came onto the market. However, prejudice, fear of explosions and health scares about eating food impregnated with harmful fumes delayed the widespread introduction of gas ovens, and they did not begin to replace solid fuel ranges in any numbers until the 1890s. Back to the perfect kitchen. In Modern Cooking Illustrated from 1947 Lydia Chatterton sets out the ideal kitchen for the new bride after the war. ‘At a minimum the homemaker should aim at a gas or electric cooker, a hot water boiler and double sink’ however ‘kitchen cabinets, washing machines and vacuum cleaners are welcome additions’s. The chapter on setting up and decorating a kitchen is fascinating and reflects not just the technology of the times’nowadays it is possible to “go electric” in the most out of the way parts of the country, but also reflecting the types of food that were prepared there. ‘If you do a lot of pastry making perhaps someone will give you one of the new tables, half marble-topped and half wood’.  To day’s perfect kitchen varies as much as the style of all the rooms in our homes to reflect who we are. And we have the choice (depending on our bank balance) to decide whether we want ultramodern shiny white or steel with all mod cons, practical useful working places with tools we know work, or a room with a link to the past with copper pans and herbs drying. Like most of you I’m sure, my kitchen is a bit of a mish mash, a bit like me, a place I love to be that isn’t perfect but feels familiar and mostly smells of cooking. Not smart and sassy and sadly I can’t fit the family in there to eat but it’s my place.   My ideal kitchen was one owned by the late great Anita Roddick, a room of three parts the cooking area with a big table, piles of cooking books and hanging utensils at one end, in the middle a dining area with a lovely big table that would seat a large family and a dresser of china and a cozy sitting room at the other end with comfy sofa by the fire all surrounded by family photos. I loved that room. So what would your ideal kitchen be? Are you ever likely to get it? and would it be so bad if you didn’t?

Modern Cookery Illustrated

The Reckless Picnic

A picture of family and friends laughing gaily, sitting on a rug in a daisy filled field next to a stream, eating lovely home-made delicacies is in the back of our minds when we think picnic in England. Think again…

As Georgina Battiscome said in 1949 in her marvellous book English Picnics, ‘A picnic is the Englishman’s grand gesture, and his final defiance in the face of fate. No climate in the world is less propitious to picnics that the climate of England’

There are great swathes of the world where eating al fresco is taken for granted, you just set a date and time and off you go with your picnic, or – and here’s the rub –  you just open your fridge, take out food and go and eat it outside!

I don’t think these people realise how amazing this is to an English person, or how lucky they are. Picnics in England require the same sort of organisation and logistics that I think NASA used on sending man to the moon.

First of all where?

The beach? But it might be windy and our sandwiches will be filled with sand (sorry about the pun) or it might be sunny and we’ll get burnt or the seagulls will dive bomb or it’ll suddenly rain and we’ll end up eating the food in a steamy car.

The countryside? But what about the midges if it’s hot or roaming cows and their cow pats or sinking mud if it rains and we’ll end up eating the food in a steamy car.

Wherever we choose the English picnic isn’t just some jaunt in a T shirt and shorts with a bag of food. We have to go loaded with every bit of kit we’ll need from sun cream and sun hats to first aid kits to umbrellas and a spare jumper and still end up eating the food in a steamy car.

Of course there is always the garden, it’s not far and not very adventurous but at least we can run indoors for all the things we’ve forgotten and we won’t end up eating the food in a steamy car.

But as Elizabeth says in the final words of her book, ‘At this word, picnic, I heard the distant murmur of the seas, and the hurry of shadowy rivers, and the trumpets of bees upon moorlands, and the whisper of autumn woods, with the voices and the laughter of all those I love, ringing, year behind year, through all.’

That’s why we love the thought of picnics.

English Picnics by Georgina Battiscombe