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?