Kitchen! My husband to be has put in a offer to buy a house which has a kitchen which I fell completely in love with even just looking at the photographs on the estate agent’s website. These photographs can be so deceptive: wide angle shots, strategic angles. We viewed the house a week ago, and I found myself looking at all the other rooms first, resisting the temptation to walk straight though to what promised to be the perfect kitchen.. The lounge was beautiful, with pressed ceilings, the spacious dining room open to the lounge, with a wood burning fireplace with a Victorian surround, as in the photographs. The bathrooms were perfect. So were the bedrooms. The main bedroom opens to a small but beautiful back garden, a row of iceberg roses visible, a nice feature. And then I walked into the kitchen. I stood there and knew: this is where I wanted to cook forever. White painted wood fittings, a black marble top in the prep area with a stainless steel prep bowl, a huge central island with a six burner gas cooker and endless drawers and cupboards, a huge window with a windowsill wide enough for bowls and bowls of lemons, and a scullery with a deep single sink, space for a dishwasher and a washing machine, and opposite. a floor to ceiling grocery and storage cupboard with a blackboard in the central panel. All this opens up to a back stoep with black slate tiles with space for a sofa or two or another long table for lazy alfresco dinners.
My lover took one look at my blissful expression and asked: “shall I put in an offer?” And I would have swooned in his arms if the estate agent had not been looking on…
My thoughts inevitably turned to the kitchens of my childhood. The kitchen of my mother’s mother was the first kitchen I can remember. We usually entered that house from the kitchen door, which had a creaky swingy steel and mesh outer door: long before crime awareness necessitated ugly security doors. She had two stoves, that grandmother of mine: an electric stove with three plates, side by side with an ancient squat black coal stove, the coal delivered weekly in that same predawn time when the milkman used to do his rounds. I remember black men in overalls, their dark skins blackened further by coal dust, coming in by the unlocked squeaky back gate, sacks of shiny black coal over their shoulders, and dumping it in a cloud of black dust into the coal shed at the back of the house. To my little girl’s mind they seemed exotic, as if they belonged in a different world to mine: which of course they did in those years of apartheid; but I think I had the coal men mixed up in my head with the chimney sweep images from Mary Poppins…
I remember her kitchen to be huge, but now, looking back, I guess it was a modest kitchen: the sink off to one side in front of the only window, looking out onto the back courtyard, a grey formica table with six formica chairs around it: the chairs were all different colours: white, grey, yellow, blue, red, and green. I sometimes see those chairs in vintage shops. But that table was where we sat having midweek dinners after driving from the adjacent town where my parents bought a house in in the early sixties. That is also the table where rows of date loaves were set to cool: she was in inveterate baker, and once a month she baked for the church bazaar: date loaves, swiss rolls, chocolate cakes. She baked her own bread too, but it was my grandfather’s job to knead the dough in huge pale cream enamelled bowls with green edging. She had special cloths, made from bleached flour bags, which covered the smooth shiny dough as it rose in the heat of a kitchen where the coal stove always seemed hot.
There was a pantry at the far end of this kitchen, where tins of home baked cookies and fat white boere-rusks stood stacked, and thick glass bottles where ginger beer would sometimes be brewing. Overenthusiastic dosage with sugar and yeast would regularly cause a cork to pop with a heart-stopping bang. Usually though she would send us to buy little packets of Kool-Aid from the café round the corner, and she would mix it in a glass jar, the ice cubes clanging melodically and announcing that we could come and get our glassful…
My other grandmother’s kitchens(she was married to a mine captain and lived in several mine houses until they bought their own modest home right next to my parents’ equally modest house) were always very plain: her final kitchen small, with sixties style fittings, electric stove, and yet another formica table, but an oval one, in the center. I sat with her at that table many many times, listening to stories, having cups of tea..
The kitchen of my childhood home did not have a formica table, but a solid round pine table, with 6 cottage style pine chairs, where we used to have all our weekday dinners. The smarter dining room table was reserved for Sunday lunches: the food would be served from the kitchen though, through an interleading doorway.
I know that my mother would have loved to have had a large modern kitchen, and maybe so would both my grannies: I don’t know for sure. But what remains in my memory most of all is the meals lovingly prepared in even those modest, rather basic kitchens I grew up with, so that the prospect of having a wonderful kitchen fills me with gratitude and excitement, but also a necessary recognition that it is not a requirement for making memorable meals and memories..
Which does not mean that I will not love every minute in that new kitchen that hopefully awaits! I may even be persuaded to post a photograph or two here!!