Sunday, July 14, 2024
Chris Judd

The kitchen

The average house selling price in 2023 is $750,000, according to what we are told by Stats-Can. A hundred years ago, in 1923, you could order a “house kit” with NO frills, out of the Sears catalogue for a thousand dollars. Yes, you had to put it together yourself, dig your own basement and well, and build your own backhouse. No, there was no plumbing, and it wasn’t wired for electricity, but most of Canada didn’t have electricity available yet anyway.
In most families in 1923, some of the family had some carpentry skills so construction really wasn’t a problem. In our county at that time, you didn’t need a permit to build and most people could use a shovel and a hammer, carry boards and pound nails. Yes you could buy a “model T” then for $600, but most people still drove a horse and buggy.
In the city the kitchen and pantry were quite small, but country kitchens were the main room in the house. A hundred years ago there were very few kitchens with what we call today “cupboards”, but the kitchen was big enough to feed a thrashing gang and have a couple “squares” in it at the weekend house party. Dad said that anyone who could step dance, play the fiddle or the mouth organ, or call a square was always invited to all the local house parties.
The big kitchen table, that was always pushed back to leave room to dance at house party time, was the most used piece of furniture in the house. That’s where grandma taught the kids how to make bread, pies, tea biscuits, cut meat, make jams, preserves, and homemade fudge for Christmas.
The big wood fired cook stove was the second most used item in the house. It kept the kitchen nice and toasty in the winter and TOO warm in the summer.
Many farm houses used a “summer kitchen” which was an add on room behind the kitchen also big enough for a threshing gang. “Fancy cupboards” were a rare sight in most homes, but most had a sideboard cupboard with an agate coated steel countertop. The sideboards varied from very basic to elaborate pieces of furniture where plates and dishes were stored, and it was used for most meal preparation.
Our house didn’t have kitchen cupboards until my mom was getting married. Grandma wanted kitchen cupboards before mom’s wedding. I was later told that there was a bit of a battle between the carpenter who built the cupboards and grandma over the height of the countertop.
Although today, most countertops are the same height as the stove, or 36”, in the 40s, women were shorter than today, (check how tall your girls are today), and our carpenter was used to making his counters only 32” high and that’s the height that he built the kitchen cupboards in our kitchen. Grandma never forgave him, but when I remodeled the kitchen before our daughter got married, I raised the countertop.
After our heating and cook stove changed, our wonderful old wood cook stove had to leave. It was really missed the first winter without it. On the farm, we always kept our winter boots behind the wood stove so they were always warm and dry when we put them on. The dog could usually be found lying at the opposite end of the stove from the firebox. There was something about an apple pie baked in an old wood stove that modern technology couldn’t match.
Today, a fully equipped kitchen with custom built cabinets is a good part of the cost of a $750,000 home. Although grandma never had a dishwasher, it makes me shake my head when I visit the kitchen of one of those very expensive homes and see the dishwasher still sitting on the floor. Dishwashers could very easily be raised a foot and use the space under it for a large drawer to keep extra pots and casserole dishes in.Today with the high price per foot of custom built kitchen cupboards, a second dishwasher is as cheap as the same size of cupboard. Some of the men that I know would really appreciate two dishwashers, one to put dirty dishes in and the other a source of clean dishes close to the table.
There is something about home cooked “real food” without a list as long as your arm of unknown additives, that still makes the kitchen my favourite room in the house.

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