It’s hard to imagine what kitchens were like in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Where would we be now without our fridges, dishwashers, washing machines and electric or gas cookers ? Kitchen utensils were beautifully wrought, often hand-made. For instance, hand-carved wood, copper pots beaten out by hand, white enamel bread bins with lids.. Not to mention brass coal scuttles, brass bellows for the fireplace, wooden mousetraps, jelly moulds and pottery butter containers. Furthermore, ingenious devices appeared, such as currant cleaners, coffee grinders and meat mincers. Then, rudimentary juice extractors, large wooden knife grinders for sharpening kitchen knives. Many of these items are similar to those we use today, though probably made of plastic or aluminium. In addition, Pyrex over-proof glassware was invented in the US in 1915, mainly for use on the railways. Subsequently, from 1926 these were made in Sunderland, UK.
Kitchens and family life
Kitchens in many homes were the centre of family life. It was almost certainly the warmest room in the house, where the fire was never allowed to go out. The fireplace was usually to be found on the end wall, was quite wide and had a chimney. Protection of the rear of the fireplace was provided by a cast iron ‘fireback’, sometimes embossed with the family crest. Beside the fire was the bread oven, usually made of brick. Here when the flames had died down the ashes were raked over and loaves of bread inserted. It was also discovered that eggs made perfect raising agents for cakes. The eggs and other food were hung in wire baskets from the ceiling to keep them away from rats and other vermin. Meat could be roasted on revolving spits. Cauldrons were kept almost at boiling point, suspended above the fire. Not only to provide hot water but also for cooking soups and stews. There was usually a copper kettle left near the fire.
In wealthy homes the butler and housekeeper rules the ‘upstairs’ servants, footmen, maids, etc. In the kitchen the cook was the most important occupant, aided by scullery maids and other minions. She could be very temperamental and really ‘ruled the roost’.Since meat was often of poor quality, especially in rural areas, a great many herbs and spices were used. Since there was no refrigeration,meat was a problem to preserve and often dry-salted in barrels. Pickling in vinegar also helped to preserve smaller items. There was usually also a small room known as ‘the larder’ attached to the kitchen. This had slate shelves to try and keep food fresh.
Washing in kitchens
In the past there was no such thing as the weekly wash. Since water was not always readily available, washing was more likely done 3 to 4 times a year. Our ancestors were not too preoccupied with cleanliness. The process of washing, beating, rinsing and hanging out to dry was mostly done outside. A mangle was often used to remove excess water. Washing could also be hoisted up to the ceiling of kitchens to profit from the warmth. Then there was the ironing. An iron or two had to be heated on the stove. Later a small wash house was built adjoining the house. In it there was a copper tub with a fire underneath. A copper ‘dolly’ was used to pound and stir the wash. This process was only superseded by the appearance of the washing machine in the late 1860s.
Kitchens after two world wars.
At the end of two world wars and the decimation of so many lives, life in the kitchen changed dramatically. Servants vanished, having enlisted or taken jobs in factories. The housewife was on her own. At that time not many women worked, but were saved from drudgery as new electrical appliances made their appearance.
To conclude: Old coffee grinders in particular are much sought after by collectors.