The Kitchen – A History of the Heart of the Home

For so many people, the kitchen is the gathering place. On holidays and on regular days, to find nourishment for body and soul, people gravitate to the warmth of the kitchen. Looking back through history, it seems it has always been this way. 

Going way, way back, you could consider the kitchen to be an open fire pit that was built outside on the ground. Moving ahead to more civilized cultures, you will find that people often cooked their food in metal cauldrons that were hanging above the fire. Cooking over the fire in various pots and pans, using all kinds of cooking methods while still gathering around the hearth, was the norm all the way through the 1800s.  Until the age of electricity, the fire was the natural gathering place, due to it being the main source of light, heat, and safety…and, of course, the area where food would be served.  

Kitchens in Colonial Times

The centerpiece of the colonial kitchen was a large fireplace. A metal pole was placed horizontally over the fire and kettles were hung from it. Pots could also be set directly on the fireplace ashes or coals. Early sinks were very basic. Buckets or other containers for holding water served as the first indoor kitchen sinks. There was no indoor plumbing, so water was collected from a nearby stream or water source and brought indoors. When the kitchen workers were finished with the kitchen water, it was dumped outside, possibly on the crops.  

With no electricity and no refrigeration, other techniques were used to preserve food. Some techniques for preserving meats included smoking, drying, and salting. Larger, wealthier homes and castles had a pantry, larder, a buttery, and often a smokehouse. 

Moving into the 1800s, technological innovations were improving in the way kitchens functioned and in reducing the workload of home cooks. Gas eventually replaced coal cooking, and electricity and water that could be piped directly into the kitchen all played a part in moving the kitchen into the present day.

Kitchens in the early 1900s were much more advanced than their earlier precursors, but they were still a far cry from what we expect in our kitchens today. At this time, changes were taking place that altered many aspects of the American lifestyle. Easily accessible transportation allowed families to make more frequent trips to the store. Kitchens were being connected to the municipal water system, making cooking and cleaning up more sanitary and efficient. Another huge improvement was the arrival of gas ranges in American kitchens. 

Sanitary Kitchens

The post-World War I era was marked on the home front by an increased understanding and scrutiny of hygiene and sanitation measures to eliminate bacteria and other germs. Washable tiles sometimes covered parts of the walls. Linoleum for kitchen flooring was easy to clean. Stoves, tabletops, and pans were covered with porcelain enamel. The kitchen of the 1920s evolved as the importance of good nutrition and attention to sanitation increased.

The Refrigerator

The refrigerator was invented by General Electric (GE) in 1911. The first refrigerator in American homes, however, did not arrive until 1927. The early refrigerators were very expensive, with GE’s Monitor Top refrigerator costing $525. Because of the expense and availability of the refrigerator, most Americans had what was called an icebox until the 1940s. The icebox was a cabinet, insulated, with a space for a block of ice to be inserted. The “iceman” delivered a block of ice directly to the home, usually on a weekly basis.

In the 1960s and 1970s other social changes were taking place that improved the style of the kitchen. A renewed interest in home cooking and entertaining meant that life was happening in the kitchen. The kitchen became a place for improving culinary skills, displaying designer cookware, and functioned as the heart of the home for social activity. By the 1980s, the idea of a completely open kitchen, with appliances designed to show off, became popular. 

Modern Kitchens and Trends 

The latest kitchen ideas focus on creating mood and an understanding of just how much time we spend in this special room.  The new kitchens are versatile, comfortable, have room for entertaining and great lighting.  

The old cliché of the kitchen being the heart of the home is truer than ever! Life happens here, so there are even dedicated workstations finding their way into modern kitchen layouts. Appliances have become quieter and new technology is connected in ways we never could have imagined even 10 years ago.  Dinner can practically cook and serve itself!  

There are so many surfaces, floors, appliances, cabinets, and styles to choose from. You can truly make your kitchen space anything you want it to be in 2022. 

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