Memories of my mother’s kitchen revolve around the house on Sutter street. I am aware we had a kitchen in my grandparent’s home on Baltimore Street but I don’t have any memories of my mother cooking in it. I do have memories of my grandmother deep frying doughnuts over her kitchen stove, while I sat on my grandfather’s lap, a safe distance away, where we could watch and wait for the first hot, sugar-coated doughnut to be handed to us. I posted the following about a year ago and one of my Sandychatter subscribers wrote and told me about her earliest memories of her mother’s kitchen, which will follow my essay about my mother’s kitchen.
MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN
In my mother’s kitchen at 1618 Sutter Street in North Fairmount, we all sat around an old white wooden table which was covered with oilcloth (that I believe my two younger brothers at one time started a fire on or under, I’m not sure which) and it was at this table that my sister, and brothers and I did our homework while my mother ironed our clothing and a small Crosley radio on top of the refrigerator was tuned to the radio “shows” we listened to every day and night–Programs like The Lone Ranger and Mr. & Mrs. North, The Shadow and Lights Out, and some of my favorites, Baby Snooks, My Friend Irma, and Our Miss Brooks; These programs were on every day and every night, along with shows like Jack Benny, and Amos and Andy. There were dozens of these programs which we listened to while working on essays, or spelling and arithmetic lessons.
My mother’s kitchen was not, actually, a very large room, but along one wall, on the left side, there was a stove, and a tall narrow cabinet where my mother stored spices, and bottles of things like vinegar and Kitchen Bouquet.
Next to that was a large ceiling-to-floor built-in cupboard with Curious smoky stained glass in the upper cupboard doors, and then an open work space for canisters, and underneath that was a drawer where all sorts of things were tossed, from rubber bands to Wilson Evaporated milk labels (which could be redeemed for free things like dish towels or pot holders), as well as paper clips and crayons and bobby pins, pencils and erasers and old used envelopes, my mother’s one and only cookbook, Ida Bailey Allen’s Service Cookbook, that she bought at Woolworth’s, a pair of kitchen scissors and World War II ration books for each one of us that she kept long after the war was over. Whenever you needed something like string or a rubber band, you looked inside the kitchen drawer.
Next to this big built-in kitchen cupboard there was a narrow built in cupboard where canned goods and staples were stored and where my father had ingeniously cut a square hole into the floor so that my mother could drop in soiled laundry collected from the second floor bedrooms and bathroom.
In the basement, my father built large cupboards, one of which contained the laundry that had been dropped in the hole from above. Once, my brother Biff got stuck in the hole when we were playing hide & seek and our parents were not at home.
There was a back door, outside of which there was a box where the milkman could leave bottles of milk, (although I don’t think we often had milk delivered—I remember a lot of powdered milk, Starlac, being mixed with water for us to drink.) Next to the back door, was my blackboard, nailed to the wall, on which my two younger brothers and I played a game called “war”—a not very creative game of drawing ships and airplanes with chalk and taking turns sinking one another’s battleships and fighter planes—a game I am surprised to remember as it indicates we were actually aware that a war was going on. (I have always maintained that I didn’t remember anything about the War years).
Next to the blackboard was a kitchen window that looked out onto the back yard. In the corner along that wall was the refrigerator, on top of which was the little radio; Looking out on the side yard was a window opposite the great kitchen cupboard–there may have been two windows on that wall but I can’t quite envision it. Along that wall my mother had a mangle ironer that she seldom ever used and it was a catchall for things piled on top of it.
On the 4th wall, opposite the back door, was the kitchen sink where my sister Becky, brother Jim and I washed, dried and put away dishes and memorized the lyrics to popular songs from a songbook Becky bought each week for ten cents from Carl’s Drug Store.
This was my mother’s kitchen, where we ate supper every night at six o’ clock sharp and you did not eat If you were not at the table. I never missed supper and sat to my mother’s right at the kitchen table because I was the leftie in the family.
It was in my mother’s kitchen that I learned to cook, studying recipes in the Ida Bailey Allen cookbook and making sure we had all of the ingredients in the pantry. It was in my mother’s kitchen that I began making muffins and brownies, peanut butter cookies and a cookie called Hermits and another called Rocks. If you could read directions, I discovered, you could cook.
Sometimes when my mother was at work, my two best friends, Patti & Carol, and I baked cakes or cookies while my two younger brothers sat on the back steps outside the kitchen door, waiting to eat our mistakes, such as burnt cookies. I had an enormous amount of freedom in the kitchen, with the only requirement to clean up after myself.
In the summertime, when my mother was at work, I made menus out of the leftovers in the refrigerator, and played “restaurant” with my two younger brothers who could then “order lunch” from the menu.
We also did some crafts sitting at the kitchen table; I remember coloring uncooked macaroni with food coloring to make a necklace.
It was also in my mother’s kitchen that I began to write stories on an old Under wood typewriter that my father bought for my older brother and me to use; it was too heavy to carry upstairs, and so I typed, using two-fingers, while sitting at the kitchen table.
These are some of the things I remember about my mother’s kitchen. It was, I think, the hub of the house. –Sandra Lee Smith
My new friend Jean, who lives near Boston, wrote the following:
“My Mother’s Kitchen
We moved when I was five years old, so I don’t have much to say about the kitchen of my youngest years. Here’s what I remember. I believe there was a little entry on one wall, which led out to the driveway. As you entered, to the left, there was a passage into the dining room. The kitchen was not, if I recall correctly, big enough for a table. All I can remember is that the sink and some cabinets were on the wall that stretched in front of you to the right, as you entered. The sink overlooked the back yard. The floor was white linoleum with a red leafy vine snaking its way through the room. I still remember lying on my back on that floor, drinking a bottle.
I still drool, mentally anyway, over the kitchen in the house that we then moved to. It was an antique house and the kitchen was shaped like an ell with a chubby base. Coming from the outside via a covered porch, one would enter the door and turn right to enter the kitchen. On the facing wall was a large fireplace with brick ovens. (I STILL want those in a kitchen!) To the right of the fireplace on the same wall, was a microscopic but handy half bathroom. Rounding the corner, on the wall to the right, there was a window, then the freezer. Then a bit of counter space and the sink, which overlooked the circular driveway, which featured an apple tree growing within easy view. There was then a bit of counter space rounding the corner to the aforementioned entry. Skipping past that, there was the stove. That was A GOOD STOVE! This was in the days when stoves regularly had two ovens, and this one did. This stove with its ovens played a role in my most-memorable punishment…. Now, moving past the stove, you are in the upper part of the ell. Fairly narrow, with cupboards and counter space on both sides. This led to one of the doors into the dining room. Back down the ell, I am not sure what was at the end, perhaps the refrigerator. After that was a doorway that led to a hall and also to another entrance to the dining area.
In the center of the bottom part of the ell, there was a round maple table with four maple chairs. At least for some of this time, there was a lazy susan in the center. My sister and I did not do homework there. We did it in our respective rooms, because we were not to be seen or heard. We did, of course, eat there, sometimes with the fire lit. On rare occasions, we roasted marshmallows in the fireplace. My sister and I did the dishes. When I was young, she washed and I dried. We would joke around. Not too loudly, or dad would be furious. Ah yes, another memory of that kitchen. If we didn’t eat something, it just kept appearing until it disappeared. Cold lumpy Cream of Wheat? Yuck! I forget who started it, but we eventually would shove some things under the freezer, or, if we could get away with it, we would dash out and shove the unwanted food into the stone wall….Better memories, this is where I started cooking….”
Thanks, Jean! You and your sister were a little more ingenious than I was. I do remember feeding some vile canned tamales to the dog because I hated them so much; then I had a fit of remorse and kept giving the dog fresh pans of water, afraid the tamales would be too hot for him too. Does anyone want to weigh in on their mother’s kitchens?