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Monday, June 10, 2013

Summer Kitchen



August temperatures rose high enough without suffering the added heat of the baking ovens.  To spare the household unnecessary discomfort, the summer kitchen had been built—a one-room structure located to the rear and separate from the main house.  Outside its cottage door, Lorena’s flower, herb and vegetable garden grew.
            -Excerpt from Prize of My Heart



The large open fireplaces of Early American households generated an intense amount of heat that could warm an entire home. This was a serious responsibility in chilly weather but during the summer months the daylong fires required for hearth cookery could leave a dwelling oppressive.  Many dishes took hours or all day to cook—baked beans, steamed brown bread, boiled suet and meat pie, as a few examples.  Cooking odors lingered in the still, humid air, making the indoors not only unbearably warm but offensive.

For relief, it was common for colonials to build a separate building called a “Summer Kitchen.”  It would be located no more than a few hundred feet from the main house, close enough so that prepared foods could be carried to the dining room in a timely fashion.  Having a separate kitchen also reduced the risk of fire devastating an entire dwelling.

The summer kitchen would contain a large fireplace that would occupy almost an entire wall.  A bake oven was built into the side of fireplace, complete with its own flue outside the oven door.  The kitchen would include a pantry for storage and be furnished with a large work table and perhaps a smaller “breadboard table” for kneading dough.

Those without the means to build a separate kitchen, often used clay, outdoor bake ovens during the warmest months.  Many Northern homes were built upon rubblestone cellars which also served as a summer kitchens in season.


Lisa Norato is the multi-published author of Prize of My Heart, an inspirational, seafaring historical from Bethany House, set during the Federal era. A life-long New Englander, Lisa lives in a historic village with homes and churches dating as far back as the eighteenth century.

16 comments:

  1. That's one reason I rely much on salads and cold foods during the summer. Even with air conditioning, the kitchen can be oppressive.

    Can you imagine having to work by the oven in the summer wearing the garb our eighteenth century ancestors wore?

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  2. I can't imagine, Judith! Our modern ovens throw a lot of heat, but working before a blazing hearth fire must have been awful. They could have easily gotten faint in all that heat. Cold salads sound good to me! Thanks for stopping in, Judith, and reading the post! Blessings!

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  3. Great post, Lisa. Wish I had a summer kitchen...and a cook.

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  4. Oh, I know, Carla! Me, too. Especially the cook. Thanks for reading and have a blessed day!

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  5. This concept was still around in the early 1900s. My grandfather worked for Henry Ford, the man, not the company. He was one of Ford's tenant farmers. As an income boost, Granddad also drove Ford's school bus (Henry Ford ran schools for his worker's children) and used the school bus to ferry fancy dinners from where they were cooked to the house where Ford's elaborate parties were given. I still have a Ford bowl that Granddad acquired somewhere along the line. A nice family heirloom!

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    1. What an interesting family story, Pegg! Thanks for sharing about your grandfather. Sounds like he must have lots of tales to tell. It also interesting to know that summer kitchens existed into the 20th century. Blessings!

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  6. Very interesting post, Lisa! I want to tell you that I truly enjoyed reading Prize of My Heart...very good! God bless.

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    1. Thanks for visiting with me today, Debbie, and for letting me know you enjoyed Prize of My Heart! It means the world to me. Have a great day and God bless you also!

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  7. Very interesting! I remember my best friend as a child had 2 kitchens. One was on the lower level, and one up on the main level of the house. I remember it was much cooler on the lower level, and it acted as the summer kitchen.
    I have not read any of your. Oops, but certainly hope to do so! God bless.
    Betti

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    1. Hi Betti! Thanks for reading and for sharing your story about your friend. I imagine having a kitchen on a lower basement level happened a lot when air conditioning was not as readily available as it is today. I think it's so interesting how ideas and things of the past are handed down through generations. I hope you will enjoy Prize of My Heart if get the opportunity to read it. God's blessing to you!

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  8. I have always loved reading about summer kitchens in historical books, usually in plantations in the south. It's a great idea and makes sense when it was easier to start fires in the kitchen then. Great info!
    Susan P

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    1. Thanks for reading my little post about summer kitchens, Susan. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I do most of my research on New England, but I did read about the summer kitchens of the South. Blessings!

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  9. Wonderful post, Lisa! I remember seeing a summer kitchen in Colonial Williamsburg. Great idea. I like Carla's idea even better to have a summer kitchen AND someone to cook in it! ;-)

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  10. Thank you, Elaine! I've got to visit Colonial Williamsburg one day. I know I would love it. Blessings!

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