STORAGEWORKS - July 10 2022
3 History's Kitchens You May Have Never Seen
Do you have a kitchen at home? What a ridiculous question! Of course! That would be most people's reaction, but it wasn't always so, and for millions around the world, it still isn't so. In fact, domestic kitchens have always had an up and down history.
The oldest European kitchens discovered are probably those at the neolithic village of Skara Brae in the Scottish Orkney Islands. They predate the Great Pyramid in Egypt and Stonehenge. Archaeological evidence suggests that the village dates back to at least 3180 BC. The seven excavated homes each have a large room with a central hearth containing a fire used for heating and cooking.
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Daniel Bordeleau, Skara Brae-maison, CC BY-SA 4.0
Hanging organizer with extra top shelf for storing loose items
Moving forward thousands of years, similar excavations in Italy's Pompeii uncovered kitchens in several houses, some still with food on the tables! Some, unfortunately, still with the fossilized remains of the occupants who had no time to flee the volcano which engulfed the city in 79 AD. There is also evidence that some of these kitchens were manned by slaves who slept on the floor.
In the Middle Ages, few homes seemed to have had what we would call kitchens. They were the province of the rich. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, published in 1400, relates a short tale about a cook who would rather be employed by a local lord of the manor than be a home cook.
Few kitchens from this time survived for the simple reason that they had the annoying habit of burning down! So, kitchens were normally housed in buildings separate from the main house for safety reasons. Many people simply chose to cook outdoors on makeshift stoves. What they did in bad weather isn't recorded!
Recreated outdoor kitchen - Photo by Ken Fletcher
Large kitchens remained the preserve of the nobility and especially royalty. One of the best surviving kitchens to visit is that of King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) at his Hampton Court Palace, now open to the public. If you are lucky, you may be able to witness re-enactment actors cooking there, but not the 200 cooks who worked there in its heyday. It is highly unlikely that Henry or any of his six wives ever visited the kitchens.
Joyofmuseums, Henry VIII's Kitchens - Hampton Court Palace - Joy of Museums 3, CC BY-SA 4.0
Shakespeare (1564-1616) makes very few references to kitchens, and most of those are somewhat disparaging. Cooks were not held in high regard. Of course, it didn't help when the 1666 Great Fire of London started in the kitchen of a bakery and destroyed most of the city!
Moving forward again to the early 20th century, we can see from the popularity of television series like Downton Abbey. The large kitchens with a full staff were typical among the nobility, but many middle-class homes also had a cook and perhaps a maid. This mostly ended with World War One, as Downton Abbey shows. Very few remain.
Of course, the first modern kitchens really only appeared in the 1950s. Gas and then electricity meant they were cleaner and safer, while refrigerators and microwaves and all manner of gadgets transformed what people previously knew as kitchens. No one who lived in Skara Brae would know what they were!