The Creation of the Kitchen

By Tracey Cornish

The reading for this week’s seminar was a topic that I had not thought much about before.  Just as I had never really thought about recipes and their meaning in the early modern period before I began studying this module.  The topic in question is kitchens.  I suppose I had thought that kitchens had always existed in the way in which we think of kitchens now.  When you visit castles or stately homes there is always a kitchen where the hustle and bustle of daily life took place.  The kitchen in Hampton Court is indeed huge.  It was built in 1530 and was designed to feed at least 600 members of the court, entitled to eat at the palace, twice a day.

The kitchens had master cooks each with a team working for them.  Annually the Tudor Court cooked 1240 oxen, 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 760 calves, 1,870 pigs and 53 wild boar.  That is without mentioning the chickens, peacocks, pheasant and vegetables which were also on the menu.[1]

Hampton Court Kitchen plan

Interestingly, Hampton Court Palace also has a chocolate kitchen.  The royal chocolate making kitchen which once catered for three Kings: William III, George I and George II is the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen in the country. Recent research has uncovered the precise location of the royal chocolate kitchen in the Baroque Palace’s Fountain Court. Having been used as a storeroom for many years, it is remarkably well preserved with many of the original fittings, including the stove, equipment and furniture still intact.[2]

 

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace

The only original 17th century kitchen to be preserved is at Ham House. In the basement  there are several small rooms comprising of the kitchen, the scullery, the servants hall, a laundry, several pantries, a wet larder, a still house, a wash house and a dairy room. All these rooms would have had servants working in them and would have made the workings of the kitchen easier as it would have provided room to prepare and cook food.[3]

Original 17th Century kitchen

Of course, this is an example of a palace so what about everyday houses?  Peasants in the middle ages lived in one room which served as a room for cooking, general living and eating.  It consisted of a hearth stone, a fire with a pot of the top.  Sara Pennell suggests in The Birth of the English Kitchen 1600-1850 that kitchens in the early 1600’s were ‘unfixed and at times contested’[4] and that it wasn’t until the mid-nineteenth century that kitchens were ‘distinctive yet integrated spaces in the majority of households.’[5] Food could be prepared in any room with a table and could be cooked in any room with a fire.  However it was the need to provide space for the works of the kitchen and other ‘food’ rooms such as pantries, larders and sculleries which reallocated eating to its own distinctive space.[6] Pennell argues that histories of the domestic interior and its evolving design neglected the kitchen and yet arguably the kitchen is and was an important room in a household. [7]

Margaret Baker never mentions in her recipes as to where the production of the recipes should take place, one just imagines that she is in her kitchen trying out the recipes (the ones which she did try) and writing them down.  Of course, the fact that her kitchen would have been nothing like our kitchens today should also be taken into account if a reproduction of one of her recipes takes place.  As Florence mentions in her  blog,  Replicate, Authenticate and Reconstruct Baker uses ‘learned knowledge’ in her recipe book.  There would have been no modern oven to set to a certain temperature as they would have used a fire.

17th Century Kitchen

Evolution of the kitchen was linked to the invention of the cooking range or stove and the supply of running water.  The living room began to serve as an area for social functions and became a showcase for the owners to show off their wealth.  In the upper classes cooking and the kitchen were the domain of servants and the kitchen was therefore set away from the living rooms.

The kitchens of elite households were not originally in the basement.  In fact basement level kitchens were almost unheard of in England before 1666.  Yet by 1750 kitchens were found in the basement.  One could argue this was to keep the kitchen staff out of sight of the main household and to ensure that the kitchen smells did not overwhelm the main living accommodation.

A 17th Century Distiller

So what about the medical and scientific recipes?  Many kitchens or basements formed laboratories for people to experiment and write down their medical recipes.  It was popular for higher class women to have stills and alembics in their kitchens for making essences. .  Even the lower classes would gather herbs together and make remedies in their kitchens.

Experiments took place in many places such as coffee houses, laboratories and universities but the private residence was a popular place to experiment.  Many renowned scientists used their kitchens as a ‘laboratory’ including Frederick Clod who was a physician and a ‘mystical chemist’ who used his father in law’s kitchen to experiment. [8]

It could be argued that the design of kitchens have come full circle with many people preferring to have open plan living areas which include the kitchen with people enjoying socialising whilst cooking and enjoying all those cooking smells.

References:

[1] http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/henry-viiis-kitchens/#gs.R6K2E18 accessed 20th March 2017.

[2] http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.tJhj8mM accessed 20th March 2017.

[3] https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden accessed 20th March 2017.

[4] Sara Pennell, The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850, (London, 2016) p.37.

[5] Ibid p.37.

[6] Ibid p.39.

[7] Ibid p.38.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Clod accessed 21st March 2017.

Images:

Hampton Court Kitchen plan – http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/henry-viiis-kitchens/#gs.R6K2E18 accessed 20th March 2017.

Chocolate Kitchen in Hampton Court Palace –  http://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/visit-us/top-things-to-see-and-do/chocolate-kitchens/#gs.tJhj8mM accessed 21st March 2017.

Original 17th Century kitchen –  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ham-house-and-garden accessed 20th March 2017.

17th Century Kitchen –  http://www.homethingspast.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/cotohele-kitchen.jpg accessed 20th March 2017.

A 17th Century Distiller – https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/f1/6f/b0/f16fb0f555b48fd576bf6dc1621a041d.jpg accessed 21st March 2017.

 


One thought on “The Creation of the Kitchen

  1. It really is interesting to look at the evolution of kitchens, and intriguing to think of the contract between the kitchen of a palace, catering for thousands of guests per week, to a peasant family, catering for the household. It is so very interesting when you compare the 21st century kitchen to the 17th century kitchen, especially in terms of those great royal palaces – cooking and baking was not so fun as people think today. For example spitroasting a hog is all well and good if you have an automatically spinning spit roasts, which is unlikely in the 17th century. Men would sit there for hours in blasting heat from the fire, spinning and spinning that hog until it was cooked to perfection – and to think we even struggle and moan when we have to mix our ingredients together without an electric whisk! Oh 21st century problems!

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