Back to the kitchen…

First off: as your gesture of support to independent authors please consider going here to look at this petition. I am …ing sick of giving my dear friends in the banking industry 25% of my Amazon checks (given the fast, vast cashflow – still welcome, Amazon tends to pay me just over 100 dollars when they do pay – which means yes, I get 75 and the bank takes 25) and an extra six weeks (so they have the money to play with – multiplied by hundreds of thousands of small transactions) for a service that costs them fractions of a cent, and takes a fraction of a minute. Yes, Amazon might not be prepared to do it via paypal, but perhaps they have a better system than the present one to offer. And it’s a good idea to let them know.

Secondly I’ve been reading with some degree of wry amusement about the β€˜merger’ talks between Random House and Penguin – as a result of the new challenges of e-publishing (Like we no longer have a command economy in which we can sell left boots, and pay producers in old spittle. Is that the challenge?). Various authors have gloomily wondered what will happen to them, and editors they work with/know at Penguin or both. And then came the news that News Corp had entered the fray, and tragedy and outrage were suddenly out in force. Oh noooooo! What had been worry and sadness was now tragedy and disaster. The subtext was obvious. The evils of Fox News etc were about overtake publishing (Those promoting diversity think it a good thing, so long as it’s only their kind of diversity (ie. It’s not diverse, just those they like), I’ve noticed.) How could something awful like this be let into the wonderful world of publishing. It’s all quite hilarious as HarperCollins (considerably larger than Penguin) is owned by NewsCorp and has been for nearly 25 years. One cannot see much difference in editorial selection and business practice between HC and any of the others, really. NY publishing seems pretty homogenous, and very alike. They trade staff and all seem to draw from the same pool, and have little in common with the world outside their universe. Heh. As a real fear that one came in at halloween pumpkin. It’s just business.

Still, it is a thought for the folk at NewsCorp. As it is business Maybe what worked for news might also stop publishing quite so much red ink. It would actually do authors, (and if they had to stop selling left boots, and find out what customers wanted) publishers right across the political spectrum the world of good. Personally I am sad publishing is still doing mergers. I suspect digital revolution actually calls for splintering and providing niche products rather than the other way around.

And now onto something completely different. I am working on an Australian set story where a kid in trouble finds himself sent of to grandma in the remote country. Grandma is, for reasons of her own, a recluse with very little spare money. Her kitchen still has the wood-burning stove and linoleum floor. There are no appliances and it is not far removed from, well, 1930. I knew farm kitchens like that back in South Africa (very well) and it’s been fascinating seeing just what translated, was common, and what wasn’t. Of course this shared pool is a rich place for evoking memories and getting your readers to care. I asked on my self-sufficiency island blog for people’s memories and experiences of kitchens like that. It was wonderful, but I want more! So help me out: dig in your memory banks and tell me about your grandma / great Uncle Fred’s kitchen?


  1. I had a great-grandma and a great-uncle Fred (his actual name) who had kitchens like that (well they both had newer electric stoves also, but both still had and used the wood cookstoves). Actually I don’t think Uncle Fred had an electric stove installed until he married late in life, and he used to dry muskrat hides by hanging them in the kitchen behind the woodstove (probably the hides of beavers and other animals he trapped also, but I just remember muskrat hides on stretchers lining the wall in the kitchen). Both lived in old houses whose only insulation was the air space in the walls, and possibly some crumbled up newspaper in that airspace, so the wood cookstove usually had a fire in it all winter, for warmth as well as cooking. Even with an electric stove my great-grandma always used the woodstove to make popcorn on (even in the heat of summer) because she claimed it made better popcorn. And I always loved going to her house as a kid, because she ALWAYS had a fresh bowl of popcorn in the kitchen.
    Also, when she died when we cleaned out her house we found not only unopened packages of underwear and undershirts for her husband (who had did over forty years earlier) but other things saved like years and years worth of milk money (from back when if you had a milk cow you placed fresh milk on your porch, and the milkman came by and picked it up every day, and left money for it) in her freezer. Those people that lived through the Great Depression tended to be frugal and NEVER throw anything away.

    1. I must use the bit about the tanning hides! Might not happen indoors in Australia because flies are such an issue (Aus flies – blowflies, make African flies look like budgies to condors.) And the depression attitude? My parents (and I inherited it to a degree, along with the junk :-))

  2. Oh my, Dave, the memories your post brings up. My grandmother lived in the house she and my grandfather built in the early 1920s it Oklahoma. The house was built so that it rested on stones and bricks with an open crawlspace underneath and this was never changed. That meant, by the time I was old enough to have memories of the place, the floor “rolled” in places. The toilet, even into the 70’s before my grandmother died, was the old-fashioned one with the tank almost at ceiling level. Then there was the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling with a string and HUGE steel nut that was used to turn it on an off. That was fine until I grew to be taller than 5’2″. Then it smacked me in the forehead every time I entered and forgot to cover my face.

    As for the kitchen, it was at the back of the house, a straight shot from the front door. The only thing that kept it from being a shotgun-like set up was that my grandmother had insisted on a wall and swinging door separating the kitchen from what we’d now call a great room. The floor of the kitchen, a dingy, yellowed linoleum rolled. She had an old gas stove that probably dated from the 1940s and half the time only one of the burners worked. She’d open the oven door and turn on the gas in the winter to help heat the house. The sink was porcelain and stained from years of use. The counters as well. When you turned on the water, the spout, one of those old-fashioned types, would shake and the sounds that came out before the water finally got there — well, as a kid I was convinced a monster lived in them. Of course, the fact that half the time the water came out brown and you had to run it for awhile before drinking it didn’t help.

    Grandma also had one of the old refrigerators that had the pull-down handles and where the door weighed a ton until about 1970 when it finally gave up the ghost. If she could have had the old “ice box” she’d had in the 30’s – 40’s, she’d have been happy. She lamented the loss of it until she died. She never did like those “new fangled” gadgets.

    1. Explain ‘rolled’, please? And Amanda, that bit about memories? That’s what I am targeting. Yes, lots of people have never been into a kitchen like that. ‘Grandma’s kitchen was pretty modern’ etc… but there are millions who do remember ‘my’ farm kitchen. With the two kettles always doing circuits (so there was always boiling water) and the smell of the air in there. Just a touch of steam – in winter the windows fogged in the corners. Smells like toast and hot slightly scorched linen (ironing happened in the kitchen) and the radio… always on, competing with fire noise and the stove metal-sounds that were so just there that you never noticed them. And always the faint smell of woodsmoke. There is something heartbreaking about going into ‘dead’ farm kitchen, with the range out and the smell ashes, and no sounds.

      1. Dave, the best way I can explain “rolled” is that it is what the floor did. There were places where it literally was higher than in others, sort of like how waves come into the beach. I’m sure it started out flat when my grandfather built it, but being an odd version of pier and beam — in other words, I don’t think the supporting bricks and stones pilings under the house were at the right places — it got these little hills, for lack of a better word, in the floor of kitchen, living area and back bedroom.

        I remember my grandmother doing the alternating kettles as well. And I have the old irons she used — the ones she heated on the stove and then used a pad to hold so she wouldn’t burn her hands. It might not have been the farm kitchen you knew, but for a kid coming from a major city and living in the suburbs, it was roughing it. πŸ˜‰

  3. My grandparents all had up to date (late 1970s) kitchens, with metal cabinets and linoleum of uncertain age that had to be hand scrubbed and waxed. Racks of decorative spoons hung from the walls, and rows of glass bottles full of colored water sat on glass shelves in the window over the sink (battered but spotless porcelain). What I remember about my Houston grandparents’ house was the breezeway, connecting the house to the garage. The breezeway, a screened-in dog-trot, contained the big freezer (full of game birds, mostly dove and quail. I never asked), the garbage-cans full of dog-food, folding chairs and card-tables, and assorted “stuff” that I wasn’t to touch. The garage contained small tools, bits of equipment, boxes too good to get rid of, parts to cars not seen since the late 1950s, and spare parts for my aunt’s well (she lived next door and had her own set of spares, but you never knew).

    My other great-aunt’s kitchen had a 1940s gas stove, purchased just as soon as it became available after the War, and a 1950s refrigerator (the “icebox”). “Why get a new one when these work just fine?” The icebox had a huge motor on top of it that drove the compressor, and I remember my great aunt sighing about the twice-yearly defrosting, because she had to borrow freezer space from a neighbor or relative while the monster in her kitchen thawed out, dripped, and then re-chilled. The stove had permanent pilot lights, so that when hurricanes knocked the power out, Aunt C. still had a way to cook and boil water. Heating the house was usually not a concern on the Gulf of Mexico coast.

    1. Do you know how dangerously like your grandparents breezeway and garage sounds like my present home:-). Down to freezer full of game.

      And why get a new one when these work just fine? – heh. That could be my hero’s grandmother speaking. Exactly what she would say. A life of waste not, want not.

      1. Besides the new freezers just don’t last very long, ten or fifteen years is considered a good life out of a new freezer, while my parents are still using the chest freezer my dad bought used back when he was in high school. The old ones used a lot more electricity, but they always worked.
        I don’t have a breezeway, but I do have garbage cans of dog food. πŸ™‚

  4. My grandma’s kitchen had cement floor, but the cabinets and table were handmade by various men in the family. We had one faucet. It was the only one IN the house (there was a shower in the bathroom outside the kitchen door) at the sink. Cold water only. And we had the big Franklin stove. In winter, we used to put the LITTLEST potatoes in the ashpan — then bring them out, dust them, punch them to open them, salt them and eat them, snack like. We called them punched potatoes.

    I agree with you that publishing should be fracturing, not merging.

  5. When I was young, we’d spend a lot of time at my grandparents’ cottage during the summer. I loved watching my Mom and Grandma cook on the old wood stove. It had four ‘elements’ (places that could be lifted up to stir the wood and embers around under the pots for a more even heat) It had a large ash box that would fill up and need to be emptied with a little shovel into an old black pail. There was a warming shelf at the back of of it over the cooktop. Grandma had a blue enameled kettle that I just loved, until a hole rusted through the bottom and we ended up using it as a flower pot in the garden. Roasts and porridge never tasted as good at home as they did at the cottage on that old wood stove.

    There was also an old ice box painted yellow that had been used before electricity came to the beach resort, but it was only used for storage when I was there.

    On really hot summer days, we usually ate cold cuts and salads or Mom would maybe boil potatoes or something on the two-burner electric hot plate.

    Great memories. πŸ™‚

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