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May 8, 2009 06:52 PM

The really retro kitchen: Who'd rather have a hearth than a fancy stainless range, etc.?

New kitchens gleam like new cars, full of promise and shiny-clean metal. Nothing wrong with that. We have a somewhat older kitchen, and I find myself alternately thinking a new one would be nice vs. pondering the charm of incredibly old-style rudimentary kitchens... places where you could crack a coconut without fear of denting something.

That nostalgia, which I'm not saying is necessarily practical for the way we do things in modern life, comes from two places... one, seeing this old kitchen setup at, and two, seeing an Anthony Bourdain "No Reservations" segment where they ate at a Tibetan house that had something a little more polished but reminiscent of this.

What about a kitchen where you can sit down and pound things? What about a huge hearth you can sit on a stool next to peeling potatoes? I'm not saying I would alter my current kitchen to do this, but sometimes I wonder if this wouldn't be better.

Leaving out lead water pipes, rats and the like.

Chow's piece about modern hippie kitchens also contributed to the thought.

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  1. I sometimes dream of building a new home with a two room kitchen, one with open hearth, brick oven, hand pumped well water; the other ultra modern six burner gas fired professional grade range, convection oven, microwave. etc. Idea is to prepare identical dishes in the two kitchens and compare results. Only cross over element I would insist on is my cast iron cooking vessels. They'd have to be in both kitchens.
    Not gonna happen though. I don't play the lottery ...

    2 Replies
    1. re: todao

      I like your line of thinking. Everytime I see one of those attempts at a second 'outdoor' kitchen I start itching to do similar.

      I don't think a stone cistern holding tank above the hearth to heat the water for the kitchen and the ancient spa tub would quite work though. Nice thought, alas.

      1. re: Cinnamon

        I built a wood-fired oven as the centerpiece of my outdoor kitchen, and it is SO much fun. The natural convection of the oven and the more moist cooking environment definitely make a difference. I wouldn't want to give up my modern gadgets, but the WFO does things that the inside kitchen just can't, both functional and aesthetic.

    2. Many middle class filipinos have a really nice high tech kitchen in the house and a "dirty kitchen" out back for the deep frying and so on. Makes good sense - other than that some never use the inside kitchen.

      On the other hand, here in my apartment I have a modern kitchen and up at the finca I have as primative as you can get.

      1 Reply
      1. hmmmmm.... How long do I have to think about the romance of an open hearth kitchen? Lemme see....

        A nice wrought iron hook that swings in and out that is capable of supporting a giant iron cauldron full of stock with carrots and onions and whole rabbits and partridges swimming in it? Yeah. I could go for that. I'll just have a whole lot of trenchermen pals in for dinner. No problem.

        A lovely spit with a nice scullery kid -- maid or lad -- to turn the handle while a juicy animal roasts, dropping its fatty fluids onto the waiting Yorkshire pudding below. Okay. And I get first pick of the tenderest fatty bits with the most flavor. And the lad or lass can clean up the mess.

        And then there's sitting on a stool next to the hearth on a cold blustery morning, warming one's cockles by baring them to the coals while warming ones hands on with a huge clay mug of hot tea.

        And by now the bloody hearth is piled high with annoying ashes that have to be raked up and shoveled into buckets, dragged outside and pray you have a yard or garden big enough to spread the ashes over without ruining the crops or tilting the soil toward ain't-nothing-gonna-grow-here-in-YOUR-lifetime!

        hmmmm... Yeah. I'd like a nice large art poster of an open hearth in my kitchen where I can sit and admire it in the air conditioned breakfast area while sipping a nice fresh cup of espresso from the super automatic machine that washes and cleans itself, while the nice crusty artisan bread bakes its way to perfection in the convection oven and a nice enameled cast iron pot simmers the coq au vin on the sleek seamless cook top and I'm washed with a feeling of contentment and well being. And if I need ash for my garden, I'll go to the damned store and buy it! '-)

        4 Replies
        1. re: Caroline1

          Caroline1, you left an important part of your open-hearth kitchen, the Brad Pitt lookalike swashbuckling corsair, just returned from vanquishing pirates off the Barbary Coast, now content to sit in front of the hearth with you and nibble your toes. Where are you going to buy that accessory?

          1. re: Politeness

            "While greasy Joan doth keel the pot"

            1. re: Politeness

              Who needs a Brad Pitt look-alike when I can have George Clooney right here flappin' my jacks?

              Now, all I have to do is figure out how.

            2. I used to visit a writer I knew at a home in the southern Polish countryside, and they had a large wood-fired oven with chambers for baking, grates for pots and pans, and a well for a large stockpot, which was usually used for heating water for bathing, rather than stock. It was a lot of work keeping it going, and there seemed to be people cooking all the time, otherwise it wouldn't really have been practical, but it was an impressive thing.

              1. A simple way to dabble in this is to get a Dutch Oven, a real cast iron one with 3 legs and rimmed lid (not a frou-frou French enameled one), and bag of charcoal.

                Good Eats had a 'going dutch' episode using such a device. There was also a GE episode with a 'spit girl'. Was that the popover (and cousins) episode, or one with a roast?

                Dinner Impossible had a Williamsburg episode, which made hearth cooking seem really fun :)

                I'm quite willing to watch returns of the Ruidoso chuck wagon cookoffs.

                1 Reply
                1. re: paulj

                  Great ideas, thanks.

                  The closest I've gotten this week is buying my husband a small grill pig. That was not a typo:

                  It's only appetizer-sized, but I'm going to station it inside the fireplace. Also need to haul out the cast iron dutch oven and explore fireplace cooking. Ours doesn't have three legs, I'll need to improvise.