By Keith Fisher
In the nineteenth century, when all cooking was done in a fireplace or on a cast iron stove, many houses were equipped with what was called a summer kitchen. Simply put, it was a place to cook away from the main parts of the house.
During the winter, the family gathered near the kitchen fire for heat and socialization. During the summer that same heat was to be avoided. Hence the need for a cooking place apart from where the family lived.
In our day we have air conditioning, kitchen ranges, and microwaves that cool down almost immediately after being turned off. We use the space in our yard, for storage of our toys and tools. The need of a summer kitchen has passed, or has it?
Think about it, wouldn’t it be nice to have a place in your back yard? A place where all of your Dutch ovens are stored? A place where a cooking table lies waiting for coals. This place could have a gas barbecue mounted permanently with honor. You could even get a stone mason to come and make it beautiful.
Many folks are doing that today. With the high cost of gasoline and waiting lists for reservations, much of our camp cooking is done in our backyards. Who wants to haul out the equipment and cooking tools, just to put them away when the cookout is over? Wouldn’t it be nicer to bring the groceries to the backyard, put them into the cabinets and the cooler built into your summer kitchen? Then, at your leisure, you could start cooking.
Your family would gather in your backyard. With any luck, you could attract the extended family as well. Before long, games would start up, Old men would tell stories, and people could start a quilting bee under the Elm tree. All of these things from the old days could happen in your backyard while you pursue the passion of cooking in your summer kitchen.
Later that evening, you could clean up, put things away, take the leftovers into the house, and go back to work, secure in the knowledge that everything will be there next time, waiting at your fingertips.
Before you get started with your summer kitchen, you should know, it can be as simple or elaborate, as you want to make it. If you can’t afford the stone mason, use wood planks and cinderblocks to build counter space. If you can’t tie your sink into the sewer, use a 5-gallon, liquid container and a drain hose. But remember to dispose of the water and rinse out the container.
Set up a cooking table and leave it up. Wheel the barbecue next to the counter. Cover the space with a plastic tarp. You may have to replace it every year, but it’s cheaper than a permanent roof. Build a deck or use the patio, or the ground, it’s up to you.
I’ve included a couple of pictures below so you can dream. It may take a few years to realize those dreams, but by then, you’ll have grandchildren and you’ll have a great place for them to gather.
--- Here’s a Dutch oven tip: Moisture is the enemy to cast iron. Avoid letting it collect on the inside of your Dutch oven. When storing your pot, prop the lid open with a rolled up piece of tin foil or paper towel. Store the lid separate from the pot, but if you have to store it for a long time, make sure it has a fine coating of vegetable oil. ---
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