The Georgian Kitchen
New ingredients from overseas trading influenced cooking enormously during this period and the birth of the aspiring Middle Classes were altering the economic divisions throughout society. Kitchen apparatus was now a valuable asset and the French dominated Britain’s culinary infatuation. Eating out as well as at home was becoming more common-place, as new types of eating houses evolved. The eighteenth and early nineteenth century witnessed the rise of the celebrity chef and food writer; as households recruited the very best cooks and indulged in new and engaging ways to cook, entertain and host. Names such as Jules Gouffé, Marie-Antoine Carême, Hannah Glasse, Alexis Soyer, Louis Eustache Ude, Mary Holland, William Kitchiner, Charles Carter, Charles Elmé Francatelli , and many more were becoming household entities. Britain was becoming a nation more focused on manufacturing, trade and innovation. The Georgian era witnessed the invention of gas cooking and early forms of refrigeration, as well as simple everyday inventions including the mass consumption of coffee mills, canned goods, the apple peeler, the corkscrew, the cooking jack, the washing machine and other items that are taken for granted in our kitchens today, long before Queen Victoria took to the throne.
Traditionally in large houses during the eighteenth century the cooking would have been done in the fireplace on a spit or by heating pans that rested on the fire. The walls would be shelved to hold copper, brass and iron pans, pots and tableware. A large number of servants would work in the kitchen, depending on the size of the house. They would have been busy rooms with several people working on different tasks from washing up and cleaning, to preparing produce and baking. The poor and labouring classes lived in appalling conditions and this era witnessed the birth of social philanthropy and the need to resolve the issues of poverty and hunger. Soup kitchens emerged, along with the understanding that food and nourishment was probably key to improving health.
The Victorian Kitchen
During this era the closed range replaced the open fire for the very wealthy, with an oven and a hob and by the 1850’s gas cookers began to emerge. The Victorian kitchen was for cooking only and food was stored in larders or storerooms and prepared in the scullery or pantry. The scullery would have running water. Kitchens were often positioned in the basement. Victorian kitchen floors were stone slabs or unglazed tiles. Strict inventory’s of all the foods and kitchen utensils would be maintained and in larger houses housemaids would clean the range every day. Names like Eliza Acton and Mrs.Beeton during this period reiterated the importance of cooking to method and with proper equipment. Innovators such as Agnes Bertha Marshall toured the country with her latest designs in cookery apparatus and the Government initiated new training schemes and cookery schools to equip women with the skills they needed to run a household and learn about diet and nutrition. Accounts of pawning and thieving items of cooking apparatus are prolific in the Victorian period as the gap between the wealthy and the poor continued to grow. Rural and slum kitchens remained less sophisticated than the newly furnished and efficient urban affluent kitchens of the nineteenth century. However advances in medicine and technology that had been emerging since the last century inspired new developments in food hygiene and an increase in consumerism and gadgets that would have a profound impact on the British kitchen.
The Edwardian Kitchen
Margaret Powell’s autobiography detailing her memoirs as a kitchen maid during the 1920s charts the extent to which kitchens often remained Victorian in their design and many large houses still had a team of domestic staff. But gas stoves and hot water boilers were more common and furniture and furnishings were designed with greater comfort in mind. Appliances were also evolving including manual vacuum cleaners, early gas powered washing machines and ice boxes replacing outside ice houses.
Modern inventions such as the ‘bachelor’s kitchen’ and the ‘magic stove’ are indicative of the many labour-saving devices that were developed during this period. Women were emancipated by 1918 and chose to spend more time learning to cook for themselves. Britain had a public supply of electricity and this is reflected in the many electrical kitchen products that were entering the market. By 1901 there were some 50,000 electrical apparatus manufacturers in the country. Aesthetically kitchens were also evolving into spaces that were comfortable, easy to manoeuvre around and above all reduced the number of hours spent cooking, washing and cleaning. In 1924 Anna Keichline patented a new combination kitchen that looked at economising space and merging different elements of kitchen apparatus together.
The Wartime and Post-War Kitchen
One of the main issues of the British kitchen during the Second World War involved cooking within the parameters of food rationing, and often even the basic of food was difficult to source. The Ministry of Food urged the public to grow their own produce and experiment with new types of food. Iron, steel and aluminium utensils replaced the brass and copper kitchen items of the last century. Meat safes and cupboards were used to store perishable goods. Gas appliances were more typically in use, despite electricity. The water supplies for rural houses would often come from a well pumped through by hand, over the kitchen sink. After the Second World War kitchens became fitted and filled with modernised labour-saving appliances.They were light, airy and spacious rooms devoid of paid domestic staff. Women managed their own kitchens and society emphasised the importance of perfecting cooking and cleaning skills. Electricity was now available in all homes and new materials such as Formica, chrome, pyrex and the ability to perfect stainless steel created a clean, bright and colourful look.